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Marco Rubio Courts Puerto Rican Voters

Republican Senator Marco Rubio meets with Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla in Rubio’s Capitol Hill office. /Marco Rubio Facebook

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is paying a lot of attention to Puerto Ricans in Central Florida for his re-election campaign.

During the August 30 primaries, he held his campaign victory party in Osceola, which is the heart of Central Florida’s significant Puerto Rican community. Rubio has been out front on the Zika virus issue, which is affecting not only Florida but also Puerto Rico, home to the most Zika cases – over 16,000 and counting. (His fellow Republicans sabotaged an initial bill by zeroing out a family planning clinic in Puerto Rico). The Republican senator also was appointed to an economic task force to make recommendations to boost Puerto Rico’s economy, which may be a blessing or a curse. Sen. Bill Nelson also is on the task force.

And no doubt he will be at next month’s Orlando ceremony honoring Puerto Rico’s Borinqueneer Army regiment, one of the most decorated of the Korean War.

Shoring Up Puerto Rican Vote

Rubio, a Cuban-American whose home district is Miami-Dade, may shielded in part from  a potential Donald Trump down-ballot draft. Still, Trump is anathema to Hispanic voters. Rubio knows he has to shore up the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida, who are important to his re-election chances for several reasons.

First, the Puerto Rican population in Florida now numbers 1 million – nearly even with  the Cuban population, Rubio’s natural base.

Second, Puerto Ricans lean Democrat and provide a counterweight to the South Florida Cuban-Republican vote. During the August primaries, Trump trounced Rubio whose map of support went dark; only Miami-Dade provided a ray of light.

Third, many Puerto Ricans are new to Florida.

Murphy Missing in Action

The good news for Rubio is that Democratic rival Patrick Murphy is missing in action. Murphy was a no-show for two primary debates with Democratic rival Alan Grayson, whose sharp tongue surely would have been lethal.

However, a Rubio-Murphy debate is scheduled for October, and no doubt Murphy can’t escape this one. (Full disclosure: I am a political analyst for WFTV-Channel 9,  a debate sponsor.)

Rubio is a good debater, but his talking points have become stale and he is in need of new ones. But sizing up Murphy is difficult because he hasn’t been around much.

Frankly, many people, including Democrats, are comparing Murphy to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican, then an independent and now is a Democrat. Crist has been shopping for elected office for a while; he is now running for Congress from St. Petersburg, his home district. The comparison is not a good one for Murphy.

For Rubio, but more so for Murphy, the path to the U.S. Senate is through Central Florida.

Puerto Ricans Are Miffed

But Puerto Ricans are miffed at Rubio for supporting bankruptcy protection for the island, which is in the throes of a financial crisis, and then changing his mind under hedge-fund pressure. And people still remember that Rubio, then in the throes of his Senate race, voiced opposition to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, implying she is a “judicial activist.” Sotomayor is revered in the Puerto Rican community.

His support of the Borinqueneers is genuine – during the Congressional
Gold Medal ceremony in the nation’s capital he lamented it took so long to recognize the bravery of the Puerto Rican soldiers, who are now in their 80s and 90s.

Support of the Borinqueneers, however, has taken on a partisan flair, as if Republicans owned the veterans. I have attended several Borinqueneer events where the Democrats in attendance were few. Is that deliberate or do Democrats not care?

Rubio Doesn’t Know Puerto Ricans

But the main reason Rubio must beef up his presence among Puerto Ricans is that they don’t know him. Rubio has been running for president for most of his first term as U.S. senator.

More important, Rubio doesn’t know Puerto Ricans. Since 2000, the Puerto Rican population in Florida has soared nearly 100 percent. About 60,000 Puerto Ricans migrate from the island each year due to a financial crisis. Most settle in Florida.

Rubio certainly has his homework cut out for him. Central Florida is a good place to start.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Good Primary Elections for Latinos

Soto and Cortes
It was a good primary election for John Cortés (l) and Darren Soto, shown campaigning together in Kissimmee before the election. / Soto-Facebook

It was a good primary elections for many Hispanic candidates in Central Florida. From Osceola to Seminole counties,  Hispanic candidates established “firsts” for the Latino community in a sign that the Florida Supreme Court-imposed congressional redistricting evened the political playing field.

Florida voter turnout of nearly 24 percent also was good, higher than the 21 percent recorded in 2012, also a presidential election year. However, Central Florida  turnout was lower than the state average. Seminole came closest with a 22.6 percent primary turnout, followed by Osceola (20.8 percent). In an unusual move, Orange County trailed both with an 18 percent turnout.

No details yet on the Hispanic voter turnout, which often is low for primary and mid-term elections.

Here’s an analysis of how Hispanic candidates fared.

U.S. Senate

Republican incumbent Marco Rubio won handily against millionaire Carlos Beruff, a Donald Trump acolyte, proving that there is only one Donald Trump and imitators need not apply.  Rubio deserves mention as well because he is seriously courting Central Florida Latinos – he celebrated his win in Puerto Rican-heavy Osceola. Many  Puerto Ricans are turned off by Rubio’s vote against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, his on-again, off-again immigration reform and flip flopping on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. But Rubio needs to win the I-4 corridor in November.

Finally tally: Rubio won by 74 percent in Orange and 71 percent in Osceola, two Democratic counties – well ahead of Beruff as well as the man who would be his Democratic rival Cong. Alan Grayson, who in turn lost the primary to Patrick Murphy.  Grayson proved unpopular even on his home turf.

Congressional District 9

State Sen. Darren Soto was the big winner in a crowded Democratic field that included Dena Minning Grayson, wife of current Cong. Grayson; as well as Grayson’s former district director Susannah Randolph. However, Dena Grayson and Randolph appeared to cancel each other out, opening the way for Soto, who was financially competitive and campaigned hard among Latinos.

Interesting aside, a big loser is Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, the first Latina and Puerto Rican on the County Commission who endorsed Randolph over Soto. Janer didn’t prove to have any coattails for Randolph to ride.

Soto is nearly assured a win in November against Republican Wayne Liebnitzky in a district drawn to favor Democrats, potentially becoming the first Puerto Rican from Florida to go to Congress.

Final tally: Soto won 44 percent of the vote in Osceola – about double that of Grayson and Randolph – and 38 percent in Orange, or five points ahead of Randolph and 15 points ahead of Grayson.

A note about Val Demings, the resounding winner (57 percent) of the Democratic primary in Congressional District 10. This redrawn district contains about an equal ratio of black (25 percent) and Hispanics ( 21 percent). It bears watching for Latinos as well.


State Senate District 15-State House District 48

Father-daughter team of State. Rep. Víctor Torres and Amy Mercado won their respective primary races for State Senate District 15 (includes parts of Orange and Osceola) and State House District 48 (Orange), respectively. A November win, which is likely in these two Democratic districts, would make the duo the first father-daughter legislators in Florida.

Final tally: Torres won 67.7 percent of Orange and 56 percent of Osceola, while Mercado earned 60 percent in Orange.

State House District 43

Meanwhile, John Cortés easily held onto State House District 43 against the man who once held the seat, Ricardo Rangel, despite old allegations of a domestic dispute between Cortés and his daughter. This proves that Cortés’s overwhelming win over Rangel in 2014 was no fluke. Osceola doesn’t like Rangel. Cortés is a likely shoo-in in November in this Democratic district.

Final tally: Cortés 42 percent, Rangel 29 percent.

Osceola Clerk

Incumbent Armando Ramírez managed to hold onto to the Osceola Clerk of the Court, despite some stumbles and bad publicity early in his term, including charges of nepotism and the firing of employees, proving that either Ramirez has righted his ship or Osceola likes Ramírez.

Final tally: Ramirez 42.4 percent vs. 37 percent for John Overstreet.

Kissimmee Mayor

The battle for who will be the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee spilled into the November election, as Kissimmee Commissioners José Alvarez and Art Otero head for a runoff. This guarantees an already ugly battle will get more vicious. Otero is attempting to disqualify Alvarez from the race and reminds voters that he is the Puerto Rican candidate. Alvarez is Cuban-American.

Final tally:  Alvarez 45.7 percent, Otero 41.6 percent.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Early Voting Turnout Is Just 4 Percent

yo vote

Early voting turnout is 4 percent in the August 30 primaries, a figure that was mirrored in the three-county area, according to the Florida Division of Elections’  figures released August 28.

The numbers are bound to increase once all primary votes are cast – either early, by mail or in person. Total turnout in the 2012 primary elections – also a presidential election year – was 20.5 percent, still considered low.

The final day of early voting is Sunday, August 28, until 7 p.m..

For the early vote end of day Saturday, August 27, elections data show that 494,925  cast ballots across Florida, about 49 percent Republican and 44 percent Democrat.

In Orange 4 percent of Democrat voters turned out to vote in the primaries, while the figure was even lower – 3.3 percent – for Republicans.

In Osceola thus far, 3.8 percent of Democrat voters have cast a ballot and 4 percent of Republicans.

Seminole turnout has been higher, with 5.4 percent Republican versus 4.2 percent for Democrats.

Tuesday, August 30, is the final day for voting the Florida primaries either in person or by mail.

Here’s the  breakdown for early voting in the three-county area:


Democrats     13,736  (59 percent of total early vote)

Republicans    7,011 (30 percent)

NPAs                  2,192 (9 percent)

Total           23,093


Democrats      3,003 (57 percent)

Republicans    1,821 (34 percent)

NPAs                  421 (8 percent)

Total            5,290


Republicans   5,841 (55 percent)

Democrats    3,870   (36 percent)

NPAs                875    (8 percent)

Total            10,721

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Slow Going in Early Voting

ya voté
Early voting is going slowly thus far, but voters have until Saturday, August 27, to vote in any early voting center in their county.

With just days to go before the August 30 primary elections, the early voting is going very slowly for all political parties.

As of Friday morning, just 351,488 early voters had cast ballots across the state of Florida, with Republicans slightly ahead (170,102) of Democrats (155,758) according to the Florida Division of Elections.

However, in Orange and Osceola counties early voting favors Democrats, as does the vote by mail. Then again, Orange and Osceola are predominantly Democrat, while  Seminole is mostly Republican.

Early voting in Florida ends Saturday, August 27, and voters do not appear to be taking advantage of the one of two ways to cast ballots ahead of election day in Florida – the other being vote by mail – placing the onus on election day turnout.

Many races likely will be decided in the primaries, not in the November election. For example, in Kissimmee the winner of the mayoral race is the city’s next mayor –and  the winner will be the first Hispanic mayor of Kissimmee. The race  essentially comes down to City Commissioner José Alvarez and former commissioner Art Otero.

In addition, the race for Congressional District 9, which covers parts of Orange, Osceola and Polk counties, and leans Democrat and Hispanic, also is highly likely to be decided in the August primary among State Sen. Darren Soto, Susannah Randolph, Dena Minning Grayson and Valleri Crabtree. A social media dispute has broken out between the Grayson and Randolph camps, creating more uncertainty in that race. (Randolph is Grayson’s former district director.)

Three-County Area

In the three-county area, Democrats in Orange and Osceola appear to be voting early in greater numbers than Republicans.

In Orange, about twice as many Democrats (10,390) as Republicans (5,145) have voted early. In Osceola, 56 percent of all early voters are Democrats (2,070) versus Republicans (1,279).

Meanwhile, in Seminole, where Republicans dominate, 55 percent of early voters are Republicans, compared with 36 percent who are Democrat.

early voting graph



Those who don’t affiliate with any political party or NPA voters often determine the outcome of general elections, but they cannot vote in political party primaries, accounting for their low numbers.  NPA voters, however, can vote on the constitutional amendment on solar energy and certain local nonpartisan races.

Only 1,582 NPA voters have cast ballots in Orange, while only 288 have done so in Osceola and 536 in Seminole. In all of Florida, 21,814 NPA voters have gone to the polls, just 6 percent of all early  voters, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Vote by Mail

Voting by mail is a more popular alternative among all voters, with over 1 million Floridians having voted by mail thus far. Republicans have cast 525,000 mail ballots versus 408,049 for Democrats. The remainder are “other” and NPA voters.

At the local level, mail ballots favor Democrats, with 21,092 having voted by mail In Orange versus 18,008 Republicans. In Osceola,  Democrats have cast 7,976 mail ballots, compared with 5,876 for Republicans.

In Seminole, nearly 12,400 Republicans have voted by mail versus 7,140 Democrats.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor