Cuban American support for Obama belies community’s image

When I saw the magic number Wednesday morning — a stunning 47 percent — it was not as big a surprise to me.

I had seen the momentum of support quietly building for President Barack Obama among one of his most unlikely constituencies — Cuban-Americans in Miami — over this lengthy and hard-fought campaign.

According to exit polls, 47 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade went to the president — a shockingly high number to both Republicans and Democrats and to pollsters and pundits engaging in post-election analysis.

“¡ No me digas! Really, so much?” former state Republican Sen. Roberto Casas of Hialeah said.

He shouldn’t have been so shocked. After all, he and his wife, his brother, his children and spouses all voted for Obama.

And when I saw political consultant Irene Secada posting this fact on Facebook on Election Day after she ran into Casas during a campaign break at a Cuban restaurant in Hialeah, I knew something dramatic was afoot in this election.

“He was the best candidate,” Casas explained after I pressed him for his personal view, which he gave somewhat grudgingly because, while he was happy to analyze demographic shifts making the Cuban community more diverse — the newer arrivals, the younger generation — he was not as willing to delve into on his own vote.

“Ever since the Tea Party took over the Republican Party, I haven’t liked it one bit,” Casas said. “That is not what we’re about. I think this president is better able to help all of the population of Miami-Dade.”

Call this unexpected support for Obama “the spiral of silence” vote, as political science professor Eduardo Gamarra does.

“They were embarrassed to say they were going to vote for Obama,” he said, “but they did.”

“It’s a hidden vote,” Gamarra told me. He cautioned against totally accepting the 47 percent number without further analysis, since voter polls solidly predicted a substantial Romney vote among Cuban-Americans, even the younger generation.

No doubt there will be more study of the complexities of our vote. This was so, so far from the ideologically rigid Cuban-American vote that sent George W. Bush to the White House. In one exit poll, the support for Obama was measured as high as 49 percent. Perhaps the unprecedented public support of the president by the cross-cultural Cuban-American elite — talk show host Cristina Saralegui, Gloria and Emilio Estefan and rapper Pitbull — helped play a role.

The vote for Obama, despite formerly staunch party alliances, illustrates how far the Republican Party has strayed from its support base in Miami-Dade, the neglect of significant party movers and shakers like Casas by the Romney campaign, and the backlash of a younger Cuban-American generation against the old Cold War methods of campaigning for the Cuban vote with empty anti-Castro rhetoric and a single-issue agenda.

I had seen the momentum building on social media with every misstep the Romney camp took, underestimating the sophistication and complexity of Cuban-American voters, sealing the deal with the TV ad playing to the fears of Obama as a potential Communist boogieman.

There’s another — and equally refreshing — angle to this vote that transcends the Cuban community, which is part of the larger Hispanic community in the United States. After two years of virulent displays of anti-immigrant sentiment across the nation, our vote as the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority is the talk of the times.

What a difference high-voter participation in an election — and the re-election of a president who has sought to genuinely embrace diversity — makes.

“We cannot overestimate the importance of the Latino vote,” Tom Brokaw proclaimed as the president secured a second term, a win significantly fueled by getting 69 percent of the Hispanic vote across the nation.

And for once, Miami and Cuban-Americans — with a quiet, unpredictable and surprising shift — were part of that larger equation that kept Obama in the White House.

In his acceptance speech, Obama spoke of building a nation that is generous, compassionate and tolerant, qualities so necessary in our time.

When he described America as a nation “open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag,” he painted the South Florida landscape — and showed why he earned our vote.