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Florida Matters: Florida Presidential Primary

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
A voter receives his ballot his ballot as he prepares to cast his vote during early voting on Monday, Feb. 29 in Miami.

Voters in Florida are casting early ballots and candidates are holding campaign events across the state ahead of the primary on Tuesday. 

This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 13 at 7:30 a.m.), we're taking a look at what's at stake for Florida's voters -- and the candidates.

Miss the broadcast? Listen to the show here.

  Our panel includes:

  • Chris Ingram (Bay News 9 political analyst, president of 411 Communications and columnist for The Tampa Tribune)
  • Dr. Mary Anderson (Government and World Affairs Chair and professor at the University of Tampa)
  • Dr. Mark Hugo Lopez (Director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center)

According to Lopez, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s connection the Cuban-American community is going to be a big part of where his support comes from.
LOPEZ: Cuban-Americans in Florida, even though there’s been some changes, still lean heavily towards the Republican party, and you can really see this in a place like Miami-Dade County, where the voter registrations among Hispanic registered voters are more with the Republican party than they are with the Democrats, or no party affiliation, although both of those other two categories are growing quite rapidly.

I think that you’ll find that Rubio will be able to do well with Cuban-Americans in the south, because that’s where Hispanic, Republican voters are. It’s also what makes Florida interesting, because Florida has a significant Hispanic Republican base, in a way that many other states don’t.  So I think that Rubio might be able to do well because of that presence of Cuban-Americans in South Florida.

COOPER: Chris Ingram, Hispanics are not a one-dimensional voting bloc, of course. An average of 30 percent of Latinos vote Republican in presidential elections, higher in Florida.  Donald Trump beat Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in Laredo, Texas – America’s most Latino city is Webb County, Texas. I know there are not a lot of registered Republicans there. But still, an entrance poll showed he won 45 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada. If Trump is so hated by so many Hispanics, as we’ve been hearing, he is earning their vote.

INGRAM: Well, you know, I think you make a good point that in Florida, in particular, the Hispanic population here is multifaceted. It’s not just Cubans. All Hispanics are not the same. We’ve got a lot of Mexicans, we’ve got a lot of Puerto Ricans, we’ve got a lot of folks from Central and South America. And they don’t all think and vote in a bloc in the same way that, for example, we see black voters in this country do, where in a general election they tend to vote 90-plus percent toward the Democratic party nominee.

But we’ve got a lot of things going on there and Rubio is going to try to tap into it, but it’s by no means a guarantee of victory for him that just because he speaks Spanish and is Hispanic that he’s going to carry all of the Hispanics outside of the Cuban community.

COOPER: Many Puerto Ricans have been coming to the United States, particularly Florida, particularly Central Florida because the Puerto Rican economy is tanking. How might that weigh in on the primary?

LOPEZ: I think it remains to be seen, but what is interesting about this is the growth of the Puerto Rican population in Florida is now at the point where the size of that population rivals the size of the Cuban-American population.

Puerto Ricans generally tend to lean either towards the Democratic party, or if you look at voter registration in Orange County, they tend to have no party affiliation. So what’s interesting about this is they’ll probably play a big role on the Democratic side of the primary ledger, but come the general election, I think it’s less clear which way the Latino vote is going to go, partly because of the rise in the number of Democratic voter registrations among Hispanics in Florida, and this presence of Puerto Ricans, many of whom have moved from the island. Many have also moved from New York and New Jersey to Central Florida, and it’s really starting to coalesce as a community that’s rivaling in size, that Cuban-American population in South Florida.

COOPER: Dr. Anderson, a recent Washington Post poll in February showed eight in 10 Hispanic voters held an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. This has many observers suggesting this low standing could really jeopardize his party’s hopes of winning in November.

ANDERSON: I think it’s important to keep that in mind when we’re talking about primaries, and we’re talking about voters that turn out in primaries, we’re talking about a very small portion of the electorate. And they are not representative of the Republican party as a whole, they tend to be the most active, the most extreme, the most passionate, and they certainly aren’t representative of the U.S. electorate overall.

So there’s a lot to be said, and a lot of interesting discussion  to have during primary season, but at the end of the day, they’re just a very, very small portion of the electorate.

Lottie Watts is our Florida Mattersproducer, and she also covers health and health policy for.
Carson Cooper has become a favorite of WUSF listeners as the host of "Morning Edition" on WUSF 89.7 since he took the job in 2000. Carson has worked in Tampa Bay radio for three decades.