Tossed from the presidential primaries, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., heads into the Tuesday primary with heavy expectation he’ll emerge the winner and be a tough November foe.
It’s not how things looked when he finally decided to run for re-election after he led many to think he didn’t want the job any longer and after he bowed out of the presidential race when he lost his own state to Donald Trump.
But at the polls Tuesday, Florida voters casting ballots in the Republican primary had a choice between Rubio and a lesser known challenger, Carlos Beruff, a millionaire businessman who like Rubio also is Cuban American. Both are backing Trump.
“The Republicans appeared to have a weak candidate initially and now they appear to have a strong candidate in Marco Rubio and he will survive,” said Eduardo Gamarra, Florida International University professor of politics and international relations.
Two others, evangelical pastor Ernie Rivera and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Mark Anthony Young also are on the ballot in the Republican primary.
About 1.8 million Latinos are registered to vote in Florida and Latinos were about 15 percent of 12 million registered voters as of February. Democrats held the edge among registered Latino voters at the time.
But the state has been seeing some increases in voter registration including along the Interstate 4 corridor where many Puerto Ricans and other Latinos live.
Politico reported that 76 percent of voter registrations came from non-whites, with a jump of 242,000 Hispanic registrations, making them 15.4 percent of the voter rolls.
Turmoil that has been expected down ballot because of Trump’s nomination at the top has been seen more in the Democratic Senate primary.
In that race, Rep. Patrick Murphy and Rep. Alan Grayson have been waging a bitter contest. Murphy has the backing of the party and the president, while Grayson has been told by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that he wants him to lose and has been under ethics investigation.
Murphy is seen as the frontrunner and he and Rubio already have been exchanging barbs as if they already were facing off in the November general election.
Three others include attorney Reginald Luster, Latino businessman and real-estate developer Roque De La Fuente and political newcomer Pam Keith.
Gamarra, who has been polling Latinos in the state, sees a duality in preferences of the state’s Hispanics.
Hispanics across the state are not voting for Trump, but he said he’s seeing an increase among Latinos who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton.
“That may explain why in November they will be very comfortable re-electing Rubio and at the same time voting for a Democratic candidate,” Gamarra said.
Voters also will be deciding several congressional races, all under new district boundaries drawn after the Florida Supreme Court deemed the previous map unconstitutional. Among them is the race between former Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Bernie Sanders-backed candidate Tim Canova.
There is not a high population of Latinos in the district but it includes the town of Weston, often referred to as Westonzuela, because of the Venezuelan presence there, Gamarra said.
Gamarra said Wasserman Schultz would get a lot of Latino support. “She’s been good to Latinos, so Latinos like her,” he said.
In another Democratic primary, Colombian-American businesswoman Annette Taddeo, former running mate to Charlie Crist when he ran for governor in 2016, is challenging former Rep. Joe García, who lost his seat to the incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo; both men are Cuban American. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose job is to increase Democratic seats in the House, is backing Taddeo.
In central Florida, Democratic state senator Darren Soto is vying to become the first Puerto Rican to represent Congress from Florida. He is running in the ninth district which now has a large Puerto Rican population - almost four in ten voters.
Although there are a number of issues in the race, funding for prevention of the Zika virus has been in the forefront with complaints about the Republican controlled Congress' failure to provide adequate funding for prevention.