TAMPA — In the darkened corner suite of a largely abandoned strip mall, a worker packs cardboard boxes with her belongings as she empties her desk.
She’ll take home a tapestry, Aveeno lotion and a thrifted office lamp. The campaign signs — for Democrats Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Janet Cruz — she’ll dump in a pile to recycle.
For the last several months, the halls of this office have bustled with staff and volunteers who gathered at Hillsborough’s Democratic Hispanic hub, largely known as “Casa Crist,” with the goal of drawing Latinos to the polls for blue candidates.
As election night rolled in, hope and energy was still abundant. At a watch party Tuesday night, volunteers filled plastic chairs in a backroom of the winding space off Dale Mabry Highway. People cracked open pop cans. Somebody brought a keg.
Then, the polls closed. Votes were counted. And Florida turned a burning red.
As key races were called for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, for representative-elect Anna Paulina Luna, for Sen. Marco Rubio, the party died down. They took the personal belongings that had accumulated at the office this election season. And as was the case for many field offices post-Election Day, the lights were turned off and the space transformed into a ghost town.
The morning after, Hispanic organizers began to think about the future.
“This was a wave election, it’s hard to swim against the wave,” said Victor Rudy DiMaio, the Hillsborough Democratic Hispanic Caucus president. “But the pendulum swings back and forth. There’s always another day.”
DiMaio’s tone was matter-of-fact. Worn, not beaten, as he reflected on the results from 24 hours earlier.
For Democrats in Florida, engaging Hispanic voters has been a challenge.
Getting folks to the polls is one piece of that. In Hillsborough, majority-Hispanic precincts had a turnout 12 points lower than the countywide participation.
But there’s also an increasing number of Hispanics who lean red, data shows. In Miami-Dade, for example, Hispanics who register Republican outnumber Democrats by more than 81,000.
DiMaio said talk about the “Hispanic voter” fails to acknowledge the diversity in interests and experiences among the population. Hispanics are not monolithic, he said.
“You have Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans,” DiMaio said. “They’re all unique, so you have to play to a very wide and vast audience.”
Jose Vazquez, who leads the Caribbean Caucus, echoed that. He added that education around the importance of midterms for new voters is necessary, noting that people focus on the presidential elections. He also said combatting misinformation and appealing to younger voters is crucial.
Part of that, said Mario Núñez, a volunteer with Casa Crist, is investing more in messaging.
He said throughout the campaign, Republicans flooded Spanish-language television and radio stations in ads. That was a tell, he said.
On the day after the election, Núñez said volunteers were feeling “battered and bruised.”
But like DiMaio and Vazquez, he expressed hope — and a desire to look forward.
“We’re Democrats. We’re the eternal optimist,” Núñez said. “You learn more from losing than you do from winning.”