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The battle for the Latino vote in Florida is “rice with mango” – a sticky situation

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In the battle for the Latino vote in Florida, and specifically the Puerto Rican vote in this state, the presidential candidates are even talking about rice!

In response to a radio spot in Spanish from the Donald Trump campaign, in which a young woman defends the Goya brands with a rather exaggerated “boricua” accent and manner of speaking—making reference to “arroz con gandules” and saying that the Democrats are out of control or “al garete”—the campaign of Democrat Joe Biden took out another ad in Spanish radio entitled “Arroz” (rice).

In said message, a woman with a more natural Puerto Rican accent and style of talking refers to two issues that mobilize Puerto Ricans: Hurricane Maria and the pandemic.

“If the Republicans want to talk about rice, then let’s talk about the ‘rice with butt’’ that the Repubilcan response to his pandemic has been,” the woman says. It should be said that this expression is a little more delicate than the original, “rice with a**,’ which is used to describe a chaotic or disastrous situation.

And on the failed response of the Trump administration to the hurricane, she adds that “each paper towel that Trump threw felt like one more blow to the people.” She closes by saying that “in November we will show that we are more and we are not afraid,” the war-cry of the demonstrations in Puerto Rico during the summer of 2019, which resulted in the resignation of Governor Pedro Rosselló.

I would agree that during the Trump presidency, the “rice with butt” dishes have been many, and its almost four years of existence, in fact, could be cataloged in this way. Without a doubt, one of these rice dishes has been his mismanagement of the pandemic and the revelation that, since February, the President knew how contagious and lethal COVID was and he hid this, according to him so as not to generate panic. But it’s clear that it was to not hurt his reelection.

Florida has also been the scene of many of these rice dishes, like the presidential election in 2000 between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, which ended when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount and declared Bush president.

With its typically close elections and coveted twenty-nine electoral votes, Florida is always a central theme in campaigns and coverage and, therefore, so is the behavior of the Latino vote that may be divided by nationalities and preferences. And although the Latino vote is not homogeneous, in Florida the distinctions are perhaps more pronounced that in other regions of the country, by the diversity of nationalities and interests and because more Hispanics tend to register as unaffiliated with any party.

This sticky situation is a challenge for any campaign. Last week a series of polls favorable to Trump were released, one of those being the NBC/Marist survey, where Trump leads Biden among Latino voters in Florida, 50% to 46%. Other polls show Trump closing the gap with Biden in Miami-Dade County, which Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections. Trump, as always, has relied upon a message of fear and, this time it is the bogeyman of “socialism” that he attaches to Democrats in order to win the support of Cuban, Cuban American, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Colombian voters, among others. In 2016 Trump won Florida over Clinton by 1.2%, some 112,000 people.

Biden must improve his standing among Hispanics in Miami-Dade in order to effectively compete for the state, or at least make up for his losses in South Florida with leads in other areas, such as taking a portion of Trump’s support among white men or growing his support among Puerto Ricans in the I-4 Corridor; that’s where his “Arroz” ad comes in to remind Puerto Ricans of the lack of respect Trump has shown them over the years.

The Latino vote in Florida, on top of being diverse, is always evolving, it is changing. Just look at the ideological differences between Cubans and Cuban Americans of different generations.

Although survey results have to be analyzed, we also do not have to hyperventilate. Measures and precautions have to be taken. Remember that we are in September. That Latino voters, like others, sometimes wait until the last minute to decide for whom they are voting, or even say that they are going to vote for someone and at the moment of truth choose the other. Among young Latino voters, perhaps there is a tendency toward minimizing their support for Biden since, as in 2016, they preferred other candidates.

If the 2018 electoral cycle taught us anything, it’s that there are times when the Latino vote should not be underestimated, especially young voters. In 2018 the surveys talk of apathy, but when the chips were down, and especially in places like California, Texas, and Arizona, this young Latino vote contributed to victories and in some cases to closing the gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Of course, the Biden campaign has to do its homework, adequately invest, and not leave anything to chance, especially not take for granted that the rejection of Trump would be enough for Latinos to vote in the necessary numbers.

If this sounds complicated, like a real mess, that’s because it is. The fight for electoral votes is a complicated game of chess, where groups are added and subtracted from across the state and country in order to compensate for what may be lost among other groups.

Which brings me once again to Biden’s radio spot about rice, because as much as the last almost-four years of the Trump presidency have been chaotic, we still do not know what Election Day, this November 3,  will bring. Whether or not there will be clear results or if Trump will declare, if he loses, that the election was “stolen.” That would be a huge ‘rice with butt.’

And if Trump were to be reelected and have the opportunity to intensify and solidify his most sinister public policies; to mold the U.S. Supreme Court; to institute, as he has already done, the persecution of his critics; and to feel revindicated and licensed to do whatever he wants, we already know what will be on the menu for another four long years.