In Florida, Puerto Ri­cans could help sway the White House race

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

OR­LANDO: A group of vol­un­teers reg­is­ter­ing His­panic vot­ers gets down to busi­ness at an apart­ment com­plex in the cen­ter of Florida, one of the key bat­tle­ground states in the White House race. The bad news for Repub­li­cans is that most of those wait­ing to sign up be­fore Tuesday’s dead­line are Puerto Ri­cans. Since the 2012 elec­tion, the dire fi­nan­cial cri­sis in Puerto Rico has brought hun­dreds of thou­sands of new res­i­dents from the US com­mon­wealth in the Caribbean to Florida. They strongly sup­port Hil­lary Clin­ton and could de­liver the Sun­shine State to the Demo­cratic can­di­date. Ana Iris Vazquez, a 54-year-old house­wife, is pre­par­ing lunch in her Or­lando apart­ment when two women knock on her door. They work for Mi Fa­milia Vota (My Fam­ily Votes), an NGO seek­ing to reg­is­ter His­pan­ics el­i­gi­ble to vote.

“For Hil­lary!” Vazquez ex­claims when asked who she will vote for on Novem­ber 8. “If I voted for this man (Trump), we’d all be screwed,” she says with a smile, re­fer­ring to Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump. When she left her home is­land, Vazquez and her fel­low new “Flo-Ri­cans” never thought they could have the power to de­cide the fate of the US pres­i­den­tial race. But one mil­lion His­pan­ics have come to this state since 2012, most of them Puerto Ri­cans. Many have set­tled in the Or­lando area-home to Dis­ney World and other theme parks.

“The mi­gra­tion of Puerto Ri­cans has re­ally made a huge im­pact on the num­ber of His­pan­ics reg­is­tered to vote in cen­tral Florida,” says Mark Hugo Lopez, direc­tor of the Pew His­panic Re­search Cen­ter. Puerto Ri­cans are US cit­i­zens and are el­i­gi­ble to vote in the US main­land un­like for­eign im­mi­grants, who must first be­come cit­i­zens, a process that can take years. The 1.9 mil­lion His­pan­ics cur­rently reg­is­tered to vote in Florida rep­re­sent 15.4 per­cent of the state’s elec­torate. Ac­cord­ing to Pew, be­tween 2006 and 2016, the num­ber of reg­is­tered His­pan­ics in­creased 61 per­cent. Most of them are Democrats.

Swing state

At the Mi Fa­milia Vota of­fice in Or­lando, a dozen vol­un­teers are pre­par­ing to reg­is­ter vot­ers in su­per­mar­kets and homes. Hand-col­ored signs glued to the wall chart the 28,200 His­pan­ics that the group has reg­is­tered so far. “Wher­ever the Puerto Ri­can vot­ing trend goes is where you will see the His­panic vote go” in Florida, said So­raya Mar­quez, the group’s state direc­tor. His­tor­i­cally, elec­tions in Florida have been ex­tremely close be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats. In 2000, Repub­li­can Ge­orge W Bush won the state-and the pres­i­dency-with a 537-vote mar­gin over Demo­crat Al Gore.

For decades, ev­ery Repub­li­can elected pres­i­dent has car­ried Florida. The last one who won with­out the south­east­ern US state was Calvin Coolidge in 1923. That ex­plains why both can­di­dates have so fiercely courted Florida vot­ers in the campaign’s home stretch. With 20.2 mil­lion peo­ple (24.5 per­cent of them His­panic), Florida is the third most pop­u­lous US state. But more im­por­tant than its size is Florida’s swing state sta­tus-from elec­tion to elec­tion, it tends to al­ter­nate be­tween the two ma­jor par­ties and by an ex­tremely small mar­gin.

Florida is com­plex elec­torally be­cause it is any­thing but ho­mo­ge­neous. The south leans Demo­cratic, the north leans Repub­li­can, and the cen­ter is a close race that’s widen­ing be­cause of Puerto Ri­can mi­gra­tion. It is this elec­tion’s real bat­tle­field. “Any­thing can hap­pen be­cause the state is very evenly di­vided,” says Kevin Hill, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Real Clear Pol­i­tics poll aver­ages, Clin­ton is 6.4 per­cent­age points ahead of Trump na­tion­wide, but in Florida the mar­gin is 3.6 points. — AFP

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