TAMPA — Elsie Perez suffers from acute renal failure and receives dialysis three times a week. Every month she frets over how she will make ends meet.
“Everything has gone up and it is very difficult to live in these conditions,” said Perez, 54, a Mexican-born mother of two adult children.
Perez is a Democrat but now she regrets it. She pointed to the unique challenges she faces with inflation and the economy.
“That’s why I voted differently,” she said.
Like Perez, a majority of Latino voters in Florida decided to distance themselves from the Democrats and support Republican candidates in the midterms.
Latinos don’t tend to vote as a bloc. They’re as diverse as their roots and generational differences. But the state of the economy seems to have been the focus for many and their families. Efforts by Republicans to attract and empower voters in every county in the state also made a difference.
Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University in Miami, said the economy has been a concern because of the high costs of housing, rent, food and gasoline.
“All has been linked to the Biden administration,” he said. “And Governor (Ron) DeSantis knew how to take advantage of it.”
Republicans blame President Biden and his administration for high inflation that could spark a recession by next year. But the government said the pandemic has caused huge supply chain disruptions, in addition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
L. Felipe Mantilla, associate professor at the School of Global Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of South Florida, said it’s also likely that the anticommunist discourse of the Republican party and DeSantis resonated more among Latinos like Venezuelans and Cubans.
Venezuela is undergoing a humanitarian and political crisis from a mismanaged, state-controlled economy under the leadership of the late socialist Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolás Maduro. In Cuba and Nicaragua, people live in constant crisis, driven by rising prices and food shortages.
About 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since the 1990s. During the last decade, the Venezuelan population increased 126% to 540,000 in the U.S., with most of them living in Florida. Over 2.7 million Cubans live in U.S. and more than 700,000 Cubans have immigrated in the last 20 years.
“And these groups seem to me to be better represented in Florida compared to other states and other Latino communities,” said Mantilla.
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Latinos had been particularly vulnerable to lack of efforts by the Democrats to register more voters among their communities. Since 2016, Republicans in Florida have strengthened their numbers, surpassing the Democratic advantage by over 292,000 voters.
“Democrats invested very little in Florida, and the Republicans did the opposite,” Gamarra said. “The consequences were seen on Election Day. In Florida, many Democrats did not turn out to vote, and there was a lot of apathy among young people.”
The Democratic party’s defeat in Florida was not the most recent nor the first at the polls. In November 2020, during the presidential election, Donald Trump defeated Biden in the state by three percentage points.
Brandon Herrera, 25, the son of a Colombian father and a Puerto Rican mother, said young Hispanic voters have not been motivated to participate. For him, candidates need to talk about issues affecting the younger population.
“Many candidates in Florida simply don’t know how to talk to young people and to inspire them to get out and vote,” Herrera said. “There is no passion.”
That lack of outreach and connection could be encouraging many young Latinos to choose to leave traditional party lines and be independent, Herrera added.
“Many of us have voted for the candidate who is going to do us less harm, and that is not right either,” Herrera said.
Generational differences and other views are only part of the whole debate about Hispanic voters.
Clarissa Martinez De Castro, vice president of UnidosUS Latino Vote Initiative, one of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organizations, said Republicans have been working consistently during the last two election cycles to secure the Latino vote in Florida.
“Now they are seeing the results of their actions on the ground,” she said.
Noah Velez, a student at the River Bible Institute in Tampa, said he supports and volunteers with the Republican Party because “they stand for truth and justice and align with my viewpoints, which also are Christian principles.
“We need to reinstate order and dignity.”
Stephen Neely, associate professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida, said there seems to be a shift among Hispanic voters toward Republican candidates in the last two electoral cycles.
“But it’s unclear whether that’s a long-term, permanent shift or if it’s contextual,” Neely said. “It could also be a function of turnout.”
In terms of the overall election results, he said, it was a good night for Republicans in Florida because the party also outperformed the national averages and trends pretty “convincingly.”
The decision to keep schools and businesses open in mid-2020 during the coronavirus pandemic was another factor in making many Latinos feel more comfortable with Republicans, according to Israel Ortega, spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative, a Washington-based organization that focuses on Hispanic voters. Their political-action committee, Libre Initiative Action, officially endorsed the reelection of DeSantis and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, among others.
“Many Hispanics and entrepreneurs spoke to me about what Governor DeSantis did and the way Republicans attacked socialism,” Ortega said. “Compared to other states where you didn’t see that enthusiasm, in Florida that made a difference.”