The short-sightedness of this approach might be baffling to outsiders who assume the Democratic party puts its all on the line to win. But for the organizers I spoke with on Tuesday, it’s a myopic habit that defines the national party’s political approach in the state—which many described as neglect and disinterest—when it comes to winning Cuban and Latino votes.
“Our work couldn’t compensate for the lack of party infrastructure set up to reach Cubans and Latinos in Florida,” said Maria Rodriquez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We tried to diminish the impact of ‘socialism’ during the campaign because, give me a fucking break, it’s Biden, c’mon,” she said. “But we’ve overestimated, across the board, people’s electoral literacy. We would knock on doors and people wouldn’t even know Biden was Obama’s vice president. They didn’t even know that! And meanwhile, the Black folks we spoke to knew Kamala’s criminal justice history, which, I feel that. I understand it.”
A native of Puerto Rico, she explained that the election was her organization’s first foray into partisan electoral politics, having previously focused exclusively on immigrant rights issues in the state. She described the Cuban vote as a “Rubik’s cube” that had yet to be properly addressed by the Democratic party, but she also suggested that given the absence of any meaningful Democratic infrastructure, it might be the least of the party’s issues in South Florida.
For some voters in Miami, alienation was the most palpable offering of the Democratic ticket. “What are they gonna change?” said Fred, a part-time Uber driver who happened to be parked across the street from Gramp’s. Taking a momentary break from a slow night of rides, Fred, who described his ethnicity as half-Cuban, half-Black, was quick to call out Harris’s nomination as a roadblock to racial justice, the factor he claimed to be concerned about most. “Integrity, morals, and the economy—that’s all that matters to me, really,” he said, repeating his question about what would change as he sat on the hood of a worn-out looking Toyota Corolla. He told me that while he had voted for Obama in 2008, Trump had been his choice this time around (his first vote since Obama’s historic win). Fred went on to explain the choice with another familiar attack line used by the president during his campaign: “Biden and Kamala, they were just in office. They didn’t show me anything.”
The sense that Democrats simply failed to reach people in Miami, let alone offer them the most elemental idea of what their candidates offered, was echoed by Jason, another young Cuban voter I spoke with. Wearing a Kith shirt with Space Jam lettering and a gold Rolex watch, the 28-year-old, who works in retail, told me he didn’t really like Trump or Biden, but he wasn’t bothered by them, either. Still, he decided to vote for the president this time because, as he put it: “I knew what I was getting by voting for Trump. I’m not into politics, really. I just want people to be happy and healthy—to have a chance to make money.” When I asked him if claims about socialism and communism played a part in his choice, he paused to think about it, offering a qualified kind of explanation. “I know Trump has no sympathy for those kinds of people, and that’s not a bad thing in my book.”
When I spoke with Rodriquez on the phone days after the election, she pushed back against the narrative that Latino voters, specifically in Miami Dade, should shoulder the blame for Florida’s right-ward shift. “Even if Miami-Dade had performed at Hillary levels,” Rodriquez said, “Florida would’ve still lost by 170k votes. There’s a lot of talk about Florida being blamed, but the reality is white women voted for Trump in greater numbers than they did in 2016. Our Black and immigrant voters turned out. We engaged Haitan and Jamacian voters at a very high level. Puerto Ricans voted at 70 percent turnout. Salvadorians at 75 percent. So don’t blame us—we delivered.”