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Trump comes to Miami to woo Cubans, Haitians

Trump is looking to boost support in must-win Florida, reaching out to the state's large Cuban American community, a former a bastion for the Republican Party that has drifted Democrat in recent years.
16 Sep 2016 – 05:23 PM EDT
A Trump supporter listen to him in Miami Beach during a speech to the National Association of Home Builders, Aug 11, 2016 Crédito: Getty Images

MIAMI, Florida -- In March, Donald Trump swept the Republican primary in 66 of Florida's 67 counties, losing just Miami-Dade to native son Marco Rubio. Tonight, he’ll make a bid to voters in Florida’s most populous -- and potentially most important -- county, during a downtown rally.

One of the most Latino counties in the country, this is not natural Trump territory.

With his visit, Trump seeks to draw in the South Florida's large community of Cuban Americans who voted for Rubio in March and have a long tradition of supporting the Republican Party. But, he may have a tougher time winning over more moderate Republicans who backed former governor Jeb Bush, a Spanish speaker and Miami resident who abandoned the race early.

The Republican candidate will speak at 6 p.m. EST at the James L. Knight Center, a convention center located in Miami’s downtown. Beforehand, Trump will meet with a group of Haitian community leaders, according to his campaign.

In Miami, Trump is taking on the risk of protests against him by immigration activists. But it's hard for Trump to ignore vote-rich Miami, by far the largest urban area in the state, and he’ll likely have to return before election day on Nov 8.

Analysts say Trump needs Florida's 29 electoral votes to have any chance of winning the presidency. Polls show Trump staying competitive in the state where Hispanics account for 15% of registered voters. Some recent polls show him edging ahead of his Democratic Party rival, Hillary Clinton.

He has the backing of 45% of Cuban-Americans, according to a poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi for Univision News, released this week.

Fernand Amandi, co-director of the polling firm told Univision News that Trump's support among Cuban Americans far exceeds the 29% he gets among Hispancs statewide, but is far less than the level historically obtained by Republican presidential candidates in the past.

But Trump will have to tread carefully as the Cuban exile community is deeply divided these days with a majority supporting the recent thaw in relations with Cuba begun by President Barack Obama. Obama's health reform, Obamacare, is also popular among poorer Cuban Americans who grew up with socialized medicine in Cuba.

The loyalty of Cuban Americans to Republicans stems from a long-standing perception of the party's tougher opposition to the communist government on the island. "Many older Cuban Americans are going to vote until the death for the Republican Party," Amandi notes. However, newcomers and those born here, have tended to lean more Democrat.

Trump's stance on Cuba has been criticized by some Cuban-Americans in Miami who support Obama's Cuba policy. In a debate in Miami before the March primary, Trump criticized Obama's Cuba policy saying he could have negotiated a "better deal," though he did not offer any details.

But Trump has in the past criticized the 50-year-old embargo against Cuba, which is strongly supported by Cuban American Republicans.

Either way, Trump cannot afford to ignore vote-rich South Florida which includes the state's most populous county, Miami-Dade, a Democratic stronghold, with 1.3 million of the 12.3 million registered voters in Florida.

"I think we will see much more of him (Trump) here in the 53 days remaining until the vote," predicts Amandi.

Trump's popularity in Florida is surprising given his lack of campaign infrastructure in the state. Clinton has opened 57 offices statewide. Trump has 13 offices, and is due to open nine more on Tuesday, according to Politico. Clinton and her allies have outspent Trump on TV ads by almost a three-to-one margin ($21 million versus $7.5 million).

Trump has overcome this deficiency thanks to his mastery of media appearances and mass rallies. Last week he spoke of his plan to strengthen his campaign in the state before some 10,000 supporters gathered at a stadium in Pensacola.

His popularity in Florida is partly explained by growing enthusiasm among white voters, and the state's large population of retirees.

But in South Florida Trump lacks support even among local Republicans. Rubio has only supported him reluctantly, Jeb Bush and others, including congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are fierce critics who have said they will not vote for him.

Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, sees Trump's visit to Miami as part of a recent offensive to grow his base beyond white voters. "He's going to places where you would not have expected, such as African-American churches," said MacManus.

So far there is little indication that this strategy is working, but MacManus said that the worst thing Trump could so is nothing: "There is an old belief in Florida that says you need at least 40% of the Hispanic vote to win any type of campaign in this state," she said.

Jessica Fernandez, president of the Young Republicans of Miami-Dade, represents many Cuban Americans who voted for Rubio in the primary and now sees Trump as the lesser of two evils. "I support him but I have no illusion," she said.

"They aren't the best candidates we could have to opt for, but it is important to have someone who knows how a business is run, and that's what attracts me to him," she added.

Additional reporting by David Adams