Where Does Cuban Voters’ Support for Obama Leave Rubio?

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The idea that Florida Senator Marco Rubio would help Mitt Romney salvage some of the Latino electorate was always one of the Republican Party’s more half-baked strategies in 2012. Obama won 71% of the Hispanic vote; Romney got an abysmal 27%. Despite his best efforts, Rubio is a Cuban-American, which counts for a lot on his humid home turf of South Florida but muy poco in the arid Southwest. That’s where the lion’s share of U.S. Latinos reside and where groups like Mexican-Americans, the largest Hispanic bloc, often resent the preferential immigration treatment that Washington gives Cubans fleeing the Castro dictatorship.

But now the GOP has to wonder how much long-term clout Rubio, a rising conservative star and a top prospect for the 2016 presidential nomination, has with even Cuban voters. Exit polling by the Miami-based Bendixen & Armandi International, a Democratic-leaning firm, shows Obama winning 48% of Florida’s Cuban-American electorate—the Republicans’ only reliable Latino group. That would be a record for a Democratic presidential candidate and a remarkable 13-point jump for Obama, whose 35% share in 2008, which tied former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 take, was the most a Dem had ever pulled. Many conservatives in Miami’s Cuban community dispute Bendixen’s findings, but another reputable exit poll has Obama winning 49%.

(MORE: Exclusive Interview: Marco Rubio Challenges His Own Party on Latino Outreach)

The GOP, meanwhile, has watched its share of Florida’s Cuban vote, the largest of the Sunshine State’s Latino blocs, plunge in presidential elections from 75% in 2000 to 52% last week. “We were as surprised as anyone by the tremendous Democratic uptick,” says Bendixen managing partner Fernand Amandi. “The Cuban-American electorate is changing and making itself much more open to Democratic candidates.”

Pundits have been trumpeting the rise of the moderate Cuban-American voter for the past decade, but until last week its ballot box power was more of a myth. Obama narrowly defeated Romney in Florida thanks in large part to his increased share of the state’s total Latino vote, from 57% in 2008 to 61% this year. And while that’s largely indicative of the growing heft of Florida’s non-Cuban Latino voters, it’s obvious now that Cuban voters helped push him over the top in a state Romney was forecast to win. Democrats also broke the GOP’s lock on Miami congressional districts that have large Cuban populations: although Cuban-American U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart kept their seats, Democrat Joe Garcia defeated conservative U.S. Representative and fellow Cuban-American David Rivera in a landslide.

Traditional exile cubanos have long been courted by candidates of both parties because, to their credit, they’ve produced high turnout in the nation’s largest swing state. And they’ve usually backed the GOP and its hard line against communist Cuba. But their numbers are dwindling, replaced by a younger generation, including more recently arrived Cuban immigrants, whose voting criteria are broader than Cuba policy. Polls, in fact, show most Cuban-Americans today believe the U.S. should lift its 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

(PHOTOS: Being Latino in Arizona)

Florida political experts like Amandi consequently believe Rubio could be undermined by last week’s Cuban-American results. At first glance, it certainly doesn’t help a politico when his own community breaks with him the way Florida Cubans did—especially when, in the Bendixen analysis, Obama actually captured 51% of the Cuban vote in the 48 Miami-Dade County precincts that have the highest Latino vote. (Cubans account for 75% of the county’s Latino electorate.)

But, ironically, the Florida Cuban vote could also enhance the standing of Rubio, who last week confirmed that later this month he’ll visit Iowa, the first GOP caucus state for 2016. Obama’s re-election is a vindication for Rubio as well as a rebuke: Throughout the campaign, he and his conservative mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican, warned Republican leaders that the party couldn’t keep repelling Latinos at every turn, especially on immigration. If Rubio spins it right, the fact that a near-majority of his fellow Cuban-Americans rejected the GOP presidential ticket—as well as the sudden post-election calls for immigration reform among chastened Republicans— could bolster the I-told-you-so idea that he’s the guy Republicans need to listen to four years from now.

Beyond Rubio, however, the other big question is what the Cuban-American vote means for Washington’s failed and fossilized Cuba policy. Obama has curried favor with Cuban-Americans by granting unlimited travel and remittances to Cuba for those with relatives on the island. It’s doubtful Obama would go as far as lift the embargo, unless both Castro brothers die between now and 2016. But it’s feasible that he and a coalition of reform-minded congressional Democrats and Republicans, as a sort of trial balloon, could work to lift the constitutionally questionable ban on travel to Cuba that non-Cuban U.S. citizens are subject to.

(MORE: Florida Takes Cuba Policy to the Absurd)

Then again, the hard-line Cuban caucus still wields some clout on Capitol Hill—Ros-Lehtinen is chairwoman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rubio and Democratic Cuban-American Senator Bob Menendez also oppose any easing of Cuba policy. Obama may decide it’s simply not worth disturbing waters in the Florida Straits when he has more important bipartisan deals like deficit reduction to forge. Then there’s the case of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison last year on questionable espionage charges. It will be hard for Obama to make any Cuban policy change until Gross is released.

Still, the bottom line is that whatever Obama does in his second term regarding Cuba, angering Florida’s Cuban voters seems to be one fewer worry. In fact, while Cubans were once the only relevant Latino voting bloc in the U.S. despite representing less than 5% of the Hispanic electorate, 2012 has reduced their muscle considerably. If anything, says Amandi, by voting as heavily as they did for Obama, “they made themselves relevant again.” And staying relevant is something for which Cuban voters have always had a knack.

MORE: Can Marco Rubio Win More Latinos Over to the GOP?

Correction: The original version of this article suggested that U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen might remain as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In fact, Ros-Lehtinen’s term as chairwoman will end in January.

29 comments
JohnAckleson
JohnAckleson

I was going to spend time explaining things and how I see what's goign on but what for. It doesn't matter. YOu Obama supporters will believe anything this guys says. In your eyes he can do no wrong however everyone else is to blame. Why are gue. Long live your Socialistic king. I have tried debating Obama supporters and its impossible and then I am called a racist. LOL I am a person who will vote for a Republican or a Democrat so I am not extreme on any side but this is the first president that i have wittnessed that is protected by the press as if he were the second coming. If I am a racist becasue I am using my freedom so speak against what I think is wrong with our govt. than what do you call people who speak against Rubio? You guys are racist as well.

Cubanito
Cubanito

Marco Rubio is just as much of a fraud as his best friend David Rivera.  Marco has taken our tax dollars and spent them for his benefit.  He paid for his mother's house in cash!  Why would anyone pay for a house in a bag full of cash these days?  Marco may be articulate & can smile, but this man is a crook.  If he is elected in 2016, God help us all! He cares nothing about Cubans.  He cares about becoming the 1st Latino president.  He did nothing to help the seniors in Florida (especially in regards to social security).  I wonder what will be foundd if they would dig deeper into the Republican's American Express Card that he holds.  Marco Rubio is like Romney in the sense he will say anything to get elected.  The dangerous part is that he is better at telling a lie.  I hope Cuban-Americans & Latinos do not get fooled by a beautiful smile because he'll rob this country blind. 

EvaGonzalez
EvaGonzalez

Obama wrote this biography of himself to promote his first book back in 1991. Again, this was written in 1991 before he was even thought of as a competitive politician. Barack Obama says it himself he was born in Kenya and raised in Hawaii. 

Either he lied (why?) or we are living through one of the truly greatest cover-ups & FRAUD of our time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3fd2qL0JAI&feature=endscreen&NR=1 ------

DonRamsey
DonRamsey

Until the Republicans "get it" , and stop using people as examples ( hispanic, black, female, etc.) instead of true inclusion, they won't stand a chance with a changing electorate. 

Signalier
Signalier

Traitor.  Send him to Cuba.  Castro will teach him manners.

Carmen
Carmen

You say that Mexican-Americans resent the immigration deal and massive federal subsidies that Cubans get. Sorry, but that's wrong. What many of us don't like are people like Rubio and Ted Cruz getting up on stage and bashing Mexican-Americans to curry favor with conservatives. Cubans will not bring in our vote, and they need to stop bamboozling The GOP and corporations into thinking that they are experts on Mexican-American voting and consumer habits. They're not.   

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The hispanic vote in the US is the Mexican/American vote.  It is pointless to include Cubans or Puerto Ricans in that mix because they are all totally different constituencies.  Ted Cruz, a Canadian born Cuban won a Senate seat in Texas with little or no Mexican/American support.  One large blue area in Texas is along the border, and there are families there who hold land grants dating to the Spanish king.  They have lived in this country since before it was the US and did not enter illegally.  Immigration to them is not so big an issue as the implied disrespect of their culture and the fences through their property.

Also, I would bet money that economic sanctions and travel restrictions for Cuba will be eased very soon, after President Obama deals with other matters on his plate.  Cuba will be open to Americans before the end of his term.

Rojo_Rojito
Rojo_Rojito

Rubio campaigned hard for the I-4 corridor Puerto Rican vote and it went 83% for Obama. Rubio campaigned hard for the Cuban-American vote and in a historical vote Cuban-American went over 51% for Obama. Rubio had to deliver Florida but Obama won. Rubio has to mature and get away from the old Batista crowd in Miami, support the DREAM act, denounce instead of supporting the Arizona law, forget his support of english as official language in Florida, avoid supporting the GOP voter suppression in Florida and move center left if he wants to avoid being a one term senator.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Non-Cuban Latinos don't like it that Cuban Latinos can flee Cuba and get taken into the US. 

Non-Cuban Hatians hate it even more.  They flee Haiti and get sent back to Haiti.  They're not politically endangered, you see, but economically.  Been that way for years. 

zaglossus
zaglossus

Token candidates of color aren't going to fix the GOP's problems.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Marco Rubio is the token Latino.

He doesn't address their problems nor speak for the community at large. And partly because he's mum about the true travesty of the 'outreach' from GOP to minorities. It basically boils down to 'get in line - we know you love our values - just keep your smelly paws off our power structure'.

That's why Rubio is the token Latino, Allen West the token black guy and whatever person they can trot out as an example of a skin tone or age group that best 'represent' the taxidermalized GOP.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

They can trot out all the Marco Rubios they want, but until Republicans stop labeling Cubans, Latinos and Hispanics as moochers, parasites and takers, it's all for naught.

Add women, people of color, seniors, young people, the poor and gays to that, too.

JPENA16
JPENA16

The Cuban community has changed over the years. As the older community dies off younger more moderate voices fill their shoes. The embargo is on its way  to being toast. Already a majority of Cubans don't support it. It's now a question of time. Hopefully it will be dropped during Obamas term.

CarlosFinlay
CarlosFinlay

Marco Rubio is the senator form Cuban Miami and therefore has very little in common with the rest the country and the Latino population.  The experience of Cubans immigrants in the US is markedly different form the rest of Latin America.  Mainly, Cubans are sheltered under the Cuban Adjustment Act and therefore even if arriving into the US illegally, they are immediately received into a legal pathway for residency and eventually citizenship.  The focus of the political leaders of So Florida (with the exception of newly elected Democrat Joe Garcia) is the Cuba of old.  Yet,  in the past decades Latin America has forged a strong relationship with the Cuba of today.  Marco Rubio is way out of touch not only with the rest of Florida (Tampa International Airport debacle), with half of the Cuban community in So Florida,  and with the rest of the Latino community in the US.  Marco Rubio is left to be reinvented by the Republican spin machine but his principles remain tied to the entrenched Cuban politicians of old.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

For some reason I can't help but think about certain Romney advisers habit of referring to Russia as the Soviet Union. The world is changing and it pays to pay attention to the details.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

@EvaGonzalez Yet he got re-elected president of this country. 

Birther = racist = liar in my book.

shanshayla
shanshayla

@DonRamsey  So says the party of promise them much, give them little, and the only thing they want from them is a short memory.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Clarity for Non-Floridians: I-4 = Interstate 4, not one-thru-four  ; )

JPENA16
JPENA16

@Rojo_Rojito my prediction is that Rubio will be a one term Senator by the time the next election rolls around. The Latin community seems to be getting progressively more liberal. Even the Cuban community as reflected by the polls of 51% favor for the end of the Cuban embargo, another fossilized dinosaur from the dead cold war.

JohnAckleson
JohnAckleson

nfloghorn, I agree Our country's history was based on Fleeing Poilitcal and Religous persecution. THe same way a CUban can com here so can a Chinese, Venezuelan, and Russian because of communism as did the Irish because of religous persecution. Our country is not here to allow people in becuase of poverty. I would suggest that these angry people read the history of our country. It was founded on people leaving becuase of Political and religous persecution not poverty. SO before they get all huffy and pufffy tell them to read adn educate themselves before making stupd statements. We have our own poor and now we have to take in the poor of other countries. Its not legal and then they moan becuase people that are here legally don't fear deportation. There are ways to come here legally from poor countrues but they don't want to go through the process. It is easier for them to cross a rive or have a "Coyote" bring them

JPENA16
JPENA16

@MrObvious Taxidermalized, I like that term for the GOP. Very fitting. Reminds me of Roy Rogers freeze drying hiss horse and dog.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Marco Polo doesn't have much political experience either.  I guess breathing for four more years would change that....

Sue_N
Sue_N

@PaulDirks I also seem to remember one of his surrogates talking about us having abandoned Czechoslovakia.

Apparently this is a campaign that never looked at map.

JPENA16
JPENA16

@PaulDirks The Republicans are stuck in a time warp loop. They never seem to have escaped the 50s, except for the taxes of the 50s. They are eternally in an episode of Mad Men.

outsider
outsider

Everything that came out of the Romney camp was from the 50's.

Except that whuch was from the 20's..@PaulDirks

JohnAckleson
JohnAckleson

JPENA Cubans are not becoming Liberal. Please educate yourself and realuize that the word Hispanic and Latin is being used incorrectly. It is not fair for Mexicans to be grouped with Colombians as its not fair for Cubans to be grouped with Puerto Ricans . They come from different countries and culture. That is like grouping all the countries that speak Spanish and call them all ENglishman.

outsider
outsider

which, not whuch.. damn crackberry

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

@outsider2011 I'm torn between waiting til January to get a BB 10 or joining a masses and getting either an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy III.  What would you suggest?