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What Both Parties Are Learning From The Latino Vote In Florida's Midterms


Ever since President Obama's election in 2008, Latinos across the country have tended to prefer Democrats over Republicans by pretty big numbers. In the midterm elections this month, that Democratic advantage did not hold up in one key swing state - Florida. There are lessons to be learned here for both parties, as NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid explains.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I first met Peter Vivaldi in Orlando back in 2015. Vivaldi is a loyal Republican, a former pastor and politician. For years, he's been eager to convince fellow Latinos they ought to vote Republican. But even he was stunned by what happened in Florida this year.

PETER VIVALDI: It's very, very surprising to see the numbers that have come out. And we're seeing a 45 percent vote that went to both Republican candidates.

VIVALDI: Both Ron DeSantis, the governor-elect, and Rick Scott, the state's incoming U.S. senator, captured about 45 percent of the Latino vote. That's according to exit polls as well as a massive pre-election survey from the Associated Press, Fox News and NORC.

FERNAND AMANDI: The Republicans followed the Obama case study. They began early, they invested heavily, and they spent a lot of candidate time engaging the community.

KHALID: That's Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster in Miami. Democrats regularly win a majority of Latinos, even this year. But Amandi says that is not enough.

AMANDI: It's never been a question of a majority. I think it's been a question of making sure they maximize potential Hispanic voters and increasing their percentages of the electorate.

KHALID: When you talk to Democrats or political analysts about what happened in Florida, most of them point to the same three things. Marcos Vilar is the president of Alianza for Progress, a group in the Orlando area focused on Puerto Rican voter turnout. He says one key lesson is that politicians have to start talking to Latinos early.

MARCOS VILAR: Rick Scott started in March on Spanish TV and on Spanish radio, appealing to Latino voters. I think that made a big difference.

KHALID: Another key takeaway is that representation matters. Ron DeSantis chose a well-known, well-respected Latina legislator as his running mate. And Christian Ulvert, an adviser to the Democratic candidate for governor, says she helped DeSantis.

CHRISTIAN ULVERT: She was on the campaign for two months. And she spent, I think, a month and 3 1/2 weeks of those two months in Miami-Dade County, going to any possible event she could to let folks know that she was on the ticket.

KHALID: An analysis of the results in heavily Cuban precincts in Miami-Dade County found that DeSantis won the Cuban vote by a 2-1 margin. A related factor is that Democrats have moved to the left and are attacked as socialists.

GIANCARLO SOPO: Embracing more progressive policies may not intersect as well with Florida's Hispanic electorate as many analysts from outside of Florida might think.

KHALID: Giancarlo Sopo is a communications strategist in Miami. He says you've got to keep in mind where Florida's Latino voters are coming from.

SOPO: Whether it's Nicaragua, Argentina or Venezuela or Cuba, obviously, the word progressive is actually associated with the kinds of regimes and political movements that these people fled in the first place.

KHALID: Sopo wants to be clear. He thinks that labeling Gillum or Nelson like that is not fair. But that kind of rhetoric can be hard for Democrats to counter. His central point is that, had DeSantis mirrored Donald Trump's performance with Latinos, he would have lost. And so even though Florida's Latino population is more conservative than a state like Nevada, Republicans across the country, Sopo says, should realize they might win more elections if they don't write off Latinos just because they aren't getting a majority of their vote.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.


Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.