And the lesson for the GOP to take in the future.
After a brutal race for the Florida Governor’s mansion with an additional recount after election day, Democrat candidate Andrew Gillum officially conceded the race to Republican Ron DeSantis. But one may wonder how DeSantis managed to pull it off, considering that Gillum led in most pre-election surveys, many by decent margins.
Despite the apparent pre-election lead for Gillum, polls and analysis of the 2018 election show that Hispanic voters likely helped DeSantis clinch his victory over Gillum. The findings seem to confirm that Democrat attacks against DeSantis, accusing him of being a racist, failed to galvanize Florida Hispanics.
According to an exit poll released by CNN, DeSantis earned 44 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote compared to 54 percent for Gillum. This 10-point margin was a 17-point improvement for the GOP, compared to 2016, when President Donald Trump lost Hispanic voters by 27 points, 35 percent to 62 percent, to Hillary Clinton. It was also a gain for Republicans compared to the last midterm election when Governor Rick Scott lost Hispanics by 20 points in his re-election bid.
How did Republicans make inroads with Hispanics in Florida despite warnings from left-wing activists and the media that President Trump would alienate the rapidly growing demographic?
An analysis shared with the Miami Herald shows that DeSantis likely won 66 percent of the state’s Cuban American voters. The study looked at election results in 35 predominantly Cuban precincts in the suburbs of Miami-Dade County and found that the Republican gubernatorial nominee won twice the number of voters as his Democrat opponent, 66 percent to 33 percent. As the Herald notes, DeSantis’ 33-point advantage among Cuban Americans was consistent with a Telemundo/Mason Dixon poll published days before the election that showed him with a similar lead over Gillum.
In an interview with the Daily Wire, the study’s author, Giancarlo Sopo, a Miami-based communication strategist, who himself is an American of Cuban heritage, noted the important role that Hispanic voters played in DeSantis’ success.
“DeSantis’ win was the result of three factors,” said Sopo. “First, he maintained GOP strongholds in rural and exurban counties, and in doing so, won 60 percent of Florida’s white voters. Second, it appears that turnout among Hispanic Democrats was low this year, which is evidenced by the state’s three majority-Hispanic counties—Miami-Dade, Hendry, and Osceola—having had some of the lowest turnout levels in all of Florida. Last, but not least: the Cuban vote. Had DeSantis merely replicated Trump’s margins among Cuban American voters, we’d be talking about Governor-elect Gillum right now.”
While Republicans typically perform better with Cubans than other Hispanics, Pew Research noted in 2014 that this constituency had been trending toward the Democrat Party in recent elections. About half of Cuban voters backed Trump in 2016, compared to over 80 percent going for George W. Bush in 2000. Sopo estimates that by building upon Trump’s share of the Cuban vote, DeSantis added approximately 79,000 votes to his statewide victory margin, which currently stands at just 33,000 votes.
Census figures show that Cuban Americans account for 6.5 percent of Florida’s population and are estimated to be approximately 6 percent of the state’s voters. With fewer young voters—who tend to be more liberal—showing up to vote, the Cuban American vote, and by extension the Hispanic electorate, performed more Republican than it has recently. This is confirmed by a November 2 Miami New Times article that noted young voters in Florida were voting in lower numbers relative to their share of the electorate.
“According to an analysis by University of Florida political scientist Daniel A. Smith, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 have cast just 6 percent of the ballots to date, despite making up 17 percent of the state’s electorate.”
Lagging turnout among non-Cuban Hispanics, who typically vote Democrat, may have also hurt Gillum. Despite being 16.4 percent of Florida’s registered voters, Hispanics were just 13 percent of the electorate this year during early and absentee voting, according to an Election Day memo by veteran political strategist Steve Schale.
Florida Democrats voiced concerns about their standing with the state’s Hispanic voters throughout the election. An August 2018 Politico story noted that at least one statewide Democrat, Senator Bill Nelson, was only winning by seven percentage points among Puerto Ricans, a demographic group that tends to lean left.
It is also possible that Gillum, who campaigned with Senator Bernie Sanders during the primary, may have been too extreme for Florida voters. Forty-six percent of them told pollsters that Gillum’s policies were “too liberal.”
“The message that Gillum is a socialist worked,” said Florida International University political analyst Eduardo Gamarra to El Nuevo Herald. In a state with large numbers of Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants who fled Leftist dictatorships, it’s easy to see why Florida voters, including many Hispanics, were turned-off by a gubernatorial candidate who refused to clarify whether he was a socialist throughout the primary.
Gillum even accepted an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Congresswomen-elect in New York and member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a radical Marxist group that supports the Venezuelan government and has called for nationalizing industries and eliminating private ownership of property in the United States.
“Interestingly, Democrats have had a harder time winning in Florida as the state’s Hispanic population is growing, which defies conventional political wisdom,” added Sopo noting that the party’s shift to the left at a national level could be hurting it with the state’s Hispanic voters.
The politics of a national Democratic Party that is increasingly progressive may be incongruent with the nuances of Florida politics. For instance, in much of Latin America, the word “progresista” is often associated with the kinds of governments and political movements that many of the state’s Hispanic voters fled. When you combine a Hispanic voting bloc that is at least somewhat skeptical of progressivism with an electorate that is older, more rural, and leans conservative in midterm elections, it’s no surprise that Republicans have dominated the state for 20 years.
DeSantis’ victory in Florida may provide Republican candidates across the country with a blueprint for how to reach Hispanics: Run as a conservative, emphasize sound economic principles and remind them that the progressive Left supports the kinds of policies that caused them and their families to leave their countries and come to America.
Not only did DeSantis not have to compromise his conservative values to make inroads with Hispanics, he ran with a Hispanic running-mate, Representative Jeannette Nuñez, who championed them. In doing so, Nuñez became the first Latina ever elected as Lieutenant Governor in Florida and undoubtedly helped energize Hispanics for the GOP on the campaign trail.
Conservatives should also remember that just because someone happens to be Hispanic, that doesn’t mean they support the Left’s vision of open borders or cultural Marxism. In fact, just like other ethnic groups, Hispanics are attracted to the American dream of liberty and opportunity, and that clearly showed here.
The sooner Republicans learn that they can’t play the Left’s game and balkanize the population for their own ends, the better. The Left panders and will always pander better than the Right. So why not just run on the American values you stand for?