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How Latinos in Miami-Dade County helped Trump win Florida

Biden needed to win big in Miami-Dade County. But Trump ate into his margins among Latinos.

A supporter of President Donald Trump poses outside the “Latinos for Trump Roundtable” at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort in Doral, Florida, on September 25, 2020.
Marco Bello/AFP via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Vice President Joe Biden performed significantly worse in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, falling short of the big margins he almost certainly needed to win Florida — President Donald Trump’s adopted home and a historical bellwether of who has won presidential contests.

Hillary Clinton won the county by a 30-point margin in 2016. But Trump sought to make inroads this year among Latino voters in the area, in particular among Cuban Americans who have historically leaned more Republican than Latinos from other countries of origin, embittered by John F. Kennedy’s withdrawal of support for an operation against dictator Fidel Castro at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs decades ago.

Preliminary data suggests that Trump’s efforts paid off: With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Biden’s lead had shrunk to just 9 percentage points in Miami-Dade County, and Trump had improved his margins among precincts in the county, where Cubans make up more than a quarter of the electorate by nearly 14 points, according to the New York Times. Those gains — and Biden’s failure to make up for those losses in other parts of the state — were significant enough to tip Florida in the president’s favor in a tight contest.

The Trump campaign had spent months investing heavily in eroding Biden’s margins in Florida, casting him as a socialist and capitalizing on the fears of Latinos from failed socialist regimes. (Biden has run as a center-left moderate, and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism has little relationship to the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.)

Trump ran Spanish-language ads, which began airing in Florida as early as June, likening Biden to ruthless Latin American caudillos like Castro or Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

One 30-second ad, narrated by a Cuban actress, paints Biden and the Democrats as extremists, playing images of Cuban refugee flights, a 2015 photo of Biden with Maduro in Brazil, and a red flag emblazoned with an image of Che Guevara, the communist Cuban revolutionary.

What’s more, disinformation campaigns have permeated Florida Latinos’ WhatsApp chats, Facebook feeds, and radio programs, falsely claiming, for example, that Biden has a pedophilia problem.

Trump’s performance with Latinos in Florida isn’t necessarily predictive of how he will fare with Latinos nationwide. In Florida, Latinos’ political leanings are particularly diverse, with populations hailing from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, and from other parts of Latin America. In other states with large Latino populations, including Texas and Arizona, Mexicans make up the vast majority of Latino voters and trend more Democratic.

In September, there were warning signs that the Biden campaign had “work to do” with Latinos, as his senior adviser Symone Sanders admitted. Democrats sounded the alarm in the media, again and again.

“It seems like the Latino vote is not being taken seriously,” Chuck Rocha, a former senior campaign adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders, told Vox at the time. “Latino organizations are still not being funded to get out the vote and to maximize our input. Why are we spending 99 cents of every dollar on white suburban voters and not on Black or brown voters?”