Elections

A Miami delegate to the GOP convention has become a media star

How a Rubio supporter became a Trump Republican

The transition from a strong supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio to a delegate representing Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention was not quick or seamless for Jessica Fernandez. And yet the 30-year-old hispanic delegate for Florida’s Miami
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The transition from a strong supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio to a delegate representing Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention was not quick or seamless for Jessica Fernandez. And yet the 30-year-old hispanic delegate for Florida’s Miami

Celebrity, if such a thing exists among delegates who make up the geeky fest of Americana that is the Republican National Convention, looks like this: a young, Hispanic, conservative woman from the country’s biggest swing state making an appearance on Telemundo. And Univision. And The Washington Post. Fusion. The BBC. The Financial Times.

Such has been the life of Miami-Dade County delegate Jessica Fernandez since she arrived in Cleveland on Monday. On Tuesday, she cast her ballot to nominate Donald Trump for the White House. He wasn’t her preferred candidate — which was one of the reasons so many reporters found her interesting.

“I checked all those magical unicorn boxes: Female. Republican. Hispanic. Under 40,” she said.

She’d just finished lunch outside the Quicken Loans Arena, trying a pierogi for the first time (“It’s like a dumpling with mashed potatoes inside.”) Sipping a Blue Moon, she showed off her convention selfies: with actor Billy Baldwin (she wasn’t sure which Baldwin he was), with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (she ran into him in an elevator), with NBC News and Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart (she posed after he interviewed her).

“I am taking regular pictures, too, guys, but I just think it’s funny to get selfies,” she clarified.

This is why Fernandez, 31, makes for a compelling voice of Miami’s Young Republicans, the organization she leads. She’s unscripted and forthright — especially when it comes to explaining how she came to accept her role as a delegate for Trump and not for Marco Rubio. She wears a “Team Rubio” button on the lanyard of her delegate badge. (Another one shows her support for gay Log Cabin Republicans.)

“I would say it was kind of like my heart was broken. Then it healed,” she said, over many weeks and many conversations. “It wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh, I’m pro-Trump today.’”

Nominating Rubio would have made her happier: “What a proud moment it would have been for the Hispanic community. He’s so much like us. Like, he’s a regular guy. That’s a big deal when you’re a first-generation American.”

But Republicans in 66 of 67 Florida counties preferred Trump. And even on the day she showed up to her delegate interview in April, Fernandez, of Miami Lakes, said she would follow the voters’ will.

“We have to really be cognizant of the fact that this is a really sacred process,” she said. “I really feel that he is channeling the voice of a lot of Americans that feel they are being left out.”

For Fernandez, politics began in the mid-1990s, she said, after Cuba downed a Brothers to the Rescue airplane and her father took her to demonstrations at Miami’s José Martí Park. That’s when she started learning about her family’s political history in Cuba; her grandfather was “threatened with a firing squad” for being a youth leader in the Catholic church, she said.

“I remember when I was in high school during the infamous Gore/Bush election,” she said. “I was acutely aware of how important Florida was. It was really eye-opening for me.”

She studied economics at Florida State University. Upon graduation, she was offered a three-month job on a special legislative election in Citrus County.

“I accepted the job not even knowing where Citrus County was,” she said. “I kicked ass.”

That led to managing a Miami Lakes campaign and later taking a marketing job with that city. What followed was a Miami-based regional position for Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She now works with her boyfriend, Armando Ibarra, in his public-affairs firm, AI Advisory.

The two also met through politics, at a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Republican Club meeting. Fernandez later invited Ibarra to a Miami Young Republicans Christmas party — which was also memorable because that’s when Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera told her he’d be Gov. Rick Scott’s running mate.

But don’t expect to see Fernandez’s name on a ballot.

“No, never,” she said. “I like being behind the scenes. I like being able to have an opinion that is my own — not be beholden to anybody.”

To our readers

Look for continued GOP convention coverage in the Miami Herald in print and online. The delivery of your paper will be delayed on Thursday and Friday to allow for in-depth analysis and comprehensive insight from the event in Cleveland.

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