Charlie Crist’s position on Cuba not helping him in Miami-Dade

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Charlie Crist may have a problem with Cuban-Americans, according to a new survey of Miami-Dade voters conducted for the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald.

Crist’s announcement that he will visit Cuba this summer may have hurt his position in Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populated county. Only five percent of voters say they are more likely to support Charlie Crist over the issue while 24 percent say they would not. Sixty-seven percent said Charlie Crist’s position made no difference.

These numbers are in light of 51-40 percent saying they support opening up travel to Cuba for U.S. residents. Voters are also somewhat split over ending the five decades old trade embargo with the island nation 90 miles off the Florida coast, a significant shift from the traditionally hardline feelings on the issue.

Charlie Crist is the first candidate for governor to soften his position on the Cuban embargo, which he said has not worked.

Currently, Charlie Crist is leading incumbent Gov. Rick Scott by a 47-35 margin, which in the deeply Democratic Miami-Dade County is actually weak. A 12-point advantage represents about half of the support President Obama received in his 2012 re-election effort.

Bolstering Scott’s chances in November are Miami-Dade Hispanic voters, with half of them breaking for the incumbent Republican, and only 31 percent for Charlie Crist. Cuban Americans, who made up more than half of Hispanics polled — and a dominant political force in the county — favor Scott 58-30 percent. Overall, Hispanics are 55 percent of Miami-Dade’s 1.3 million registered voters.

Scott continues to lead in both fundraising and money spent in Miami-Dade, with a $1 million media buy in the county since mid-March, a portion of the massive $12 million paid out stateside, and a definite factor in Crist’s sagging poll numbers, write Herald reporters Marc Caputo and Juan Tamayo.

In five prior statewide campaigns, and winning three, Charlie Crist took Miami-Dade County only once, when running for Attorney General in 2002.

Crist ‘s change on Cuba came from the realization that U.S. policy hasn’t hurt Castro, and only hurts the Cuban people, as well as Florida’s economy, which is a “natural launching pad” for trade and business.

In her new book, Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agrees that the U.S.-Cuba policy has not worked; she described unsuccessful attempts to get Obama to lift the ban.

“I think it’s a more-enlightened thing to do to help Florida, help the people of Cuba and not necessarily embrace the Castros, that’s obviously not the motivation here, be anybody’s ‘puppet’ in the words of the current governor,” Crist told reporters. “They miss the point. The point, as I like to say, is do the right thing.”

However, older Cubans — many of whom are refugees — living in Florida still resist the idea of helping the Castro regime by visiting Cuba, and some are confused by Charlie Crist’s party switch from Republican to Democrat during Obama’s 2012 re-election effort.

The Herald poll also indicates that Cuban citizens who emigrated before the 1980 Mariel boatlift are much more likely to take a hardline attitude on Cuba. There is a clear divide in opinions between Cubans who immigrated to the United States and those born here.

Cubans born in the U.S. are split between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott and oppose the embargo 54-43 percent; those born on the island favor Scott over Charlie Crist by 61-25 percent and support the restriction by a margin of 61-30 percent.

Overall, Cuban support for the ban is 56-36 percent.

As for unlimited travel to Cuba, Cubans born in the U.S. support it 61-34 percent, while the exact opposite numbers are for those born in Cuba — 36 percent favor it and 58 percent oppose. In general, Cuban-American opposition to unrestricted travel is 51-42 percent.

Among African-American voters and non-Hispanic whites, 51 and 67 percent respectively support free travel to Cuba.

Thirty-seven percent of registered Hispanics in Miami-Dade are Republican and only 30 percent are Democrats; 32 percent have no party affiliation, belong to a third party or consider themselves independents.

The GOP seems to be losing ground in Miami-Dade, demonstrated by the softening of hardline positions against Cuba. Slightly more voters are registered independent than Republicans are, and Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 188,000 voters.

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.