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Sanders Likely To Suffer In Florida Primary With Hispanics. But As Badly As Expected?

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

When Bernie Sanders praised communist Cuba recently, most pundits wrote him off with Florida Hispanics. But in the state’s Tuesday presidential primary, it may not be that simple.

Last month, the liberal Vermont Senator was the Democratic presidential front-runner when, on CBS' "60 Minutes," he insisted that not everything "was bad" under the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Sanders did say he opposes "the authoritarian nature" of the Cuban regime. But he angered most Cuban-Americans in South Florida – and other Hispanics whose families have had experience with Latin American autocrats.

Since then, Sanders has fallen to second in the Democratic nomination race behind former Vice President Joe Biden, and a Univision poll this weekshowed him eight points behind Biden with Florida Hispanics.

Even moderate Cuban Democrats said the controversy over Sanders' Cuba remarks made them vote for Biden in the Florida presidential primary.

“Bernie’s comments did hit in a very negative way," said Reuben Rojas, who heads refugee resettlement work at Miami-Dade College, and with his nonprofit Other Oceans.

"Bernie shakes up the system and makes us pay attention to problems that we do have in our system. But he is on a side of the spectrum that’s a bit much, and we need [a moderate] to bring everyone together at this point.”

But Sanders could still be helped by younger, non-Cuban Florida Hispanics like Angelica Sanchez, who recently hosted a Sanders event in Wynwood. She’s a 25 year old Venezuelan-American who argues Sanders should be Hispanics’ top choice.

“It’s interesting that they would vote for somebody that’s not Bernie Sanders," said Sanchez, "when they are the minority people that really need healthcare, that really need education.”

Recent polls also indicate Sanders, like Biden, would defeat President Trump in Florida in the November general election. But while Sanders has done well with Hispanic voters in more heavily Mexican-American states like Nevada, Florida's Latino population is more complex - including Cubans and South Americans for whom the Fidel Castro issue is more sensitive.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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