MIAMI — Once again Florida is in the campaign sunlight as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were running neck and neck in this vital battleground state going into Tuesday’s election.
Sensing the urgency, Clinton has made four visits to Florida in the last two weeks and had President Obama stump for her on Thursday at a star-studded event including Jennifer Lopez and Stevie Wonder. Trump, meanwhile, also made early week campaign stops in Orlando, Pensacola, and most recently Miami to court Cuban voters who have been lukewarm about his candidacy.
Both candidates recognize that the Hispanic vote could be the deciding factor in tilting the balance of the state.
And with the nation experiencing a bumper crop of early voters, a small precinct in the Coconut Grove section of Miami provides a look at how some voters feel.
Richard Emus, 74, a Miami resident since 1971 and registered Democrat, does not think either party has a lot of “spine.” He said they are both slaves to “big money” and increasingly exploiting the system to maintain their grip on power. But he stressed his opposition to the “assault of the Republican military industrial complex.”
He didn’t mince words.
“Nominating a phony blabbermouth like Trump only made me more against the Republican party. So I voted, perhaps somewhat in protest, for Hillary. But she has a good supporting cast and did an admirable job as secretary of state.”
Alex Hernandez, 24, is a Dominican-American who became a citizen in 2013. This is the first election he is eligible to vote in and relished the opportunity to have a voice even if he is lukewarm about the candidates.
“This was tough for me. My first time voting and neither candidate seems particularly honest. I can’t believe that out of 320 million people, this is the best we can do. But I didn’t want to vote for a third party candidate because they have no chance. So I voted for experience and Hillary has that.”
Wary of Trump
Trump’s anti-Muslim comments have not endeared him to Arab-American voters. Amaira Wallabi, 31, who was born in Utah but has lived in Saudi Arabia most of her life, had less hesitation with her choice. She said she voted early because she was so excited to vote against Trump.
“Every time he [Trump] opens his mouth, he is pretty much telling every Arab American to vote for Hillary. His aggressive manner, and ridiculous proposals, especially after Obama’s diplomatic ways, are the exact opposite of what America stands for.”
Wallabi feels more connected to Hillary since it is difficult for women to be publicly vocal in her culture and yet even with such a strong husband, Hillary is unafraid to assert herself.
Some Cubans hold their traditional party line
Not all early South Florida voters leaned the same way. Reinaldo Sanchez, 63, and a Cuban-American, has voted Republican since Reagan’s first election. “Hillary is a criminal who gets a free pass because she is a woman and a Clinton.” He also said the Democrats are too “naïve” with Cuba and Iran.
Ricardo Hernandez, 31, and a math teacher, was a Trump voter but not necessarily supporter. He was more fond of the GOP nominee four years ago when he flirted with a presidential bid, but soured on him during the primary season. He said Trump’s bully tactics were unappealing and out of touch with the diversity that makes this country excel.
However, he remains a party loyalist in part because his Cuban heritage compels him to vote Republican though he recognizes the Cuban trend is changing. According to The Huffington Post, the number of Cuban-Americans voting Democrat doubled from 22 percent in 2002 to 44 percent in 2014.
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see so many redeeming qualities in Trump other than his work ethic. But the Clintons are too much of a dynasty. At least he (Trump) will be willing to challenge the system since he is not a part of it,” Hernandez said.
Including the bizarre and highly contested 2000 contest, when the national election results hung in the balance as Florida’s 27 electoral votes were determined by the Supreme Court, the winner of the state has been elected president six of the last seven times.
But what happens in Florida, especially in the southern part of the state, often defies predictions. “My motto here is expect the unexpected,” Emus said.