Biden woos Puerto Ricans in Florida — and gives new hope to state Democrats – POLITICO

Joe Biden steps off a plane at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden steps off a plane at Tampa International Airport on Sept. 15, 2020. | AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

2020 Elections

The battleground state’s complex Hispanic electorate makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

TALLAHASSEE — Buoyed by promised ad buys, new hires and Joe Biden’s visit on Tuesday to Kissimmee — home to a sizable Puerto Rican population — Florida Democrats are growing more confident of the party’s chances with Hispanic voters as Election Day approaches.

Florida Democrats haven’t been shy about launching attacks at their own candidate and party leadership as Biden and Donald Trump remain neck and neck in the battleground state. But that tune is changing after Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, made a stop in Miami last week and Biden chose Kissimmee for his first in-person campaign appearance.

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In Kissimmee, a city outside Orlando and the epicenter of the state’s Puerto Rican vote, Biden planned to outline a wide-ranging plan to help Puerto Rico, an island battered in recent years by natural disasters and economic instability.

He wants to make it easier for Puerto Rico to get federal assistance after years of fighting with the Trump administration for help in the wake of devastating natural disasters, boost payments to the island’s Medicare Advantage System and expand coronavirus services.

Biden has not endorsed statehood, which is among the biggest issues for Puerto Rican voters.

“They have woken up and smelled the café con leche,” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat and persistent critic of her party’s Hispanic outreach. “It’s absolutely not too late. I’ve been happy they are taking note.”

For years, the political fight for Florida’s Hispanic vote has centered on South Florida, home to huge patchwork of Hispanic voters, including conservative-leaning Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. That focus is starting to shift to Central Florida, where more than 1 million Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans have become a powerful voting block that has helped offset conservative Cuban voters. Florida’s complex Hispanic electorate now makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

“We are going to have a full-court press in the Central Florida region,” Biden campaign adviser Christian Ulvert said. “The Puerto Rican vote is critical, and the campaign is going to work hard to earn every one of their votes.”

Following Biden’s appearance Tuesday, big-name surrogates are expected to blanket the Orlando media market, a large and critical portion of the coveted Interstate 4 corridor, in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

“Nothing is perfect, there are always bumps in the road, and we are starting to straighten them out. Is everyone happy? No,” said state Sen. Victor Torres, who is of Puerto Rican descent and represents an Orlando-area seat. “But we are getting there. It is getting worked out and they are trying to make it correct.”

Biden’s late-hour attempt to reverse public perception of his Hispanic outreach comes amid a withering drumbeat of criticism from the Trump campaign and Florida Republicans, who are casting Democrats and Biden as socialist-sympathizing extremists who support leftist Latin American strongmen.

“Joe Biden is a wholly owned subsidiary of the radical left socialist agenda,” said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, a prominent Trump campaign Hispanic surrogate, on a campaign call Tuesday afternoon. “Biden would strengthen Cuba’s brutal regime, which would make it easier to prop up other regimes” such as Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Biden almost certainly will win the Hispanic vote in Florida, but in a state where the past two presidential elections have been decided by less than a single point, margins matter.

A poll earlier this month found Biden’s advantage among Hispanic voters at 53-37, much smaller than the 27-point margin Hillary Clinton claimed in 2016 when she narrowly lost Florida to Trump.

Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who runs Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC, doubts that Biden can replicate Clinton’s margins in Hispanic-heavy Miami-Dade County, but Biden might not have to reach Clinton-level numbers to win the state.

The Clintons had 30 years of relationship-building in Miami and Bill Clinton was one of the first Democrats to actively campaign for the Cuban vote, Schale wrote in a memo outlining Florida’s 2020 landscape. “Republicans and Trump have had four years of outreach work.”

Trump is unlikely to replicate his massive wins with white older and suburban voters, so Biden won’t have to win the same share of the Hispanic vote as Clinton did in 2016, Schale wrote.

Taddeo, who as recently as last week was critical of Biden’s Hispanic outreach, said the campaign has woken up just in time to a potential trap that could once again cost the party Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

Biden’s visit on Tuesday builds on excitement over a $100 million ad pledge from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a portion of which will target Hispanic voters throughout the state. Detailed plans for the commitment have been kept under wraps, but the ad campaign will focus on Hispanic turnout.

“The café con leche is getting whipped cream on top with the millions that Bloomberg will spend specifically on Hispanic voters,” Taddeo said in an interview as she drove to do Spanish-language audio work for the Bloomberg effort.

“My understanding is that it will be spent on ground and digital,” said a person familiar with early planning for the nine-figure spend. “Bloomberg people are very data-driven. No one will receive money without proof of ability to perform.”

Bloomberg’s money will bolster Biden’s paid media advantage in the Miami market and Spanish-language ads across the state. Biden so far has spent $11 million in the Miami market and $1.7 million on Spanish-language ads.

Trump has spent $10.9 million in Miami and $800,170 on Spanish-language ads, according to Advertising Analytics.

Still, Biden needs to overcome a multiyear effort by Florida Republicans to brand Democrats as extremist socialists, messaging that has been given a signal boost by the Trump campaign.

State Rep. Javier Fernández of South Miami, a Democrat running in a competitive Florida Senate seat, said the branding effort has been under way for years. The GOP-dominated Florida Legislature, for example, in 2019 passed legislation to ban sanctuary cities despite the fact that no Florida municipalities have laws protecting illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement.

“The consistency and message discipline have long been there. That’s what has made it effective,” Fernandez said. “In Tallahassee, [the Republican majority] have chosen issues to highlight extremism and rule of law. Sanctuary cities are a good example of one of those calculated wedge issues.”

“Joe Biden is not a Trojan horse for the liberal left, which is a growing sub-narrative,” he said. “He is going to act within his own belief system.”

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