U.S. Senate candidates Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy are ramping up their efforts to court Florida’s Hispanic voters over the airwaves during the remaining six weeks before Election Day.
Murphy, the Democratic challenger of Irish descent, released his first TV ad in Spanish on Tuesday — even briefly speaking the language that’s unfamiliar to him for the ad’s tagline.
A couple hours later, Rubio, the Cuban-American Republican incumbent who’s fluent in Spanish, released his third Spanish-language ad in three weeks.
Hispanic voters could prove the difference in this election cycle, which is why Murphy and Rubio are more aggressively seeking their support as Floridians begin to vote. Overseas ballots went out last weekend and elections supervisors will send mail ballots starting Oct. 4.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The candidates are taking different approaches to appeal to Hispanic voters.
Murphy’s first ad was a translated version of an ad the campaign released last week in English, which criticizes Rubio for his stance on abortion and which promotes Murphy’s endorsement from Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, Rubio’s three Spanish-language ads have each told positive stories of how the senator helped a constituent. None mention Murphy.
In what’s been a competitive and nationally watched U.S. Senate race, Rubio has led Murphy consistently in statewide polling, although some surveys have had the two statistically tied.
But Murphy is struggling with Hispanic voters. Many don’t know him or they prefer Rubio instead. A recent Univision poll of Florida Hispanics found Rubio ahead of Murphy, 46 percent to 39 percent, and leading among Spanish-speaking voters by 16 percentage points.
In an attempt to narrow the gap, Murphy — who continues to have relatively low name recognition among Florida voters in general — has made visible steps in the past week to improve his appeal to Hispanic voters.
Aside from the new ad, Murphy last week hired Miami strategist Freddy Balsera to boost his campaign’s Hispanic outreach.
Murphy has also issued two press releases since Thursday in both English and Spanish — something he never did before, even when he announced in May that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had endorsed him.
Meanwhile, outside political committees are also joining the fray to influence Hispanic voters in the U.S. Senate race.
And the Koch brothers-founded LIBRE Initiative also has used Spanish-language ads to criticize the Democratic congressman.
Among Democrats, a coalition of liberal groups on Monday debuted a Spanish-language billboard off the Palmetto Expressway — near Rubio’s Senate office in Doral — to highlight the senator’s support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
It depicts a Trump quote from June 2015 about undocumented immigrants from Mexico and “all over” being “killers and rapists,” and it juxtaposes that with a comment from Rubio this summer, in which the senator said: “We have to make sure that Donald wins this election.”
Rubio’s campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas called the billboard “cheap theatrics of an extreme liberal group” that “will not confuse the voters who know Marco Rubio’s record of service on behalf of the Hispanic community.”