With polls showing he remains largely unknown among Florida’s crucial Latino voters, U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy hired a prominent Hispanic communications and strategy chief Thursday — just 47 days before the Nov. 8 election — to help him take on Sen. Marco Rubio.
Freddy Balsera will advise Murphy on Hispanic media, communications and outreach, the campaign said. Balsera, of Coral Gables, crafted President Barack Obama’s Hispanic TV and radio messaging campaign in 2008. He’s also a 2016 political analyst for the Miami-based Telemundo network.
“Patrick Murphy is not going to automatically assume that Marco Rubio is going to run away with the Hispanic vote simply because of his heritage and because he speaks Spanish,” Balsera told the Miami Herald in a phone interview. “Hispanic voters are quite sophisticated and informed. They’ve been paying attention to Marco Rubio for the past six years.”
Murphy has spoken to various Democratic Hispanic groups and appeared at least once on Univision. He’s been endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and earlier this week made a couple of Tampa campaign stops with state Rep. Janet Cruz. After the Pulse gay nightclub shooting, Murphy traveled to Orlando to speak to survivors, many of whom are Hispanic.
Yet Murphy has yet to produce any TV or radio ads in Spanish for the general election. Rubio has two Spanish-language ads on the air, including one targeting Central Florida’s booming Puerto Rican population. National Republicans have also been advertising in Spanish on his behalf.
Rubio, who is Cuban American and speaks fluent Spanish, has recently given several TV interviews in the language. He routinely translates his remarks in news conferences. He’s got a Spanish version of his campaign website, and his office regularly sends news releases in Spanish to relevant news outlets.
A Univision poll of Florida Hispanics released last week showed Rubio leading Murphy by 46-39 percent. Rubio was ahead of Murphy among Spanish-speaking voters by 16 points. More concerning for Murphy than that 7-point margin was that 58 percent of respondents said they didn’t know Murphy, a Jupiter congressman. Ninety-four percent knew Rubio. Hispanics make up more than 15 percent of the Florida electorate, including nearly 16 percent of Democrats and nearly 22 percent of voters registered without party affiliation.
Rubio holds an advantage over Murphy among all voters, not just Latinos. A Real Clear Politics polling average has Rubio ahead by 5.7 percentage points. Elections supervisors will start mailing ballots to absentee voters on Saturday.
Balsera insisted the Murphy team has time to get his candidate before Hispanic voters.
“It’s never too late,” Balsera said, adding that Murphy’s aides appreciate the importance of the Latino vote. “They’re focused on making sure that it’s done the right way and investing the resources to make it happen. This is going to be a very aggressive push at both the mass-media level and the communities level. He’s developed great friendships with Hispanic leaders across the state, and now he’s going to activate them.”
An analysis Balsera conducted for the campaign found only one candidate — Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2014 — has won statewide in the last 12 years without winning the Hispanic vote.
Murphy’s campaign manager, Josh Wolf, praised Balsera’s “experience, connections, and skill set.”
“Patrick’s message of fighting for immigration reform and strengthening Florida’s middle class continues to resonate with voters,” Wolf said in a statement, “and Freddy will help make sure that message reaches Floridians across the state.”