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An in-depth story in Politico Magazine by Michael Grunwald and Marc Caputo captures the unique challenges in Florida facing the Democratic Party and its failure to sufficiently engage with the state’s diverse Hispanic electorate.
Coming on the heels of an election cycle that once again showed that razor thin margins often decide statewide races in Florida, the piece captures why Democrats need to invest in a year-round, hands-on, sustained and authentic Hispanic outreach effort.
The authors put it this way:
Woody Allen said that 80 percent of life is showing up, and operatives from both parties agreed that Florida Democrats have been remarkably slow to learn that lesson when it comes to Hispanic outreach. Instead of organizing year-round, they’ve assumed demography would be destiny. Instead of selling progressive policies aggressively on Spanish-language media, they’ve assumed their positions on issues like immigration and health care would speak for themselves. And while Democrats are starting to put in more face time in Hispanic communities, Republicans are still doing a better job of nuts-and-bolts politicking with a demographic that is now one-sixth of the state’s electorate.
In the Politico piece Annette Taddeo, a Democratic Florida state Senator, sums it up this way:
I’m sick and tired of being the only Democrat who shows up at Nicaraguan events, Venezuelan events. You can’t just show up in campaign mode; you’ve got to be present all the time.
Rick Scott is a master of this. He gets that it’s not just about policies and issues. It’s about being there.
Jose Parra, former Senior Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and CEO of Prospero Latino, tells this story from 2011:
…as Nelson was preparing for his first Senate reelection campaign, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned him to pay more attention to Hispanics back home. A top Reid aide from Miami, Jose Parra, recalls telling Nelson about a slew of Hispanic journalists in Florida who had complained they were being ignored. ‘Look, I’ve got a lot of media markets to deal with,’ Nelson told Parra. ‘And frankly, I don’t think I’m going to get the Cuban vote.’
Parra was stunned. Florida is the ultimate 50-50 swing state, and he assumed any seasoned politician would know the key to winning here is managing margins. Yes, Parra told Nelson, most Cubans are Republicans, but if you work hard you might get 40 percent of them, like Bill Clinton did, and that could be the difference between winning and losing. What was even more surprising was Nelson’s apparent belief that ‘Hispanics’ meant ‘Cubans,’ when only about a third of the state’s Hispanics are of Cuban origin. ‘You’ve also got Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorans, Colombians—those votes add up!’ Parra said.
….Parra, the Democratic strategist who used to work for Harry Reid, says his party ‘always expects demography to float our boat,’ instead of making a real effort to engage Hispanics on issues they care about. Parra often thinks about a Senate Democratic retreat in Annapolis to discuss its governing agenda in January 2013, after Nelson’s belated outreach to Hispanics helped return him to office. The party’s top priority was going to be immigration reform, a vital issue for Hispanics—not quite as vital in Florida, because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and at the time most Cuban migrants also got automatic citizenship, but still important, in part because support for immigration is often seen as a proxy for respect for brown people. What Parra remembers is that just before Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey started their presentation about immigration reform, Nelson walked out of the room.