MIAMI—Four years after taking office, Donald Trump is bringing Vicente Izaguirre back into the GOP tent.
A registered Republican born in Nicaragua, Izaguirre switched sides in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 presidential elections, helping Barack Obama notch historic victories in Miami-Dade, a vote-rich blue county in the all-important swing state of Florida that Obama carried twice. Izaguirre voted for Obama the first time because he believed the country needed a change in direction after eight years of George W. Bush. Obama won his vote again because the economy was improving, and Izaguirre said he voted for Hillary Clinton, who narrowly lost the state, because he believed Trump was racist against Hispanics.
Come Nov. 3, however, Joe Biden can no longer count on Izaguirre at a time when polls suggest the former vice-president is underperforming with Latino voters in the Sunshine State.
In a phone interview, Izaguirre told The Daily Beast he planned on casting his ballot for a president who has busted down every ethical norm of the executive branch, separated immigrant families crossing the border, and by most accounts monumentally botched the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has battered Florida.
“I’ve reached the conclusion, even with all his defects and offensiveness, Donald Trump is the person we need in the White House if we are going to continue having democracy and prosperity,” Izaguirre told The Daily Beast. “I come from a country where socialists created a society that is dependent on the government and the people are miserable.”
Trump’s warnings, and that of virtually every GOPer running for office, about the Democratic Party veering far left of Karl Marx has resonated with Izaguirre, who fled Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua in the 1980s. Of course, Republicans have long tarred Democrats with the red specter of communism. But according to conversations with voters and local political insiders from both parties, the president has made concerted gains among conservative Hispanic voters in Florida, including former Never Trumpers who have started to make peace with Trump thumping local darlings Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in 2016.
Taken in tandem with a more left-wing policy discussion among Democrats this primary cycle, and sometimes violent unrest over police violence in recent months, and the potential for a stronger GOP performance among Hispanics in Florida was real, insiders said.
Izaguirre, for one, said he could now overlook Trump’s racism because he’s more concerned about antifa and violent protesters potentially destroying neighborhoods to push a radical left agenda.
“These are delinquents who want to destroy the U.S.,” he told The Daily Beast of anti-fascists, the president’s favorite foil—and a movement that has been largely MIA in actual criminal cases over protest-related violence.
Izaguirre is not alone. A new NBC News/Marist poll shows Trump and Biden are in a dead heat in Florida, with the president actually holding a 4 point edge over the former VP among likely Latino voters. Another recent survey, by polling firm Bendixen & Amandi for the Miami Herald, found the two candidates splitting the Hispanic vote in Miami-Dade, with Trump seeing increased support from conservative Cuban-American voters compared to four years ago.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 62 percent of Florida Latinos compared to 35 percent for Trump, according to exit polling.
Biden and Florida Democrats insist they are not sleeping on the threat in a state where the sting of Clinton’s 2016 defeat by nearly 113,000 votes still hits hard. They have made a big push to reach young Latino voters, including a $26 million advertising buy last week in Florida and other key swing states with sizable Hispanic populations, featuring an ad with a song from reggaeton star Bad Bunny. The former vice-president’s campaign and the national party are also holding virtual roundtables and online focus groups across Florida targeting Hispanics, including meeting with Venezuelan-Americans to remind them that Trump’s hardline stance against Nicolás Maduro has not weakened the South American president’s grip on power.
“For our campaign, we are committed to earning every vote and making the case to the Hispanic community that Joe Biden is the candidate with a plan to deliver on the issues most important to them,” said Luisana Perez, the Venezuelan-born spokeswoman for the Biden-DNC Coordinated Campaign.
While Biden is still a lock for winning Miami-Dade, given its massive Latino and Black populations, Trump could peel off enough votes to be decisive in a state where 2018 races for U.S. senator, governor and agricultural commissioner ended in recounts— and GOP wins in two of those races. Among other ways to make up for lost Hispanic voters, compared to Clinton’s just-short 2016 campaign, Biden may have to flip white and independent voters—and win super-charged backing in the Black community.
“Trump has certainly hardened his support among right-wing Cubans, Venezuelans, and other Latin Americans,” Miami-based Democratic political consultant Ben Pollara told The Daily Beast. “But I believe we will see a surge of Black voters and a significant peeling off among college-educated white voters [such] that Biden wins Miami-Dade by an even larger margin than Hillary did. Democrats turned out like crazy in the August primary. We had a 25 percent higher turnout than we normally do.”
The NBC poll found Biden had the edge with Black likely voters (83 percent to 11 percent), women (57 percent to 40 percent) and independents (51 percent to 40 percent) in the state. Trump was also losing those groups to Biden in Miami-Dade, according to the Herald/Bendixen & Amandi poll.
Another recent poll for FloridaPolitics.com, it should be noted, had Biden leading Trump among Hispanic voters by 54 percent to 42 percent.
“When you look at the three major races, all were won and lost by less than a percentage point,” Jeff Garcia, a Miami-based Democratic political consultant, said of the 2018 midterm elections. “Everybody is chipping away at the edges of various voting blocks, whether by geography or by ethnicity. In Florida, a 1.5 win is a landslide.”
Juan Santana, a community activist and former mayoral candidate from Hialeah, a city in Miami-Dade that has the highest number of Latinos in Florida, voted for the president in the 2016 Republican primary and general election. At the same time, Santana is known for video-recording Hialeah cops he believes are engaged in misconduct and is supporting a Democrat, Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, in the runoff race for county mayor.
“The Republican Party was dead for a long time,” Santana said. “It’s been reborn under Trump.”
He said enthusiasm for a Trump second term was running high in his city despite it being battered by COVID-19, noting his supporters have held car caravans and sidewalk rallies throughout Miami-Dade. Still, flag waving and honking horns is not enough to get Trump re-elected, Santana conceded.
He noted Democrats were registering new voters through community activist nonprofit organizations, and suggested a lack of similar effort on the right—perhaps unsurprising given the skepticism of expanding the franchise in the conservative movement. A Trump Victory Committee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but last month, the re-election campaign touted registration gains in three states, including Florida.
“I don’t see any Republican groups registering new voters,” Santana said. “There are so many people who have become American citizens in the last year who have not registered to vote. People want to do these caravans, but you have to be civically engaged, too.”
Meanwhile, that the Socialist label might actually be sticking on Biden—a center-left Democrat—was grating on some locals.
Millie Herrera, a Cuban-American Democrat from Coral Gables, said she was volunteering on her own to push back on the narrative that her party was attempting to revive the Soviet Union in the United States. She makes it a point to tell people Trump is the one cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was, after all, literally a KGB intelligence officer for the better part of two decades.
“We need to push back on these lies,” she said. “We had President Obama and Vice-President Biden in office for eight years and we did not become a socialist state. This is something Republicans throw out because they bring no positive messaging to the community. It’s a bogeyman.”