Florida Democrats launch radio show to build Latino support for 2020

"We learned our lesson," the Florida Democrats' Hispanic media press secretary says.
Image: Latino Voters Go To The Polls Early In Florida
Hispanic voters go to the polls for early voting at the Miami-Dade Government Center in Miami on Oct. 21, 2004.Gaston De Cardenas / Getty Images file

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By Suzanne Gamboa

The Florida Democratic Party is launching a weekly Spanish language radio show as part of an effort to engage the state's diverse and growing Latino electorate well ahead of 2020.

It comes as the state's Democrats grapple with the loss of key gubernatorial and Senate races in the 2018 midterms.

“We learned our lesson,” said Luisana Pérez Fernández, the party’s press secretary for Hispanic media, whose hiring was a response to the 2018 outcome.

Democrats sought advice from people in the community on outreach and the party decided to start laying the groundwork for Latino outreach early — the effort began in January, Pérez Fernández said.

The party's first installment of "Democracia al día" is scheduled to air Saturday on Actualidad Radio, an AM Spanish-language talk radio station. Eventually, the party hopes to expand the show to radio in Orlando and Tampa, where there are large Latino populations.

The party is investing about $80,000 in the show to start, potentially reaching about 6,000 people for the half hour in Miami.

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“We understand the importance for Hispanics of radio. I’m Venezuelan, and in Venezuela we used to listen to a lot of radio,” Pérez Fernández said.

Voters go to the polls for early voting at the Miami-Dade Government Center in Miami, Florida. Gaston De Cardenas / Getty Images file

In 2016, President Donald Trump won the swing state by about 1.2 percentage points.

"We know that President Trump can't win the presidency without Florida, that's why we are investing in not only the Hispanic community but also the African American community," Pérez Fernández said.

Latino voters did turn out at higher rates in the 2018 midterm elections compared to previous years. In Florida, the share of Hispanic voters was up by three points in 2018 compared to the 2014 midterms.

Florida Democrats won two congressional seats in 2018 in heavily Hispanic districts. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a native of Ecuador, became the first South American-born member of Congress after beating incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Cuban American. Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala won the congressional seat vacated by a retiring member of Congress, Cuban American Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was the first Latina elected to Congress.

Both parties know that for many of Florida's Latino voters, the issues of importance are not only local but also about voters' home countries or regions. These include the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery, the U.S.-Cuba situation, and issues around immigration and asylum.

Florida Democrats have been proactive on Venezuela; Democratic Rep. Darren Soto co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the large number of Venezuelans who have come to the U.S. as that nation's situation has deteriorated. Other Democrats such as Shalala and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have traveled to the Colombia-Venezuela border to see the issue firsthand.

But on Venezuela, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, has become a chief and vocal architect of the Trump administration’s tough policy toward Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, which has been praised by some in the community and could lead to election support from Venezuelans in the state.

The Democrats' new radio show's host will be Julio César Camacho, a radio journalist of Venezuelan descent who has also worked with other media outlets in the United States and his home country.

The show’s first guests include Juan José Correa Villalonga, who was deported in 2009 to Venezuela while his family sought asylum here. After a long struggle he was allowed to return and then became a U.S. citizen.

Florida State. Rep. Cindy Polo, a Democrat, will also be a guest on the first installment of the show. Polo, who is of Colombian descent, has been a strong opponent of SB 168, a bill making its way through the Republican-led Legislature. The bill would require local law enforcement to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in detaining immigrants, and is considered by opponents to be anti-immigrant legislation.

“We have seen how Republicans are talking about Venezuelans and at same time those that are here are filing for asylum and are at risk of deportation,” Pérez Fernández said. “We are wanting to tell them, ‘we are fighting for Venezuelans in Venezuela and also fighting for Venezuelans in the United States.'”

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Sandra Lilley contributed.