Picking Karen Bass as VP Could Cost Biden Cuban-American Vote

Joe Biden could risk losing support among Cuban Americans, including in a key battleground state, if he takes Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) on as his running mate in the 2020 presidential race, experts have warned.

Speaking with Newsweek on Monday, Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, the Director of the Cuban Studies Institute, said that recent scrutiny around Bass' record on Cuba could potentially cost Biden support in Florida, where Cuban Americans typically make up around 6 percent of the vote.

They 'will not support her'

"They don't like her," Suchlicki, who was born in Havana and came to the U.S. in 1960, said matter-of-factly. "And the majority of the Cuban-American voters in Florida will not support her if she is the vice presidential candidate."

Suchlicki's warning comes as Bass was forced to explain past visits to Cuba and comments she made in 2016 in the wake of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's death.

The trips, which were taken primarily in the 1970s with left-wing group, the Venceremos Brigade, were brought under public attention in an article for The Atlantic, which also raised Bass' past comments on Castro.

In the controversial remarks, Bass had expressed her condolences over Castro's death, writing that "the passing of the Comandante en Jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba."

The representative has since sought to distance herself from the comments, telling Fox host Chris Wallace that her perspective has "developed over time" and that she now understands that Castro led "a brutal regime."

Bass said she had spoken with colleagues from Florida who had expressed concerns about her comments and said she "would not do that again" and "absolutely would have not put that statement out" if she could go back.

While the comments might have been made years ago, Suchlicki said that he did not buy Bass' reversal, asserting that he believed the representative is "changing her position to help Biden in Florida."

"She's changing her attitude based on the fact that if she's selected for vice president... she's throwing a bone to the Cuban-American community," Suchlicki said. "What she's doing is changing her position to help Biden in Florida."

Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at Florida International University told Newsweek that even if Bass' reversal is genuine, the stakes may be too high for Democrats to risk losing the biggest battleground state by putting her on the 2020 ticket.

'An extraordinary candidate'

"I think Karen Bass is an extraordinary candidate," Gamarra said, noting her record on defending civil rights. "But not for this moment."

"Florida is a hugely important state," Gamarra noted. "It's going to be very hard for Trump to be re-elected with Florida...but by the same token, it's going to be hard for the Democrats to win without Florida."

With Cuba being a state that is "usually won with a 1 to 2 percent margin," Gamarra said, "that means that what is important in Florida is what people would call marginal votes, the small votes. It could be Cuban Americans, it could be Nicaraguans, it could be the Venezuelan vote."

In this case, Gamarra said, Cuban Americans could seal Biden's fate in the battleground state if he decides to put Bass on the ticket.

'That 1 percent margin'

"Because of that 1 percent margin," Gamarra said, "selecting Karen Bass could have a negative impact on Biden's chances."

The political science professor said he believed it would further be difficult for Bass to "walk back" on her comments, particularly at a time when the Trump campaign has sought to paint Biden as a leader who would "allow the United States to become socialist."

Of all the potential VP candidates, Gamarra said he believed California Sen. Kamala Harris was likely to gain the most support in Florida, predominantly due to her prosecutorial background.

"In the end, Kamala Harris becomes the most acceptable largely because of her prosecutorial background, which will kind of mollify these people who say that Democrats are soft on crime," he said.

Suchlicki agreed, saying that even if Cuban American voters in Florida are "indifferent" to Harris as a VP candidate, it would be better than having outright opposition to Bass.

"They will feel indifferent to somebody like Kamala Harris, but [Bass] is not going to be getting any support from the Cuban community," he said.

Karen Bass
Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) speaks during a news conference to discuss an upcoming House vote regarding statues on Capitol Hill on July 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Bass is facing scrutiny over her record on Cuba. Drew Angerer/Getty