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Latin America Report

Toro Time: Did 'Bidenistas' Take The 'Socialista' Bull By The Horns In Florida?

Samantha Barrios
Cuban-American Joe Biden supporter Alex Suarez dressed as Captain America at a Venezolanas Con Biden caravan at Doral Central Park this month.

Biden and his campaign didn't take the GOP's "socialista" attacks seriously enough. On-the-ground Latino activists did. It may help him win Florida.

Around Labor Day, Joe Biden’s campaign was in a Florida funk. More specifically, a Miami malaise. A Bendixen & Amandi International/Miami Herald poll out that week did show Biden beating President Trump in mostly Democratic Miami-Dade County — but not beating him big enough here to win Florida.

The big reason: the Latino vote. Biden was 38 points behind Trump with Miami Cubans — and, remarkably, behind Trump among all Latinos in a county where Hillary Clinton won hundreds of thousands more Latinos votes than Trump did in 2016.

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But a month later a new Bendixen poll shows Biden has suddenly rebounded with South Florida Latinos. What happened has as much — and perhaps more — to do with grassroots Latino mobilization in Miami than with Biden campaign adjustments in Washington.

Meaning: the “Con Biden” (With Biden) groups the campaign began creating late last year to “micro-target” specific Latino communities instead of treating the balkanized Latino bloc as a monolith.

If Biden does end up winning enough of that electorate in Florida to take the state — and that’s still questionable — the reason may well be that these "Bidenistas" overachieved at a critical moment when Biden was decidedly underachieving.

“One of the main things the Latino community wanted to see from Joe Biden was 'tomar el toro por sus cachos' — to take the bull by its horns,” says Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a Colombian-American political strategist in Fort Lauderdale who helps lead Colombianos Con Biden, or Colombians With Biden.

Alex Harnik
Joe Biden speaking at the Jose Marti Gym in Miami's Little Havana on October 5.

The “bull” Perez-Verdia’s talking about is the disinformation smear campaign Trump and his Latino supporters have engineered in Florida claiming Biden is a “socialista” bent on turning the U.S. into a left-wing nation like Cuba or Venezuela — regimes so many Latinos here have fled.

That strategy has largely worked — something the Biden campaign didn’t seem to take seriously enough over the summer.

READ MORE: Why Are So Many Latinos Obsessed With Demonizing Black Lives Matter?

“I think they just thought that it was just so clear he wasn’t a socialist – that there was no reason to address this,” says Perez-Verdia, who does credit Biden and the campaign with addressing it now.

Carmen Pelaez, a Cuban-American Miami filmmaker who helps head Cubanos Con Biden here, says the campaign’s strategists seemed surprised so many Florida Latinos were buying the GOP’s well coordinated “socialist” labeling of Biden and the Democrats.

Trump Campaign
A new Spanish-language Trump campaign attack ad continues to falsely brand Biden as a socialist Castro-Chavista

“We were all like, ‘You have no idea what you’re dealing with in Miami,’” says Pelaez. “’Believe us, they’re buying it.’”

Perez-Verdia and Pelaez say the “Con Biden” groups had already been working to challenge the socialist narrative — especially after watching the Republican National Convention hammer it into the national conversation in August. But when the Labor Day poll landed, Cubanos and the other Con Biden groups decided they too had to take the "toro por sus cachos."

“We just decided we’re not going to let the bully in the sandbox continue to kick sand in our eyes,” says Pelaez. “We’re not socialists. Y’know, I have friends in Cuba that are getting arrested every other week for their political actions. I’m constantly advocating for democracy in Cuba.”

We decided we're not going to let the bully in the sandbox kick sand in our eyes anymore. We're not socialists — I have friends in Cuba getting arrested every other week for their political actions.
Carmen Pelaez

Shifting into higher gear on social media like Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups proved key to helping debunk the socialismo attacks — not so much to change the minds of committed "Trumpistas," but to help more moderate, and more intimidated, Cubans and Latinos feel comfortable coming out of the shadows.

“They were like, ‘Oh my god? Are you guys really Cubans in Miami?’” Pelaez says. “And I’ve seen the tenor change from, 'Is it safe here?' to, 'You know what, I just went to Costco with my Biden-Harris T-shirt on.'”


Con Biden organizers say caravans and street rallies at sites like Tropical Park have also been effective. Pelaez points out when Trump supporters drive by and call them, “Socialista!” they shout back: “Viva Cuba libre y democrática!” or “Long live a free and democratic Cuba!” — to drive home to undecided Latinos here that Biden and the Democrats are not Fidel Castro.

But infiltrating Spanish-language radio —where the anti-Biden fear-mongering has been especially vitriolic — may have been even more critical.

“Every time we turned on Spanish [radio] we were like, 'What is going on?'” says Maria Corina Vegas, a Venezuelan expat attorney in Pinecrest who helps lead Venezolanos Con Biden.

Cubanos Con Biden
Cubanos Con Biden caravan leader Daniella Ferrera speaking at Tropical Park this month. Behind her are members of Nicaraguenses Con Biden.

Vegas’ group has faced an even more uphill battle given that a recent poll showed two-thirds of Florida’s Venezuelan voters, known as MAGAzuelans, support Trump, largely because of the President’s tough measures against Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist regime.

So over Labor Day weekend, Vegas drew up a detailed guide on “how to challenge the socialist myths.” She sought advice from other groups, like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that have also confronted disinformation campaigns, then practiced talking points with Venezolanos Con Biden activists during weekly Zoom meetings and WhatsApp chat sessions.

Soon, says Vegas, “We tag-teamed to take shifts to listen to radio shows and then call in.”

Venezolanos Con Biden started engaging Miami’s pro-Trump Spanish-language radio shows, on stations like Actualidad Radio and Radio Mambí, with pro-Biden messages — such as reminders that Biden, not Trump, wants to give Venezuelan refugees here Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

“Things relevant to people now in Miami, like COVID,” says Vegas. “Not whether [former President] Obama sat with [Cuban leader Raul] Castro at a baseball game four years ago. I mean, is that really what’s going to drive your vote right now?”

A Venezuelan expat drapes her native country's flag over her car at the start of a Todos Con Biden (All With Biden) caravan on Sunday that started in Doral.

Vegas notes sadly the stepped-up effort has driven a bigger wedge between the group’s members and their family and friends who support Trump.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “I mean, I have close family members, really close, that don’t talk to me.” She adds, her voice choking up, “It’s really hard to talk about…”

But in the end that personal cost yielded a political dividend. In the new Bendixen & Amandi International/Miami Herald poll last week, Biden had shaved 12 points off Trump’s lead with Miami Cubans — and he’s six points ahead of Trump’s with all Latino voters in Miami-Dade.

Fernand Amandi, a Bendixen & Amandi partner and a Democrat, says a lot of the turnaround is due to Biden’s two recent visits to Florida, including Miami Latino neighborhoods like Little Havana, where he himself has more publicly confronted the socialist bogeyman.

Con Biden activists like Perez-Verdia also say “having the candidate saying it has made a big difference.” And, adds Amandi, so has pouring more than $10 million a week into ads targeting Latinos.

Amandi notes Biden still needs to push his Miami-Dade Cuban voter share into the 40 percent range (he's at 35 percent now in the Bendixen survey) to match Clinton's 2016 results. But he says that looks more doable now thanks to the micro-targeting groups and how they seem to be paying off for Biden down the stretch in a critical battleground state.

“It allows the Biden campaign to plug into the grunt work by these folks who understood — on the ground — how these issues were impacting this race in all-important Florida,” says Amandi.

Folks who took the bull by the horns for Biden — and will have to keep hold of them for the next three weeks if the Democrat wants to parlay his reversal of fortune in Miami-Dade into a win in Florida.

Far from reconsidering the socialista onslaught, the Trump campaign this week has released a new 30-second, Spanish-language spot that even more emphatically calls Biden "el candidato del Castro-Chavismo" — the candidate of Castro-Chavism, a reference to Cuba’s late communist dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s late socialist strongman Hugo Chávez.

Apparently, they’ve decided a lot of Latinos here are still buying it.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.