Not in the sense that incumbent won’t garner a majority of Cuban votes cast in Florida; He is presently polling somewhere between 60-65% of Floridian Cuban Americans. But compare those number with the 82% of this voting bloc Bush won in the 2000 election.
A near 20% drop in support in a demographic representing 400,000 voters in a crucial state represents a swing of potentially 80,000 votes. That’s quite significant in a state the President won last time around by a mere 537 votes.
Why the sudden shift? I see two major reasons: First, years of GOP anti-Castro rhetoric have had an unintended impact in light of Iraq: When compared with U.S. foreign policy reality, Cuba has been mostly a non-issue for this administration — an after thought at best. One can easily understand why Cuban-Americans would be looking at the situation in the Middle-East, and then considering the problems with the one dictator in North America. They must be thinking: “Hey, wait just a second — If we can spend treaure and blood invading Iraq, under what looks increasingly like false pretenses, then why cannot we invade Cuba and overthrow Castro?”
Suddenly, years of anti-Castro rhetoric looks like exactly what it was: just so much pandering chatter. There is a communist dictator a mere 90 miles away from our coast, one who was willing to harbor nukes as a threat against the United States; A dictator who tortures and executes dissidents seemingly at random, and oppresses all of the people under his charge. One who’s grip on power has been all encompassing for decades. What’s to stop Castro from harboring anti-U.S. terrorists? Why not Cuba as a jumping off point for assaults?
Many in Florida’s Cuban community must looks at Iraq, and say to themselves, “Why Hussein and why not Castro? WTF?”
Secondly, the Bush Administration has implemented a “controversial new restriction on travel to Cuba” that particularly impact Cuban Americans in South Florida. While the goal may be laudable — choking off the flow of funds to Castro’s regime — the result is limiting contact and support between Cuban Americans living here, and their family back on the communist island. That’s simply untenable to many newer Cuban refugees here.
That sentiment is reflected in a new poll in South Florida: It shows that there is great discontent among many Cuban Americans about restrictive new travel policies toward Cuba. The Associate Press explains why this new restriction is so rankling to this key voting bloc:
“Democrats criticizing the Bush administration’s new travel restrictions to Cuba suggested Thursday that it could help presidential candidate John Kerry peel away some Cuban-American voters traditionally loyal to Republicans.
The new rules that began Wednesday are part of the administration’s attempt to undercut Cuban President Fidel Castro. The restrictions have generated criticism from some Cuban-Americans, including a group that was unable to catch an expected flight Tuesday at Miami International Airport.
Kerry called it a “cynical, election-year policy” that would “harm Cuban-Americans with families on the island while doing nothing to hasten the end of the Castro regime.” U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D- Miami, said it represented a hard-right turn by the Bush administration, arguing the Massachusetts senator could offer an alternative to the heavily Republican Cuban- American community.
The new travel rules bar Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island nation more than once every three years instead of once a year. They also limit visits to 14 days and daily spending to $50 per person. Before, there were no limits on visit length, and people could spend $167 a day.
Miami television newscasts showed images Tuesday of dozens of Cuban-Americans chanting “We want to fly!” after they were turned away from flights to visit their families as the deadline approached. The charter they had expected to fly on went to Havana empty to pick up Cuban-Americans returning to Miami.”
More polling data: Age makes all the difference: Indeed, the Miami Herald reported that “Democrat John Kerry enjoys a commanding lead over President Bush among Cuban Americans born in the United States and a decided edge among Cubans who arrived in the country after 1980, according to a new poll of Miami-Dade Hispanics that reveals deep divisions within a community traditionally viewed as staunchly Republican.”
The poll, commissioned by a Democratic group that is targeting Hispanic voters, shows Kerry with a 58-32 percent advantage among Cubans born in the United States, suggesting that the Massachusetts senator has an opportunity to siphon potentially critical support from Bush.
Indeed, “Bush crushes Kerry among the largest — and perhaps most politically active and vocal — group of Cuban-American voters: those who arrived before the 1980 Mariel boatlift [89 to 8 percent].”
The Herald notes that “Among all Cuban-American voters, Bush leads Kerry 69 to 21 percent, with 10 percent undecided — a massive lead, but a decline from 2000 when more than eight of 10 Cuban Americans helped Bush narrowly defeat Al Gore in Florida and win the White House.”
Interestingly, hispanicbusiness.com ran the same article as the Herald, only they used this headline: CUBAN AMERICANS: Support for Kerry Growing. That represents a subtle but important shift in the way Florida’s Hispanic press looks at the coming horse race.
If anger with Bush keeps some of his base of support at home on Election Day, that could be quite significant for Kerry. Unlike last time, there isn’t an “Elián González issue” to turn out Cuban voters in droves. In 2000, Florida’s Cuban-American community were intent on “avenging the Clinton administration’s handling of the Elián González case, the shipwrecked boy at the center of an international custody battle.” This time, indifference may keep manyof the more moderate Cuban GOP supporters at home.
I suspect that its Florida, and specifically its Cuban American voting bloc — and not Michigan and Ohio, as so many other analysts believe — which may be the key to the 2004 election.
How Cuban Americans are Responding to New Bush Cuba Policy:
New Florida Poll Results and Commentary
William C. Velasquez Institute-MirRam Group
Latin America Working Group, 7/8/2004 11:09:00 AM
Cuban Americans split on Kerry
Miami Herald, Tue, Jun. 08, 2004
CUBAN AMERICANS: Support for Kerry Growing
Cuban-Americans look beyond Bush
Some, frustrated, see stalemate on Castro
By Amie Parnes,
Boston Globe, 3/18/2004
New Rules On Cuba Could Help Kerry
The Associated Press, Jul 2, 2004
Uncertainty marks fight for Fla. vote
By Raja Mishra,
Boston Globe, July 9, 2004
Cuban Voters in Florida Wavering in Support for President
Additional Poll on Florida’s Cuban voters