News Column

Did Florida Republicans Ignore Hispanics?

Nov. 11, 2012

Randy Schultz

Hispanic Voters

Republicans in the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 1355, legislation designed to suppress the votes of minorities, working women and young people.

Since President Barack Obama won Florida, the strategy backfired. More important, the GOP needs an attitude adjustment, for its own good.

According to the new census, minorities have become the majority in the United States. Any party that wants to compete nationally and in more and more states can't ignore black and especially Hispanic voters. President Obama won a second term -- despite the unemployment rate being above 8 percent for most of his term -- by forming a coalition of blacks, Hispanics, women and the young.

Yes, the president got a smaller percentage of the 18-29 vote than he did four years ago. Yet young voters, against all predictions, increased their turnout. They were 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, and 19 percent in 2012. Yes, in the Midwest the Obama campaign team supplemented the coalition with working-class white men, especially those who have jobs because of the auto bailout.

But black voters had not lost their enthusiasm for the first black president, and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly rejected Mr. Romney, whose proposal for illegal immigrants was "self-deportation." Mr. Obama got 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. Mr. Romney got 27 percent, 15 points fewer than John McCain. Mr. Obama got 55 percent of the female vote.

Hispanic turnout was key in the new southwest swing-state region -- Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. It also was big in Florida, where Hispanics comprised 55 percent of the population growth between 2000 and 2010. The state is 22.5 percent Hispanic, compared to 16.8 percent 12 years ago. By 2030, according to Florida's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Hispanics will make up 26.5 percent of the state's population.

But to really understand where the Florida electorate is trending, and why Republicans really have to adjust, consider this:

President Obama won 60 percent of the Latino vote in Florida. The big news, though, is that Mr. Obama won the Cuban-American vote in Florida. No Democrat had done that.

For decades, the "Hispanic vote" in Florida was hard-line Cuban-Americans in and around Miami, who were solidly Republican. Candidates would eat the obligatory lunch at Versailles Restaurant, make the obligatory stop at domino tables on Calle Ocho and issue the obligatory denunciation of Fidel Castro.

These days, though, more and more Cuban-Americans also are clustered in the Tampa area. Younger, separated from the daily indoctrination by Spanish-language radio in Miami, their issue is not Fidel Castro. They liked it that President Obama made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit families on the island. Many not only would like all travel restrictions lifted but would like the United States to end the half-century-old Cuba trade embargo. Tampa International Airport expects $650,000 in new revenue this year from Cuba traffic.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Legislature passed a bill designed to hurt companies that operate in Florida and do business with Cuba.

The overall Latino vote in Florida also is less Cuban. Puerto Ricans, most of whom are Democrats, have flocked to the Orlando area. Osceola County, home to Disney World, is 45.5 percent Hispanic, and it gave President Obama 8,000 more votes than in 2008. (Mr. Obama got 38,000 fewer votes this year in Palm Beach County.) A rising star is new state Sen. Darren Soto, who is Puerto Rican-Italian. In rural North Florida, a Republican stronghold, only one county is at least 10 percent Hispanic.

But back to last year's voter-suppression bill from Tallahassee. The GOP thinking has been that the shift in the electorate doesn't favor Republicans. Rather than appeal to those groups, the GOP wants to make it harder for them to vote.

In that 2011 bill were severe restrictions -- struck down by the courts -- on voter-registration groups. The bill changed the schedule for early voting, which is more popular with minorities, especially blacks. Gone was early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. The bill also made it harder for voters who go to the wrong precinct to cast regular ballots. Young people tend to be more transient. Provisional ballots are rejected at a much higher rate than regular ballots.

Republicans in Florida will point to Sen. Marco Rubio. The asterisk is that he will have to divorce the tea party on immigration. They will note that the GOP kept the U.S. House and strong majorities in the Legislature. The asterisk is that the party got a boost from Republican-drawn districts.

Republicans cast themselves as defenders of free enterprise. Yet they alienate the political market of the future. As Jeb Bush has said, if the GOP waits too long, even the best sales pitch won't work.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 The Palm Beach Post

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