For Cuban-American voters in Florida, it’s Trump’s run for a mile


MIAMI — Flipping through her phone in front of Versailles restaurant on a 91-degree day here, Maria Diaz quickly landed on a photo of herself in a “Mamas for DeSantis” T-shirt just after Ron DeSantis’ re-election as governor in 2022.

A few flicks of her finger and she found another image: one of her and a friend at a Donald Trump rally in Hialeah, both smiling in pink caps that read “Trump 2020.”

Like many of her fellow Cuban-Americans living in Florida, Díaz is a conservative who has supported both candidates in their past races. But with three Floridians — Trump, DeSantis and now Miami Mayor Francis Suarez — in the running for the Republican presidential nomination, her loyalty is now being tested.

“I am probably leaning more towards Trump, he already knows who the players are. And I feel like we’re in a really bad situation right now in this country,» Diaz said.

She is far from alone in her assessment. Based on conversations with political analysts, campaign officials and voters in Miami-Dade County and elsewhere in Florida, the race to secure the loyalty of Cuban-American voters appears to be Trump’s, leaving his Republican rivals in the state dealing to catch up.

Francis Suárez during an event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California on June 15, 2023. Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Trump’s overwhelming force

Standing outside his office in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, Fernand Amandi, who heads the Miami-based public opinion research firm Bendixen & Amandi, described Cuban-American support for the former president as «overwhelming.»

“Donald Trump is to the point of being able to share a Cuban coffee with Fidel Castro on Fifth Avenue and not lose any Cuban-American supporters,” he said.

Although Trump won Florida in the 2016 Republican primary, exit polls show he lost the Cuban-American vote to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents are Cuban immigrants, by 46 percentage points. After that, Trump went on what Amandi described as a “court-wide press charm offensive,” campaigning heavily in Florida, appearing on Spanish-language radio and touting hardline Cuba policies during his time as president.

In the next elections, he won 56% of Cuban voters in the state, according to exit polls by NBC News.

Kevin Marino Cabrera, who led Trump’s 2020 statewide re-election campaign and now serves as Miami-Dade County commissioner, said it’s too early in the primary process for any candidate to name a director of outreach for the Florida Cuban-American voters heading to the 2024 election. . But also, he argued, at this point, the Trump team might not need one.

“You have a huge grassroots movement supporting it that has never stopped since 2015,” Cabrera said in a phone interview. «You don’t have to activate them because they haven’t stopped.»

“It comes as no surprise that President Trump has the support of a wide range of Americans who have seen firsthand what he can do to boost the economy, protect our border, safeguard communities and end unnecessary wars,” the Trump spokesman said. Trump, Steven Cheung. «They want America to be a prosperous nation again, and there’s only one person who can do that: President Trump.»

Cuban exiles gather at Versailles restaurant in Little Havana in support of Donald Trump
Cuban exiles gather at the Versailles restaurant in Little Havana in support of Donald Trump, in Miami, on June 13, 2023. Pedro Portal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images file

A lonely road for some DeSantis fans

Standing on a shady sidewalk in Miami’s Cuban Memorial Park, Maria Peiro described a political environment that can sometimes be difficult for Cuban-Americans who support DeSantis like her.

“Right now, you can’t say you support DeSantis, because they’re going to come after you. They feel that you are a traitor to Trump if you do this,” Peiro said. “There are a lot of people who have said to me, ‘I support DeSantis. I just don’t want to say it out loud right now. Because we have, you know, loud Trump supporters who sometimes go after them.»

A former volunteer for DeSantis’ gubernatorial bid in 2018, Peiro is now unaffiliated with the campaign. Instead, she chooses to share videos and news articles on her Facebook page, hoping to win over Cuban-Americans with the governor’s message on what she calls «culture warfare» issues, such as critical race theory and gender identity, which you believe are being used. indoctrinate children in school.

Maria Peiro.
Maria Peiro.Aaron Franco / NBC News

Though she once considered herself a Trump supporter, she is now vocal in her criticism of the former president.

“When he had a majority in Congress and the Senate, he couldn’t get things done, rally the Republicans behind him, so he could pass those laws and things that he had promised, like completing the wall, getting rid of Obamacare. And it was a lot of drama, unlike DeSantis, who is more focused, gets things done, unites the people of the party behind him,» Peiro said. «And, you know, he’s not on Twitter all the time.»

One thing the Trump surrogates and DeSantis agree on is that the Manhattan grand jury indictment against the former president related to $130,000 in payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and their federal indictment related to alleged mismanagement of classified documents so far have not affected her campaign but helped her.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis walks with his wife Casey in Merrimack, NH during a July 4th parade. Reba Saldanha/AP

NBC News contacted the DeSantis campaign and Never Back Down, a PAC that supports the governor’s run for president, for comment on the candidate’s support in the Cuban-American community, but the campaign did not respond by the deadline.

Dave Vasquez, the national press secretary for Never Back Down, noted that DeSantis was the first Republican governor in nearly 20 years to dye Miami-Dade County red, adding: “He won Florida by the largest margin of any governor in 40 years and he has shown that he is the candidate who can send Joe Biden back to Delaware permanently, with no excuses.”

Vasquez also referred former Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican who represented parts of Miami-Dade and Hialeah counties and who supports DeSantis’s bid for the Republican nomination, to NBC News.

While there is no evidence that Trump’s accusations were politically motivated, he believes the former president’s message about his allegations is resonating with a Cuban-American population that has witnessed a long history of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions in their home country.

“I think just as we saw the Trump numbers go up dramatically immediately after the New York impeachment, they strengthened after the federal impeachment,” Oliva said. «So I think what you’re seeing is a natural knee-jerk reaction to what’s perceived as persecution.»

The only Cuban-American candidate

Since his announcement of the Republican nomination in June, the Miami mayor has described himself as a «first-generation American» who can connect with segments of the country outside of the Republican base, including urban and Hispanic voters.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Suárez won re-election in 2021 with almost 79% of the vote

But political pundits, DeSantis supporters and Trump supporters speaking for this article expressed strong skepticism that Suárez would dent support for either candidate among Cuban-Americans.

“The connection in the relationship between Cuban voters and Trump is so strong that not even another Cuban-American candidate in Francis Suárez would threaten that relationship,” Amandi said.

Other voters described Suárez as insufficiently conservative, pointing to his informed vote for Democrat Andrew Gillum in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Suárez also butt heads with DeSantis over Covid restrictions, something Peiro said he views as a disqualification for a Republican candidate.

“I think he’s in this race just to get a name ID for something else he wants to do. But I don’t think he gets any votes, almost no votes from Cuban-Americans,” Peiro said.

NBC News contacted a spokesperson for SOS America PAC to request an interview or a surrogate who could speak on Suárez’s candidacy. The spokesperson did not comment for this story directly, but referred NBC News to a surrogate, who did not respond by the deadline.

Despite the long road to the March 19 primary and the tough political battles to come, there is evidence that voters in this winner-take-all state with 125 delegates at stake are enjoying the fight.

“It’s like a really good football game is coming up,” Diaz said. «Who will win? I don’t know. They are two champions against each other”.

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