The question has lingered in Florida politics since Donald Trump swept the March presidential primary: How would the presumptive Republican nominee make nice with Hispanics in Miami-Dade County, the only place in the state where he lost?
The answer — or at least the beginning of one — comes Friday, when Trump will hold his first Miami campaign events in more than eight months. They will be aimed broadly at Latinos — and specifically at Cuban Americans, who have historically voted Republican but have yet to fully embrace Trump.
The New York developer has invited a group of 20-30 Hispanic community leaders — elected politicians, business people and pastors — to a casual lunch Friday at the iconic Versailles Cuban Restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street. Later, Trump will speak to a larger audience of invited guests at the DoubleTree Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center. Gov. Rick Scott, who endorsed Trump in March, plans to be at both.
Neither event is open to the general public. Trump’s goal is to start winning over Latino luminaries willing to sit down with him — and perhaps influence their circles of friends and co-workers to give Trump a chance.
“This is an opportunity for him to listen,” Karen Giorno, Trump’s senior political adviser and Florida campaign chief, said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “There are some people that, I’m not gonna lie, they don’t know him. So they only know what they’ve heard. This is their opportunity to get to know the candidate.”
Trump has alienated some — but not all — Hispanic Republicans by saying in his campaign launch a year ago that some Mexicans who come into the U.S. are rapists. He’s advocated for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and insisted that the federal judge trying a case against the now-defunct Trump University is “Mexican” even though he was born in Indiana (to Mexican parents). In May, Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo of himself eating a taco bowl. “I love Hispanics!” he wrote.
United Families, an immigration advocacy group that said it organized protesters at Trump’s Miami rally in October, publicized a letter Thursday urging Versailles — a longtime political stomping ground — to reconsider opening its doors to Trump.
Latinos are not the only group troubled by Trump. He’s been embroiled for nearly a week in a controversy over his campaign’s use of an image seen as anti-Semitic: a six-pointed star superimposed on money, next to an image of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has defended it as “just a star.”
Though not his target demographic Friday, Jews make up a significant portion of South Florida’s population.
The top elected representatives of the Hispanic Republicans that Trump will try to win over have been wary of being tied to him. Only one of the four Miami Republicans in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, attended one of the unity sessions Trump held Thursday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“It was good to have an opportunity to listen to him in a small setting,” Diaz-Balart said. “He took a few questions. It’s a good first step.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has backed Trump but won’t attend the Republican National Convention that begins July 18 in Cleveland. U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen won’t vote for Trump (or Clinton). Neither will Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.
All are Cuban American — the likeliest Hispanic group to vote for Trump. Older Cubans who are more reliable voters are heavily Republican; the immigration issue doesn’t affect them as it does other Latinos because Cubans have special status that allows them to remain legally in the country upon reaching the U.S.
The Trump campaign chose Miami because it’s a “microcosm” of Latinos, Giorno said. In his speech, which has been given the sunny title of “Succeeding Together,” Trump will try to strike an inclusive tone.
“The speech is really going to talk about, we’re all Americans,” Giorno said. “What affects one group will affect all groups.”
Trump’s campaign has had a light Florida footprint compared to Clinton. Clinton and her allies have spent at least $7.3 million already on television and web advertising in the state, according to a recent NBC News analysis, almost all of it slamming Trump. Trump’s spending so far? $0.
Despite the disparity, Giorno noted, polls show a close race in Florida — the nation’s largest swing state — with Clinton just edging Trump.
“It hasn’t moved the dial,” Giorno said. “She should be at least 20 points ahead of him.”
Giorno also maintained the campaign never ended its grassroots from the primary: “We have an army — we just haven’t put it in the field yet.”
As far as South Florida is concerned, Trump’s campaign presence has been stronger in Broward County. His volunteers started showing up at the Broward Republican Executive Committee’s monthly meetings before supporters of any other GOP primary candidate, according to local Chairman Bob Sutton. A recent meeting featured a long table of women-for-Trump volunteers. A similar Miami-Dade meeting had no Trump showing.
Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, plans to attend the Saturday opening of Clinton’s first Miami field office, in Wynwood. Another office is expected to open soon in Broward. Clinton hasn’t held public events since the primary, though she spoke to the Trayvon Martin Foundation in Fort Lauderdale in May. Last month, in a show of Democratic unity, the campaign organized a Plantation phone bank with a Clinton supporter and a Bernie Sanders supporter.
Ahead of Trump’s visit Friday, Clinton surrogates gathered Thursday outside of a failed Trump tower in Fort Lauderdale to criticize the Republican’s business practices and multiple bankruptcies. The Conrad hotel was initially going to be the Trump International Hotel & Tower — before the project collapsed and buyers lost millions, sparking several lawsuits. Trump was not the developer and only lent his name to the project.
But investors bought into the Trump name and then saw their money disappear, said Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam: “As he runs out on them, will he run out on this country?”
Messam, the son of Jamaican immigrants, also underscored the immigration contrast Clinton and other Democrats will highlight against Trump. If Trump’s policies were in place when his father — a migrant worker who cut sugarcane — came into the U.S., “we would not be standing here today,” Messam said.
McClatchy Washington correspondent James Rosen contributed to this report.