by Michael Hammerschlag
As usual Florida went down to the wire in 2018 Election, and Puerto Ricans could have made the difference. But did Democrats blow it again in neglecting these key voters, driven from their home by Hurricane Maria and massive Trump Admin. incompetence and denial? “We’re worried,” says activist Mario Catalino earlier, “Mr. Nelson’s campaign is not taking seriously enough the Puerto Rican population. I think the Democratic Party is completely missing the boat when it comes to getting its message to them.”
Estimates of the flood of Islanders to Florida after Maria ranged up to 350,000, a Hispanic Org lists 279K, but let’s say there were 300,000, total Florida island-born P.R. eligible voters are now about 530,000. The Allianza for Progress claims they registered 77,000, and let’s estimate 23,000 others registered on their own- that’s still only 18.6% of the potential! Added to the million or so Puerto Ricans already there, that makes them +31% of Florida Hispanics, slightly more than Cubans at over 1.2 million; in 1988 the ratio of solidly Republican Cubans to Puerto Ricans was 2:1, then making the Hispanic block a Republican asset.
Beside the Allianza, the Democratic Party had 70 field organizers dedicated to Hispanic outreach (but only allotted $100,000); Alliance members Faith in Florida (felons rights) and Mi Familia Vota also were registering people. Billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer did spend $3.5 mil trying to drive the Young vote, 18–29, the lowest voting block of any group- under 50% in 2016 FL. His efforts had a significant effect in the multiple Dem victories in Virginia and Alabama.
After Governor Rossello Nevares was praised for only 17 casualties by the blithely ignorant President Trump in the greatest US natural catastrophe since the Galveston Hurricane (actually ~3000 dead), Nevares endorsed Sen. Bill Nelson (who made several trips to PR) and Andrew Gillum in October. Gov. Rick Scott played it pretty shrewdly too, creating welcome centers for refugees at the Airports, disagreeing with Trump’s death-total-denial, making multiple trips to PR, and gleaning support from Jeniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting Cong. Rep. The clueless Trump acolyte DeSantis however, ridiculed Puerto Rican Congresswoman-to-be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “You look at this girl, Ocasia-Cortez or whatever she is — I mean, she’s in a totally different universe.”
Puerto Ricans in Florida are mostly clustered in the Orlando/Tampa/Daytona center, with a third in Dade/Broward Co., and some in Jacksonville. They were aided by Fed. Judge Walker, who ordered that sample ballots be available in Spanish in 32 more counties, making that 47 of 67 total counties, the others have few refugees. On P.R., Election Day is a holiday, so people can vote, but not for U.S. President or a real member of Congress- on US soil though, they have full voting rights!
But after Trump’s contemptible treatment of Hispanics, over 70% of the new Americans are Democrats, 2.37 times more Latinos registered as Democrats than Republicans in 2016–2018 in Florida. 837,000 Latinos registered as Democrats in Florida, 527,000 registered as Republicans, and 775,000 registered with no party affiliation, says Pew (Aug 31st). In the 2016 Election nationwide, Dems took 69% of Latino votes, who voted in massive numbers- 11% of voters (close to their eligible percentage of 12.8%, 29 million). In Florida, with its huge block of Cubans- R, Latino votes for Gov + Senate were almost identically pro-Dem: 54% D to 44–45% R. Republican Cuban-Americans lost 2 of their 3 South Florida House seats to Democrats; while the first Puerto Rican Congressman Darren Soto (Orlando) won reelection].
But rather than spend millions on recounts and over $40 million on doomed special race Dems ($24 million for John Ossoff near Atlanta!, Danny O’Conner, Arizona Eighth) in the dead season, instead of only $100K, the Democratic Party could have spent $1M registering and GOTV of the refugees; just 19% more (another 100K) of the 540,000 eligible Florida Puerto Ricans would easily taken the Senate race (-11,033 final vote margin), and the crucial Florida Governor’s seat (-33,683), so vital in gerrymandering, voter suppression (now of legal ex-felon voters), and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election. With those 2 races, this historic Dem Wave, the greatest since 1974 (then +38 House, -2 Senate, and +8 Gov, could have been a real Tsunami.
Democrats have been weak-kneed though- finally after 70 years of weak-on-defense fellow-traveler slanders, they tossed away the most powerful weapon they’ve even had- and never even mentioned the Russia Conspiracy and how the whole Republican Party is apparently in bed with them now (why else did they send a Cong. Delegation to Moscow, even after the Skrypal poisonings?); that would sure have played in the South! “Trump is President only because Putin put him there!!”
Likewise with the unhinged un-American Immigrant Invasion hysteria, “Are you going to wait till a MAGA vigilante shoots your son because he might be an Illegal???? America is a Nation of Immigrants!! Get out & vote!”
But instead Democrats ran to the middle, they just can’t go in for the kill. They could have made this Election a historic wipeout of Repubs, and even with the worst field in 100 years, maybe won the Senate too.
Michael Hammerschlag’s commentary and articles have appeared in New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Honolulu Advertiser, Capital Times, Global Post, Yahoo, Business Insider, and many papers in Russia & Ukraine. He broke major stories of Florida vote counting and TV Network mistakes in the 2000 Election.