In districts such as Miami-Dade County – which ceased to be a Democratic stronghold for the first time in 20 years – Palm Beach, or Osceola, hundreds of thousands of Floridians of Venezuelan, Cuban and Puerto Rican descent flocked to vote for the right in the US midterm elections.
At least 56% of Florida’s Latinos voted for the re-election of Governor Ron DeSantis, specifically 68% of Cubans and 53% of “other Hispanics” (Mexicans, Colombians, Venezuelans and so forth).
These numbers represented a trend against President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, which did not see it coming. Democratic strategists assumed that – while an older generation of Cuban exiles would likely vote Republican – younger generations of Hispanics and new Americans would vote for the party of Barack Obama. But the results show that this didn’t pan out in Florida.
“What [President Ronald] Reagan used to say has come true: Latinos are Republicans, but they still don’t know it!” laughs Jaime Florez, from the Republican National Committee (RNC).
According to Florez – the Hispanic Communications Director for the RNC – DeSantis’s policies on issues such as the pandemic or education have been crucial in securing Latino support. Even his cruel management of the migration crisis didn’t dent his poll numbers – in fact, it may have even helped them.
After DeSantis sent a plane full of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard – an elite holiday spot in Democratic-led Massachusetts – Democrats called it a “political ploy.” But many voters bought it.
“On Martha’s Vineyard, they support Biden’s immigration policy… until they’re sent 50 migrants. That’s the hypocrisy of the left. The Democrats have handed the border over to drug cartels,” says Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Florida congressman who has held his seat since 2003.
“Latinos are not opposed to immigration… but we want it to be legal and orderly,” argues Alina García, from Miami, who serves in the Florida House of Representatives for the Republican Party.
“Latinos have voted for the economy, because we support family values and because we don’t want our children to be indoctrinated. Let’s teach them mathematics and English at school – they can get their values at home.”
Amy Palma, a makeup artist from South Beach who voted for DeSantis, says that the governor was “the only one who, during the pandemic, looked after small businesspeople” like her.
“For many of us, teleworking was impossible. I don’t want to live on subsidies. They say that [DeSantis] isn’t charismatic…. but I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m looking for a leader. I would vote for Santa Claus if he guarantees that I can work and earn money,” she laughs, referring to how DeSantis – unlike most other American governors – refused to continue harsh coronavirus lockdowns and mask mandates after the first few months of the pandemic.
Palma also valued the fact that, in September 2020, DeSantis reopened schools.
“My children suffered a lot with remote education. I don’t think that the government should force parents to keep their kids studying at home, or force them to get vaccinated and wear masks… even though I’m vaccinated,” she clarifies.
Another reason for the shift among Florida’s Hispanic voters is foreign policy. Many have fled left-wing dictatorships in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua and feel that the Democratic Party is unwilling to confront these regimes. This was the last straw for Latinas such as Carolina Castillo, who was a Democrat for 28 years before throwing her support behind the Republicans this year.
Born in Colombia, she began to change her political leaning during the pandemic. Later, she was shaken by the manner in which the United States abandoned Afghanistan. She felt “stabbed” by how the Biden administration began a policy of rapprochement with far-left leaders in Latin America, such as Gustavo Petro, the former guerilla who was recently elected president of Castillo’s country of origin.
“We all knew that he [Petro] was a guerrilla, a criminal,” she says. “Seeing Petristas on the campaign teams of prominent progressive leaders in Miami convinced me. I stopped recognizing my party; it has turned into a pack of socialists. Hispanics in South Florida are not communists – that’s why we live here. When I changed sides, I lost friends… but I didn’t change, it was the party that changed!”
“Democrats are disconnected from our values,” opines Cuban-American analyst Giancarlo Sopo. “Republicans have a constant presence in our communities. The Democrats only show up every other year with irrelevant celebrities asking for our vote. I know many people who enjoyed Hamilton… but I have yet to meet anyone who cares what Lin-Manuel Miranda thinks about politics.”
Carmen Peláez, a Democratic voter, believes her party made a mistake by not combating Republican rhetoric in the midterms, which alleged that Biden belongs to the extreme left. She says that, in November, near her house in the Calle 8 area – the Cuban epicenter of Miami – there was an early voting site with a lot of Latina Republican activists.
“Some ladies were shouting that voting for a Democrat is the same as voting for communism. We need to contradict that.”
Her sister, Ana María, is the founder of the Miami Freedom Project, an organization that tries to promote the progressive agenda among Hispanics. In one spot of blue among the sea of red that swept Florida, there was a glimmer of hope for the project in the form of Maxwell Alejandro Frost. At the age of 25, he won his race in Florida’s 10th district, becoming the first member of Generation Z to be elected to the US Congress.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition