Democratic presidential candidates can win over Cuban-American voters by following Obama’s lead.

By Manuel R. Gomez *

Taken from Sun Sentinel

The Republicans will launch their Latino strategy in Florida, and the Democratic debates will start in Miami in late June, so you will face two challenges: how to communicate effectively with our community and how to address the Cuba issue head on.

Meeting these challenges successfully is the only way to tackle the outsize role of Cuban Americans in the 2020 elections while also winning more of us to vote Democratic.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, you will have to communicate a progressive message on both domestic and Cuba policies, in order to attract the growing number of Cuban voters, especially millennials, whose opinions are increasingly like those of mainstream America.

Cubans voted about 50 percent Democratic in the 2008, 2012 and even the 2016 elections. While pundits argue about the exact figures, one conclusion is clear: many Cubans supported former President Obama’s domestic message and rejected the “get tough” on Cuba policies of former President George W. Bush and President Trump.

These opinions increase markedly among younger voters and post-1995 immigrants, as the Florida International University CubaPoll clearly showed. We also know that Cubans want contacts with their country of origin: there were about half a million Cuban visits to the island in 2018.

Yet Trump’s policies are hurting Cuban Americans and Cubans on the island, as well as our national interests. Our embassy in Havana is practically closed, in effect eliminating visas for Cubans to visit families in the US. The policies also would severely reduce the money we can send our relatives, practically eliminating the capital they need for their businesses. And by shutting down negotiations on many issues of common interest — such as drug and human trafficking–these policies also damage our national interest. The “reasons” for these policies are doubtful at best.

To be sure, a Democratic strategy need not win all Cuban age groups, but just beat the earlier margins solidly.

Democrats need to bring out the younger Cuban voters and their moderate parents with a vigorous voter registration and turnout effort, especially for Cuban American millennials, which is the same as the strategy needed for all Americans. And when the Cuba issue inevitably comes up, the answer must be to defend a policy of engagement with the island, which Obama already proved was popular.

This will not be easy. The opposition from the right will be strident socialist-baiting, so you can’t be timid, even if even some in the Democratic Party structures object. Cuban millennials will welcome this strategy, as will many of their parents. While we can and should respect the feelings of the older Cuban voters — they are my parents, too — theirs is the voice of the past, and their vote is largely maxed out anyway, while the younger and other moderate voters are growing in numbers and barely tapped.

Finally, this “Cuban strategy” is consistent with a broader Democratic campaign strategy, because the polls have long told us that the idea of “getting tough” with Cuba is rejected by the American public in favor of engagement. In razor-thin elections like Florida, it’s useful to paraphrase a well-known remark: it’s the margins, stupid.

 

* Manuel R. Gomez is founder of the former Cuban-American Committee for the Normalization of Relations with Cuba. He is a retired federal government employee who divides his time between Washington and South Florida.

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