Florida's Seniors, Latinos Are Losing Faith in Trump, Dooming His Campaign

Seniors and Latinos in the battleground state Florida have lost faith in President Donald Trump's performance, and with double-digit deficits in his national polling, it signals doom for his campaign.

Democrats, it appears, have found their opening.

In Florida—where Trump triumphed in 2016— polling in recent months has shown that seniors, who have voted reliably Republican for a decade, are peeling away from the president amid a pandemic sweeping the country—a disease that is deadly to older Americans. Those numbers from seniors, who make up roughly 21 percent of voters in the state, ring true to one Trump advisor who spoke to the president by phone in June, and asked for anonymity to speak candidly about negative numbers for the president. The source told Newsweek they've seen private Republican polling "in swing counties, including Florida, where our numbers among older white men have gone from 80 percent to 70 percent support."

"We need to run the table with old white men and right now we're seeing some erosion," the source said.

New York Times polling also showed Biden with 52 percent support from Latinos, with 29% for Trump among Hispanics, who made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2016.

Taken with the Real Clear Politics average of polls from June that shows the president losing by 6 percent to Biden, those numbers don't bode well for the president's second term.

Democrats said Trump's dip with seniors in the state makes sense given his mishandling of the pandemic. A Tampa Bay Times analysis last month, for example, found that 83 percent of coronavirus deaths in Florida are of people 65 and older. Polls taken after the coronavirus outbreak showed Biden up in Florida with seniors, with a Quinnipiac poll showing Biden up 10 percent. A pro-Trump media outlet released a poll with TIPP in June that showed Biden up 51 percent to 42 percent with voters over 65. Those numbers, Democrats said, have seniors calling into question Trump's leadership during the crisis.

"What Republicans have been saying for the last three months is seniors are expendable and I would imagine that doesn't really jive that well with folks in The Villages," Democratic strategist Jose Parra, told Newsweek. Retirement communities such as The Villages typically serve as campaign stops for Republicans in Florida.

Sensing an opportunity, the Biden campaign held an organizing and writing workshop for older Americans in Florida in May, with Representative Donna Shalala, who is 79, offering seniors tips on how to take action on behalf of the campaign, like writing letters to the editors of newspapers. The campaign also used the opportunity to discuss Biden's plan for older Americans and outline other ways to take action like phone banking.

As for Hispanics—who are not monolithic—changing attitudes among Latin Americans could impact the president. Trump's comments appearing to walk back current American foreign policy with Venezuela, created an opportunity to hit him on issues that matter to Venezuelans and Cubans, Democrats said.

Geraldo Cadava, author of The Hispanic Republican, told Newsweek that Trump's machismo and masculinity worked for him with Hispanic Trump supporters in 2016, a hallmark of Latin American dictators. "Part of his appeal was that he would come in and fix things decisively, strongly and authoritatively," Cadava said.

But Trump appeared this week to second-guess his decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate elected leader and said he was open to meeting with dictator Nicolás Maduro, two moves that would upend work Vice President Mike Pence and the administration have engaged in on Venezuela. Trump eventually walked back his openness to a meeting saying it would only be to discuss a "peaceful exit from power' but the comments came after a Washington Post report this month that Trump privately began to "show respect for Maduro" once he saw him use force to crush protests in Venezuela.

In 2016, that might have worked. But Democrats have found that what may have worked then no longer applies. Priorities USA, the main super PAC backing Biden commissioned research by polling firm Latino Decisions that found Latinos increasingly are turned off by Trump's comments evoking strongmen. Comments like he can "do whatever I want as president" appeared to be distasteful to Latino voters. The poll showed about 44 percent of Florida Latino voters viewed Trump's statement with major concerns, 13 percent with fairly major concerns, and 19 percent with some concerns.

Biden spokesman Kevin Muñoz told Newsweek the campaign has known for some time that Trump is no friend to Venezuelans "and now there can be no doubt."

"Trump is equivocating about recognizing the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the only legitimate democratic institution in the country, and musing about meeting with yet another dictator—this time Nicolás Maduro," he said.

Luisana Pérez Fernandez, with the Florida Democratic Party, who is Venezuelan, drew parallels between Trump's widely criticized photo op when law enforcement violently swept away protesters and the behavior from Maduro that the president appears to support.

"It's the same thing we saw two weeks ago, a president trying to repress peaceful protesters, a president abusing his military power to oppress his people is the same thing I saw in Venezuela," she told Newsweek.

After Trump's latest comments, the Biden campaign immediately responded with Spanish-language radio ads in the Miami market, including those influential within the Venezuelan and Cuban communities as well as online ads through Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube in Spanish. Priorities USA is now running ads calling Trump a "caudillo," or a leader in the mold of the Latin American strongmen many Latinos in Florida are familiar with.

The Trump campaign said they welcome Biden making his Florida campaign about Venezuela. Trump, his spokesperson Ali Pardo told Newsweek, indicted Nicolas Maduro "and his band of thugs," "imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Venezuelan dictatorship," and stood up to socialism.

"Biden has neo-Marxists advising his campaign," she added. "Maybe Joe Biden's handlers should sit this one out and let Sleepy Joe go back to eating ice cream in his basement."

Matt Barreto, who did the Priorities USA research for Latino Decisions, said any meaningful erosion for the president in Florida in such a close state is important and could dash his reelection hopes.

"It could be an early election night if the results are unexpectedly good in Florida, it would probably secure a Biden presidency if he wins," he said.

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An elderly man holds a bouquet of roses as he looks at the menu outside a restaurant on Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami, on June 9, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty