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After their Miami midterm mess, could Democrats give up on South Florida Latinos?

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Tim Padgett
/
WLRN.org
ROJO EN MIAMI-DADE A Cuban-American Trump supporter in Coral Gables.

COMMENTARY Unlike the GOP, Democrats have rarely ever got — or tried to get — what distinguishes Miami Latinos from others in the U.S. Is it too late now?

Like most Democrats in Miami-Dade County, former Congresswoman Donna Shalala looked bewildered as her party's candidate, state Sen. Annette Taddeo, lost in a landslide Tuesday night to incumbent Republican Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar.

Taddeo, Shalala insisted to me, “had a perfect profile” for Florida’s 27th congressional district. That’s because the 27th has an especially large Latino majority. Taddeo — a Colombian-American who came to the U.S. as a teenager escaping the Marxist guerrillas who kidnapped her father — was expected to connect with Latinos, a traditionally swing demographic, mucho mejor than Shalala had when she lost the 27th to Salazar, a Cuban-American, two years ago.

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Taddeo did more effectively engage the district’s Latino voters. But it didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was that Taddeo is a Democrat. And in today’s Miami-Dade Latino political-speak that means: socialista. A diabolical leftist who wears Che Guevara T-shirts and does cross-Caribbean Zoom conferences with other sinister leftists like Colombian President Gustavo Petro — never mind that Taddeo is one of Petro’s most ardent U.S. critics.

So after their Miami midterm morass, Democrats are now asking yet again:

Why?

READ MORE: On Salazar, are Dems fighting fire with fire — or trying to make two wrongs a right?

Why does Miami-Dade’s majority Latino electorate — not just Cubans but Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Brazilians, Peruvians, you name it — increasingly embrace the GOP line that all Democrats like to dress up as Fidel Castro? Why do registered Latino Republicans in Miami-Dade outnumber Latino Democrats by more than 80,000 (Latino NPAs, or no party affiliation, surpass them by 60,000) even when Latino Democrats far exceed Latino Republicans nationwide?

Why, they cry, do Miami-Dade Latinos deify Trump Red and demonize Biden Blue when, for example…

●…Republicans repeatedly try to kill Obamacare — a healthcare program so popular with South Florida Latinos that one zip code in heavily Cuban Hialeah regularly has the nation's highest enrollment (which is also a big reason Florida has more residents enrolled in it than any other state)?

●…Florida Latinos suffered twice the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths than white Floridians did during the pandemic, when Republicans were overseeing the federal and state response?

Unlike other U.S. cities, the Casablanca cauldron of Miami is where Latinos' resentment and scapegoating over what they lost back home takes precedence — over any other issue.

●…former Republican President Donald Trump all but shut down visa processing for Cuban migrants; he refused to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans escaping their country’s epic humanitarian disaster; and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently used Venezuelan asylum-seekers as props for a cynical political stunt to protest undocumented immigration?

●…at the same time that a larger share of Latino adults acknowledge they’re LGBTQ+ than adults in any other U.S. ethnic group do — and most Latinos approve of gay marriage — GOP leaders like DeSantis are pushing homophobic spite like Florida’s new “don’t say gay” law?

●…more than two-thirds of Latinos support legalized abortion — and cited that as one of their top mid-term election issues — but the GOP-packed U.S. Supreme Court and GOP-led states like Florida have moved to drastically reduce if not eliminate that right?

SMUG ASSUMPTION

●…Miami-Dade’s three U.S. House members, all Republicans, have mocked democracy by either voting to block legitimate Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election or refusing to condemn Trump’s Big Lie that voter fraud cost him that race?

You’d think that last reality would be a deal-breaker for communities like Miami-Dade’s Latinos — who claim to prize the democracy that's been brutally denied to them back in countries like Nicaragua over any other brass ring they find in the U.S.

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Miami Herald
Democratic Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo in South Miami after her landslide congressional loss Tuesday night.

But that’s where the South Florida Latino mindset gets esoteric in ways that national Democrats and many Florida Democrats rarely if ever get — or refuse to. Unlike New York or Los Angeles or Houston or Chicago, the Casablanca cauldron of Miami is where Latinos' resentment and scapegoating over what they lost back home takes precedence. Over any other issue.

And the simple fact is, Republicans have done a far more masterful (and, yes, shamelessly disinformational) job of recognizing — and stoking — that indignation. Democrats, meanwhile, would rather deal with Latinos in other parts of the country who tend to confirm their all-too-smug assumption that minorities fall in step with their party by default.

That's especially true now that Florida has morphed from swing purple to solid red.

So another question Democrats are probably asking at this point is: Why bother trying to turn Miami-Dade Latinos back into a swing bloc if their state no longer swings?

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