Could Miami's "Little Havana" Turn To Obama?

Miami's large Cuban population, often referred to as "Little Havana" has always been predominantly Republican. Sunday's New York Times Magazine has a five page article questioning whether Cuban support in Miami might shift and vote Democratic in November. Primarily it examines some Democratic challenges to traditionally Republican House seats in Florida, But it also touches on the Presidential election.

Backstage, something very new is happening. Call it the Miami Spring, or Cuban-American glasnost. This community that has clung for decades to its certainties — about the island itself, about the role the exile community would play after the Castro brothers passed from the scene, about where Cuban-Americans should situate themselves in terms of U.S. domestic politics — is in ferment. This matters not only in terms of the destiny of the Cuban-American community itself but also in terms of the 2008 elections since, despite claims made on background by some of Barack Obama’s advisers, Florida is likely to play a pivotal role in determining whether Obama or John McCain becomes president, and the Cuban-American vote is likely to play its usual outsize role in deciding which candidate prevails in the state.

The Times recounts Obama's May speech in Miami seeking the Cuban vote. The Times reports:[More...]

Whether Obama really expected to make inroads into the Cuban-American vote with the speech is questionable. When Hillary Clinton was still in the race, she was far more circumspect, even if, off the record, her aides expressed views not that dissimilar from those of the liberal Cuban-Americans whom Obama was echoing. But that the presumptive Democratic nominee would think the speech worth making at all, in a community where he is the subject of a great deal of mistrust and hostility and in a state where he is not polling well against Senator McCain, exemplifies the change that is taking place in the Cuban-American community.

But, is it a change that translate into votes? The Cuban exile community remains fiscally conservative. That bodes well for McCain. And the younger generation is, according to a few sources, apolitical.

Regarding the 300,000 or more people who have come from Cuba to the United States in the past 10 years, Rivera presented a subtle picture. “Anecdotally,” he told me, “it’s not that the post-1994 generation is pro-Castro, but instead that they think politics ruined their lives in Cuba, and so they are deeply apolitical. Whatever my Democratic friends may be telling themselves, whatever Raul [Martinez] and Joe [Garcia] may be hoping, they’re not ready to be energized politically.” There is little doubt that antipolitics is the strongest form of politics among these recent arrivals. Unlike earlier generations of exiles, most are not mourning the non-Communist Cuba that was and might have been. For them, Communism is a fact of life from childhood, not something alien — however much most may detest the regime and be glad to have made their way to the U.S. And while most would probably say they value the freedoms of the United States, there is little doubt that many, if not most, left for economic and family reasons.

One thing about Obama, he doesn't hesitate to go after voting blocks that are difficult for him to win over, whether it be evangelicals or Cubans. I just hope he makes the same concerted outreach to rural, working class voters. There are so many more of them and it's their votes in November that could be the deciding factor in whether we get a Democractic or Republican president.

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    Sounds like wishful thinking....and as (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by PssttCmere08 on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 03:52:11 PM EST
    for obama trying to win over voting blocs, it seems like he makes half-hearted attempts and if they don't work he gives up....that is not going to work for him.  I think FLA has had it with him on the whole.

    Nobody (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Politalkix on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:24:11 PM EST
    is expecting the Cuban-American vote to shift en masse. It will not. However, I believe that Obama may be able to win over some converts to the Democrat side among younger Cuban-Americans. That in itself will be a positive development. Every vote will count in Florida!

    I've heard (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Ga6thDem on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:51:58 PM EST
    that Obama's speech in the Cuban American community didn't go over very well due to his stance of unconditionally meeting with Castro. However, he's flip flopped on that too.

    Frankly, I would think that the Cubans might vote for down ticket dems if they are adressing the issues of concern for Cuban Americans. Some GOP seats could very well flip. Of course, though don't think that because they'll vote downticket that it means they will vote for Obama for President.

    This is a Jeralyn post (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:52:26 PM EST
    Waldenpond, have you appointed yourself TL cop or what?

    As I noted the other (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by waldenpond on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 05:02:42 PM EST
    item was closed....

    I help moderate comments on this site.


    thanks for the update, waldenpond. (4.00 / 1) (#20)
    by hellothere on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 05:59:40 PM EST
    Might help (none / 0) (#29)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 09:12:27 PM EST
    if you put in a tag line or something to that effect.  Otherwise, you look (as you've been looking to me) like a regular commenter who's gotten ahead of him/herself.

    I asked Waldenpond to assist with (3.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 06:24:42 PM EST
    comment moderation a few months ago. S/he does an excellent job.

    BTD moderates his threads, TChris (I think) moderates his and I moderate mine.

    We can all ask people not to comment. If the person ignores the warning, I hit the ban button.

    As for Tben, he has 19 comments up today. He can come back on my threads another day but is limited to ten comments in a 24 hour period.


    Sure wish current FL resident and (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by oculus on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 08:32:25 PM EST
    second generation Cuban American poster here would share his views.

    did it ever occur to you (1.00 / 0) (#10)
    by tben on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:50:17 PM EST
    that BTD has relented in his ban? He has allowed my comments in his threads for a few days now.

    And where have I been insulting commenters?

    Do you have a link (5.00 / 0) (#13)
    by waldenpond on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 05:00:57 PM EST
    showing where BTD has said it's ok to comment in his items?

    Absurd, ridiculous, Mark a swing voter, maybe y'all should get out more, etc.


    I've read essentially the same article before (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 03:55:20 PM EST
    in 2004. I don't know if anything has changed since then, but I'm pretty sure the answer in November of that year was an emphatic "no." Similar articles have been written about Jews or blacks going to the Republicans, and that hasn't happened either.

    It's a good story, and there might be some local shifts, but I would be amazed if something radical happened at the Presidential level.

    Not my area, but past events indicate "no" again.

    one thing that happened since 2004 (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by tben on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:41:13 PM EST
    is the passage of four years.

    I.e. 4 more year-cohorts of young people added to the electorate and 4 more years of older voters dying off.
    My own experiences in the Miami Cuban community, mainly amongst younger politically interested people, was that there is a marked skew to the left relative to the older generation.

    Add that to the Obama craze amongst younger voters in general, plus the fact of 4 more years of the traditional approach not changing anything, plus the fact that we are now in a post-Fidel era which also suggests that the time is right for a new approach, plus the general degradation of the Repbulcian brand - add all those factors up and there seems to be a heck of a lot to gain by spending some energy working that constituency.


    The Republicans are doing everything they can to lose the vote.  Florida just passed a new law making travel to Cuba a lot more difficult and expensive.

    I strongly disagree. (none / 0) (#7)
    by tben on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:45:12 PM EST
    There has always been an undercurrent of anti-embargo Cuban Americans. In the past they have been drowned out, and often silenced, by the old time hard liners. That has been changing, slowly and steadily, evry day for the last decade at least. I have a sense that it may well be approaching a majority now in those communities, that want something to change (in a liberalizing direction) about our policy - even if its only loosening travel restrictions or money transfers.

    Little Havana drifts towards the center (2.00 / 0) (#16)
    by CoralGables on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 05:22:43 PM EST
    That sense you feel is definitely occurring although at a gradual pace. The older voice of Little Havana, the anti-Castro all the time boombox that has been present in Miami for 40 years, is slowly dying off. There is now equal talk of a far more sane and  logical approach concerning relations with Cuba.

    Fidel Castro stepping down has quieted the vocal anti-Castro contingent and permitted others to step up and voice opinions without being shouted down anymore. This also comes at the same time that Obama chose not to pander to that crowd like most politicians in the past.

    It's unlikely that Obama will carry Little Havana, but the days of pandering to the anti-Castro crowd no longer carries significant weight when compared to the past. Obama will do far better than Kerry or Gore with the Cuban-American demographic.


    true the vocal anti castro group has (5.00 / 0) (#21)
    by hellothere on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 06:03:13 PM EST
    lost some power but overall florida does not appear in the win column for november.

    Florida stays Questionable (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by CoralGables on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 06:41:38 PM EST
    I would agree that just like the last two presidential elections Florida will be tough again. In fact, if Florida goes to Obama it would probably be a part of the larger landslide which is always a possibility. Although like you, I would think Florida will not flip this year. The 6 polls taken since June 1 do give hope.

    Strat Vision McCain +8
    PPP            Obama +2
    Rasmussen   McCain +7
    Rasmussen   McCain +8
    Quinnipiac   Obama +4
    ARG           Obama +5

    Since Miami-Dade already leans Dem, a move towards the Dems from the Little Havana area just increases the Dem publicity in the largest county in Florida. It all helps.


    i look for the dems to possibly win (5.00 / 0) (#25)
    by hellothere on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 06:47:19 PM EST
    some congressional seats but lose the presidential race to the repub column.

    it seems to be closer (2.00 / 0) (#22)
    by tben on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 06:07:56 PM EST
    than you may think



    tben thanks for the referral. (none / 0) (#33)
    by hellothere on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:51:54 AM EST
    i have read that but i also read others that say otherwise. i suppose we'll see in november. i don't see obama taking florida. he might have some success with states like virginia however.

    I don't think (none / 0) (#9)
    by CaptainAmerica08 on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 04:49:05 PM EST
    that's gonna happen Jeralyn. I'm not sayin it wouldn't be nice though to break the GOP backbone.

    Cubans will not go for Obama (none / 0) (#27)
    by Prabhata on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 08:45:05 PM EST
    Cubans look at candidates through the foreign policy lens.  That policy is very hawkish and not likely to change just because Obama serenades to the Cubans.  It's possible that the younger generation may go for Obama in numbers that did not go for Bill Clinton, but I expect the majority of the Cubans to go for McCain.

    Florida Remains a Question Mark For Both Parties (none / 0) (#30)
    by CoralGables on Sat Jul 12, 2008 at 09:19:35 PM EST
    This is a couple weeks old but it's still the best available on South Florida Latins. It's from an analysis of a Zogby poll that only covered the three South Florida Counties of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. For the record I have not one ounce of Cuban American blood but eat plenty of ropa vieja y frijoles negros in Little Havana.


    South Florida traditionally votes Democratic, but Obama's lead in Miami-Dade is wider than the narrow margin of victory posted by 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry.

    Among Hispanics in the three counties, Obama leads McCain 40 to 35 percent. Until the tide started to turn against the Republican Party in 2006, Hispanics in Florida have long favored the GOP.

    ''That shows the depth of anger that Hispanics are feeling toward the Republican Party,'' Zogby said.

    Rieff's article was mostly old news (none / 0) (#31)
    by MsExPat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 08:56:32 AM EST
    but it's still useful to remind people that Cuban Miami is far from a monolith. You've got your first gen, mostly white, Cubans who came over in the 60s, the Marielitos who came in the 1980s, and the more recent arrivals, who grew up under the current goverment. You got different generations, but also different classes, different races, and unexpected political combinations--like the middle class white Cuban American friend of mine whose parents were anti-Batista, pro-Castro (at first)political liberals.

    Some--the better off and better-educated younger people and 30 somethings--may trend to Obama, others will vote McCain not because of Cuban issues but because of his conservative economic policy (this can be a very conservative community).

    Also good to remember that politics here is VERY local. Who brings home the pork, and who's connected to your family is just as important as a party label in Little Havana or Hialeah. And that pork can be legal or otherwise--Raul Martinez, the congressional candidate that Rieff interviewed for the article, was indicted for corruption when he was mayor of Hialeah. Twice, I think. He's a pretty skeezy pol.

    Oh, and as far as Clinton's (none / 0) (#32)
    by MsExPat on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:07:04 AM EST
    stance on Cuba, I was never bothered by her seeming hardline. I figured she was going to play the same game that Bill Clinton did when he was president, which was to pay lots of lip service to the Cuban right, but quietly allow an underground of travel and remittances to relatives to grow. I went to Cuba, legally, four times while Clinton was president--it was actually pretty easy to set this up, and at one point, United Airlines was getting ready to run regular (not charter) flights from Miami to Havana (I have a "UA" boarding pass, MIA-HAV, from one of those proto-charter flights). Outside the Cuban community (which was mostly in favor of these exchanges, since their relatives desperately needed the cash flow and medicines, etc.) not many people realize how much the embargo was quietly loosening up during Clinton's term.

    Bush reversed all of this. The Treasury Department started cracking down on and harassing U.S. travelers to Cuba. The Treasury Department approvals for travel became very, very hard to get.

    Anyway, for me, Hillary's Cuba position was smarter than Obama's because the last thing you want to do is confront and challenge the huge egos invested in keeping this game going.

    this is a side note, but many older (none / 0) (#34)
    by hellothere on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 09:59:26 AM EST
    cubans have very hard feelings toward the kennedy family due to the bay of pigs. yes i know it was long ago, but the dreams of many cubans died there. i also knew some who were in the invason and imprisoned. whole families carry the story as part of the their heritage. they remember. cubans have long memories about these things hence the swing to the republicans who have played them for decades. so for ted kennedy to indicate that obama is the chosen one won't carry much weight with cubans. that's my opinion in any event.

    Cubans are Catholics, first and foremost (none / 0) (#35)
    by laurie on Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 02:37:45 PM EST
    Catholics can be very left wing or very conservative. But they like a decent church.