IN AMERICAN presidential politics, few states have the linchpin reputation of being pivotal to the outcome of elections that Florida has. Only Ohio has a similar status as crucial barometer of the American electorate on Election Day. But while much of the rust-belt, blue-collar identity of the Buckeye State hasn’t changed over the years, Florida has since 2008 emerged as the petri dish of the nation’s demographic evolution.
For the Democrats and the Clinton campaign — capitalizing on their own aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts and a galaxy of unforced errors by the Trump campaign — that fact is paying big dividends right now in the Sunshine State, days before the election.
“Of the early votes cast by Friday, close to one-third of the Hispanic voters had never voted in an election before. And polling makes clear that they are overwhelmingly voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, The Huffington Post reported Saturday.
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“It reduces the math to a tiny group, but it’s a useful group,” Ruy Teixeira, a demographer with the Center for American Progress, made it clear. “If Florida is gone, that only leaves Texas.”
Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s campaign topkick in 2012, made it clearer still. “If what happens in 2016 with Latinos and other non-white voters is the same thing that happened with African Americans in 1964, Republicans aren’t going to win a presidential election for generations.”
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WHAT’S APPARENTLY playing out in Florida didn’t just happen; this surge in Latino votes started with a surge in Latino voter registrations as far back as July of last year. If you kept up with the Pew Research web site, none of this is a surprise.
Pew Research Center first reported last July, and again in an updated version of that story on March 9, that Latino voters “make up an even larger share of the state’s registered voters than in past years ...”
Pew reported: “Due to the state’s large Cuban voting bloc, the Latino vote had been reliably Republican. For example, President George W. Bush won both the Hispanic vote and the state in 2004. But 2008 represented a tipping point: More Latinos were registered as Democrats than Republicans, and the gap has only widened since then. This has led to the growing influence of Democrats among the state’s Hispanic voters in 2008 and 2012, two presidential elections in which Barack Obama carried both Hispanics and the state.”
“Among all Floridians, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in 2016. This is due in part to Hispanics, who accounted for 88% of growth in the number of registered Democrats between 2006 and 2016. During this time, the number of Hispanic registered voters increased by 61%, while the number of Hispanics identifying as Democrats increased by 83% and those having no party affiliation increased by 95%.”
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“Cuban Americans and their politics are also changing,” Pew reported last year. “This group increasingly leans toward the Democratic Party as more are born in the U.S. In addition, due to an influx of Cuban immigrants since 1990, a sizable majority of Cuban Americans today say they have at least some common values with people living in Cuba.”
Florida politics increasingly has a Puerto Rican flavor too. The Fiscal Times, citing Pew Research data, reported on Nov. 2 that “[t]he number of Puerto Ricans living in Florida has increased 110 percent since 2000 ... with a big spike in the past few years.”
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YOU CAN THANK The Donald’s deeply poisonous rhetoric about Mexican Latinos as thugs and rapists for much of that. Susan MacManus, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of South Florida, told The Fiscal Times that ““there is an impetus to register as Democrats, but the reason they are more likely to vote for Hillary is less party than an anti-Trump sentiment traceable to his negative comments about immigrants.”
But Trump had help in possibly flipping Florida to Democratic blue. He can thank the Republicans in Congress going back to the 1990s. A Friday story at Vox.com reports on how, for Puerto Ricans migrating to Florida from their home island, payback’s a bitch.
Vox’s Dara Lind explains how we got here: “The rise of the Puerto Rican vote in Florida is the result of a chain of events stretching back 20 years, when Congress closed a Puerto Rico-specific tax loophole. That chain of events ultimately led hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to leave the island for the mainland — and Florida in particular.
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“[T]he government granted big tax breaks to businesses that had operations in Puerto Rico. Starting in 1976, basically any profit a company could trace to Puerto Rico wouldn't be taxed. ...
“This cost the US a lot of money in lost tax revenues ... Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget suggested reforming the loophole, and using the tax revenue to encourage economic growth on the island in other ways.
“Congressional Republicans, however, had other things they wanted to use that tax revenue for. In 1996, they passed a bill that increased the federal minimum wage while cutting a variety of business taxes. They paid for those tax cuts by phasing out the tax loophole that had benefited Puerto Rico — essentially, sharply raising taxes on companies operating on the island ...
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LIND GOES ON: “Politicians in Puerto Rico warned against the closing of the tax loophole without any relief for the island,” Lind writes. “... But there was no incentive for Congress to listen. ... When the tax break finally ended in 2006, it threw Puerto Rico into a recession. ... It's been struggling ever since. ...
“Congress has only started paying attention to the Puerto Rican crisis over the past couple of years, as the island’s fiscal 'death spiral’ has posed serious financial problems for American bondholders. But Puerto Ricans themselves have been responding for years — by leaving the country.”
And moving to Florida.
The great migration of Latinos from Cuba and Puerto Rico is one of the inspiring multi-generational stories of the immigrant experience playing out in America. And the story doesn’t have anything like an ending yet.
One part of that American story ends, and begins, on Election Night.
Latino voter registration in Florida chart: ©2016 Pew Research Center. Early vote in battleground states chart: NBC News.