Cuban-American vote for DeSantis might prove decisive as race moves toward recount

The Cuban-American vote might have played an important role in the Florida gubernatorial election, which appears headed for a recount, according to a review of the vote in predominantly Cuban precincts in Miami-Dade County.

Republican candidate Ron DeSantis appears to have won 66 percent of the Cuban-American vote while his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, appears to have won 33 percent, according to an analysis by communications strategist Giancarlo Sopo of results from 35 precincts in Hialeah and suburbs in southwest Miami-Dade.

The numbers are only estimates because the vote is secret and the U.S. Census provides percentages of Cuban Americans only for residential districts, not voting precincts, said Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University political analyst who reviewed Sopo’s estimates at the request of el Nuevo Herald.

Sopo’s conclusion is “correct. Cuban voters identified with DeSantis,” said Gamarra, who conducted several polls before the election. “The message that Gillum is a socialist worked.”

DeSantis campaigned in South Florida with the support of Cuban-exile organizations, such as the Inspire America Foundation and the Brigade 2506, which represents veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion. His running mate, state Rep. Jeanette Núñez, is Cuban American.

DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott — whose run for the U.S. Senate also appears headed to a recount — “motivated the community to get out and vote for them,” Marcell Felipe, president of Inspire America, said in a statement. “It’s a niche vote that made the difference in these tight elections. They made the cause of freedom an important part of the campaign and it paid off.”

A Telemundo poll last week of registered Hispanic voters showed that 64 percent of the Cuban Americans polled supported DeSantis.

As Broward County was still counting its ballots, DeSantis’ lead dropped Friday to .44 percent of all the votes cast, meaning that a recount is very probable. In that fight for each and every vote, the support of Cuban Americans for DeSantis could turn out to be decisive.

“Had DeSantis merely replicated Trump’s Cuban vote performance in 2016 (estimated at no more than 57 percent), he would have obtained 78,000 fewer votes,” said Sopo.

DeSantis was about 36,000 votes ahead of Gillum on Friday.

The power of the Cuban-American vote in South Florida has long been debated because of demographic changes. Hillary Clinton won 63 percent of all the votes in the region during the 2016 presidential race and an estimated 40 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

According to Sopo’s analysis, Republican congressional candidates Carlos Curbelo in District 26 and Maria Elvira Salazar in District 27 won the support of the majority of those districts’ Cuban-American voters. But that was not enough to win their races.

“The Cuban vote is changing,” said FIU professor Dario Moreno during a discussion about the election results at FIU on Thursday. “It used to be 70 or 80 percent Republican. Not any more. Now it’s between 50 and 60 percent, depending on the candidate.”

Moreno estimated DeSantis won nearly 60 percent of the Cuban-American vote but added that he doubted that determined his possible victory.

“The decisive vote in Florida was the large Republican turnout in areas that Trump carried by wide margins” in 2016, Moreno said.

Moreno and Gamarra agreed that other factors helped DeSantis, among them turnouts that were below what the Democratic Party had hoped for by African Americans and Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Ricans were the focus of many news reports about “how they were going to change Florida, but people overestimated their numbers and their voters’ turnout was low,” Moreno added.

Gamarra said Gillum’s campaign did not pay enough attention to Hispanic voters, whose preferences are marked by different nationalities, classes, races, and other factors.

“The people in charge of the Democratic campaign forgot the Latinos. They did some events, but nothing significant,” said Gamarra. “In terms of the message, they did not know how to respond to the immigration issue and the socialism issue.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres en Twitter: @ngameztorres

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