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In 2020, the Democratic Party clinched the presidency by winning tight victories in key states, managing to flip five states that went for the GOP in 2016. However, while the DNC headquarters in Washington D.C. celebrated, Florida Democrats were reeling after a fourth consecutive defeat, after Trump managed to decisively win the state with the key support of Florida Hispanic Americans. In 2021, Biden’s Latin America foreign policy might very well doom the Democrat’s ambitions to regain the state next year.
Biden’s inaction in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua
The Democratic Party has already fumbled its response towards the Cuban protests earlier this year, with Republicans condemning Biden for not trying to give internet access to the Cuban people and 40 Democratic lawmakers (including all the most famous progressive representatives) voting against a resolution condemning the Cuban regime. The actions (or lack thereof) of Biden on Cuba and the complicity of some members of his party would surely be a heavy burden for any Democratic candidate in 2022.
In Venezuela and Nicaragua, the other two remaining dictatorships in the continent, the administration has been caught in inertia, with the State Department issuing condemnations against the authoritarian behaviors of Ortega and Maduro but without a clear strategy of how to deal with them.
The reports that the White House would take the FARC communist guerrillas, a group that has been accused of several human rights violations throughout the years, out of the State Department is the latest action of the Biden Administration that could further endanger the Democrat’s position in the always close (and crucial) state of Florida.
By having a hands-off approach with Cuba, showing inertia with Venezuela and Nicaragua, and now saying that the FARC is not a terrorist group, the Biden administration is potentially damaging bridges with a constituency that has always been key to winning the Sunshine State: Latino voters.
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Democratic woes in Florida
The Democrats have failed repeatedly to win in Florida. In 2020, they lost the state by three points, despite them winning the national popular vote by four points. This electoral defeat came after Florida Democrats lost against former governor Rick Scott in 2014, losing to both Trump and Senator Rubio in 2016, and then being defeated by Governor DeSantis and also losing a Senate seat against Mr. Scott in 2018, even when the political environment was favorable for Democrats nationwide.
However, one of the most worrying signs of the 2020 election was the surprisingly high numbers that Trump managed in the historically Democratic Miami-Dade County. The majority Hispanic county saw a significant shift towards Trump in 2020, going 22 points more Republican than in 2016, with the GOP managing a very impressive 46.1% of the vote. Miami-Dade has always played a crucial role in the Democrat’s calculus in Florida, with Obama managing to win the state only after running the score in the heavily Hispanic county, winning Miami-Dade by such slim margins severely hampers the Democrat’s chances to win the state.
Trump not only won the county, but he also did a very good job with Latinos in the entire state, with an NBC exit poll in 2020 showing that 47% of Latinos in Florida voted for Trump, with a whopping 56% of Cuban-Americans voting for the GOP, 31% of Puerto Ricans voting for Trump, and 50% of other Latinos also voting for the Republican candidate.
Hence, if Biden and the Democrats want to remain competitive in Florida, they need to have a decent run with the state’s Latino voter population, which constitutes 17% of the electorate. They would also need to take great care in not upsetting the Cuban, Colombian, and Venezuelan communities in the state, which make up almost 40% of the Hispanic vote in Florida.
However, it is doubtful if taking the FARC out of the terrorist list will do much help to the Democrats’ image in South Florida.
Florida Democrats do damage control, will it be enough?
Florida Democrats are already trying to distance themselves from Biden’s Latin American foreign policy, in hopes that voters will know how to differentiate between the President and the national DNC and them. The Miami-Dade Democratic mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, tweeted that she was urging the Biden Administration to reject the move, calling the FARC a terrorist group that has caused much pain.
One of the democratic primary candidates for the gubernatorial race, Charlie Crist, also said that he was concerned over the reported decision to take the FARC out of the list.
Crist’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, has taken a more ambivalent view, saying that the U.S. should continue to support Colombia’s attempts to bring FARC members to justice, but has said nothing about the decision to take them out of the terrorist list. Noticeably, the Democratic candidate for Senator Rep. Val Demings has yet to distance herself from the Administration over the issue.
Whether the attempts of many Florida Democrats to paint themselves as critics of Biden’s Latin American Foreign policy will be effective remains to be seen.
The last time the Democratic Party won a federal election in the sunshine state, Donald Trump was still recording The Apprentice, The Avengers 1 had just been released in cinemas, and Mark Zuckerberg had a good reputation. If Biden keeps his current path in Latin American strategy, it might be very possible that Democrats would have to prepare for many more years in the wilderness in Florida.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.