HIALEAH, Fla. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump appealed to South Florida’s Cuban community during a rally to outshine his 2024 Republican presidential rivals as they held their third debate without him a half-hour drive away.
Trump’s event on Wednesday night was part of a practice he adopted during the GOP debates: He pointed to his commanding lead in the polls by skipping the stage, but also drew attention with prominent, simultaneous events.
At the rally, Trump referred to the debate that was taking place across the city and claimed no one was watching it. He later compared his rally to the debate: “I’m standing in front of tens of thousands of people right now and it’s on TV. This is much more difficult than a debate.” The stadium where he spoke has a capacity of around 5,200 people.
Wednesday’s rally was also an opportunity to show the support of Latino voters in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, a community with a strong Cuban-American population where Trump remains so popular that a city council candidate has his image on campaign signs used.
Trump was introduced by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former White House press secretary, who supported him at an event earlier this week. She praised him as her former boss, friend and mentor.
Trump began speaking about 20 minutes into the debate, launching into a speech tailored to the predominantly Cuban-American audience before him. He criticized President Joe Biden’s foreign policy, particularly toward Cuba, saying: “We are not the ones endangering American democracy. We are the ones saving American democracy from these terrible people.”
Trump also said Biden and the Democrats are “looking for Catholics,” adding, “Any Catholic or Christian who votes for a Democrat has to say, ‘They’re idiots.'” He didn’t mention that Biden is Catholic.
Some Trump supporters had camped outside the venue more than a day earlier, waving at honking commuters as they passed by. But when the event began, parts of the outdoor soccer stadium remained empty. As Trump spoke, some supporters chose to sit or stand on the field rather than sit in nearby stands. Trump was joined at the rally by mixed martial arts fighter Jorge Masvidal and comedian Roseanne Barr.
Cuban voters in this region helped deliver overwhelming victories to Trump and other Republicans in recent elections and fueled Florida’s realignment from a traditional swing state to a far more conservative state. Democrats working toward Biden’s re-election want to win back Latino voters who turned away in 2020.
“All we want is to get ahead in life. “It seems like a lot of politicians are just putting obstacles in our way,” said Marcel Perez, a Hialeah resident who went to the polls Tuesday with his wife, mother, uncle and father-in-law. “Trump is the right person for the job because he opens the door for us.”
Trump’s campaign is using its event to demonstrate its strength for 2024 and to spread the message that the five candidates debating in Miami are irrelevant.
Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump adviser, said the campaign will try to win an increasing percentage of the Hispanic vote in 2024. Trump did better among Hispanics in 2020 than in 2016, even as Biden won the majority nationwide.
For Biden, LaCivita argued, what “was emerging as a problem” has now become “a full-blown crisis … which I think gives President Trump an opportunity to really increase his standing and vote share in the Hispanic community.” “
Trump’s campaign plans primary advertising on Hispanic television and radio as well as targeted emails. With a general election and a likely rematch with Biden, Trump’s advisers expect his messages on the economy, the U.S.-Mexico border and cultural issues will resonate with Latinos.
“From the Trump campaign’s perspective in the general election, we will aggressively fight for votes everywhere. We will compete for votes everywhere,” he said. “We are extremely optimistic that we have a receptive audience.”
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, held a news conference in downtown Miami on Tuesday to tout the reelection effort’s work with Latinos. The Biden campaign has run ads in English, Spanish and Spanglish, combining words from both languages, as many Hispanics do in the United States.
“Latinos continue to overwhelmingly support Democrats,” Chavez Rodriguez said. “However, we don’t take any of this for granted.”
According to the most recent census figures, more than 95% of Hialeah’s 220,000 residents identify as Hispanic or Latino. Most are Cuban or Cuban-American and speak Spanish at home.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year became the first Republican in 20 years to win Miami-Dade County, which includes Hialeah, achieving a landslide re-election victory.
Data from AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of the national electorate, found that more than half of Latino voters in the state supported DeSantis for governor in 2022 and a similar number supported Republican incumbent Marco Rubio in this year’s Senate race. The total for all candidates was higher than the 45% of Latinos who supported Trump for president in 2020.
Voting with his family in Hialeah, Perez praised DeSantis for opposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates and lockdowns, a stance that is a central part of the governor’s presidential campaign. But the 41-year-old suggested that DeSantis had “sacado las uñas,” a Spanish expression that means someone has “taken out their fingernails” or become overly aggressive.
Trump has long courted the Cuban community, which leans more toward Republicans than other Hispanics. According to Pew, a majority of Cuban American voters, 58%, identified as Republican or Republican-leaning voters before the 2020 election.
At the White House, Trump pushed to reverse President Barack Obama’s Cuba engagement policy and sanctioned socialist governments in Latin America. As he runs again, Trump is stepping up his efforts to portray Democrats as Marxists, socialists and communists – language that could resonate with Cuban and Venezuelan exiles who have fled poverty and political persecution.
After Trump appeared in federal court in Miami in June and pleaded not guilty to dozens of felony charges, accusing him of hoarding classified documents and defying government demands to return them, he headed to Versailles, a famous Cuban restaurant, cafe and bakery in the Little Havana district, which is a popular stop for politicians visiting Miami.
Trump was cheered on by waiting supporters then and later was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” and a rabbi prayed for him a day before his 77th birthday.
Kevin Marino Cabrera, a Miami-Dade County commissioner scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s rally, said Trump “is delivering his message directly to voters while the other candidates are in a room full of campaign staff and media discussing a possible nomination debate for vice president.” or a job in a Trump administration.”
Unlike a debate audience whose loyalties are divided among candidates, Trump is expected to attract a boisterous audience that is uniformly supportive.
“It’s not a polite audience. It’s loud and celebratory,” said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University. “He will outshine these people in the debate.”
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