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A Strategy For Kerry: 'Wind Up' Cuban Vote

Executive Editor of The Miami Herald

July 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

BOSTON -- Before I explain how Cuban-American voters -- especially the young and the more recently arrived -- may hold the key to the 2004 election, think about the way a classic watch works.

Driving the hands behind the clock face are interlocking gears, larger ones on top connected to the hands that fix the time, and smaller ones beneath, each spinning at different rates.

If you can energize just one of those smaller gears -- by winding a spring, for example -- the entire, intricately connected system will respond and the time will change.

Now think of a presidential election. The final result is driven by the outcome in 50 states, each one weighted differently and each one influenced by its own set of internal ''gears,'' that is, identifiable voting blocs. If a candidate can properly ''wind up'' one of those blocs, it could turn the bigger gears until the outcome changes.

In the 2004 election, just 16 of the 50 states are considered in play to vote differently than in 2000. These battleground states are like the big gears in the watch; they drive the outcome.

And driving five of these battleground states is what many here are calling the ''hottest'' voting bloc of the 2004 electorate: Hispanics. In each of those -- Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and, of course, Florida, the biggest prize of all -- Hispanic voters can easily affect the result on Election Day.

Start with the fact that in the Hispanic-influenced states besides Florida, Mexican Americans dominate. Most national surveys, including The Miami Herald/Zogby International Poll, show that these voters favor Kerry over Bush by more than 2-to-1.

The Democrats' strategy in those states, then, depends on making sure that Mexican Americans are motivated enough against the president to turn out on Nov. 2.

Florida's Hispanic vote is more diverse and politically contradictory. But it's arguably even more promising for Kerry than the reliably Democratic votes of the other four.


The best known segment, the so-called Cuban vote, makes up about 40 percent of the nearly 1 million total. In 2000, four in five of these Cuban Americans cast ballots for George W. Bush -- a ratio that some say vaulted Bush into the White House.

But this vote is fast being challenged by growing non-Cuban Hispanic communities across Florida, particularly the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida. Most register and vote Democratic.

But even more threatening to the White House: A survey of registered voters by the New Democratic Network done by Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen earlier this month found a cavernous divide in party loyalties between Cubans who arrived in the United States before 1980 and those who came later or who were born in the United States.

Those in that first wave, who comprise about two-thirds of the total vote, still favor Bush over Kerry by an incredible 92 percent to 6 percent.

But the post-Mariel Cubans favor Kerry over Bush by 55 to 20 percent. And those born here back the Democrat by 58 to 35 percent.

Putting all this together, Bendixen found that Bush's lead over Kerry among Hispanics statewide is now just 54 to 36 percent -- far short of Bush's margin over Al Gore among Hispanics who voted four years ago.

The long-term implications of this aside, if that survey is accurate and nothing changes between now and Election Day, Bush could lose 100,000 Hispanic votes from his 2000 total. That's a seismic shift in a state that was officially decided by 537 votes.


The Kerry equation becomes clear: More young and post-Mariel Cubans voting Democrat means a smaller Hispanic margin of victory for President Bush. That could mean that Florida goes for Kerry. And who doesn't already know that, as goes Florida, so goes the White House?


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