Miami’s Latinos cast decisive votes on final day of bitter election campaign

Florida is notoriously difficult to predict in elections and has a track record of delivering surprises

A poll worker waits for voters to arrive at a polling place in the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, in Miami Beach, Fla., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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Voters expressed strong feelings about US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, at Florida polling stations on Tuesday at the end of a divisive election campaign.

Voters in Hialeah, a mostly Cuban-American area of Miami, spoke of concerns that Mr Biden would steer the country towards socialism, while others panned Mr Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Their ballots could be decisive. Florida’s 29 electoral college votes make it the most valuable state that could plausibly swing either way on Tuesday and determine whether Mr Trump keeps his job for four more years.

Salvador Ruiz, 51, a Cuban American, said he waited until Tuesday to cast his ballot because of fears of fraud in early voting.

He backed Mr Trump, saying he was concerned that the Christian faith was being marginalised.

WELLINGTON, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 03: Supporters of President Donald Trump rally in front of the polling location at the Wellington Brand Library on November 03, 2020 in Wellington, Florida. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.   Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP
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Supporters of President Donald Trump rally in front of the polling location at the Wellington Brand Library. AFP

"I'm from Cuba, I don't want to have a socialist president for this country," Mr Ruiz told The National before casting his vote at the John F Kennedy Library in Hialeah, western Miami.

“Biden is very close with the socialists and the communists, and that would be very bad for this country.”

Luz Parras, a Salvadoran American, perhaps showcased a broader split between Cuban Americans and other Latinos, saying she did not believe that Mr Biden would turn America into a Venezuela-style leftist autocracy.

“People in Hialeah say that Biden is about socialism and communism, but it’s not true, Ms Parras said.

“I like his plan. I like that he’s not going to raise taxes and he’ll continue [former president Barack] Obama’s policies, like health care.”

Miami’s Cuban-American community votes overwhelmingly Republican.

But there are growing populations with roots in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and other parts of Latin America that trend towards the Democrats.

The latest average of polls by Real Clear Politics suggested that Mr Biden leads Florida with 47.9 per cent compared to Mr Trump’s 47 per cent, although that 0.9 percentage point lead is well within the margin of error.

When the polls opened in Florida at 7am on Tuesday, Mr Trump was already playing catch-up, thanks to greater numbers of registered Democrats casting early votes than registered Republicans.

Biden and Trump supporters hold dueling rallies in Miami

Biden and Trump supporters hold dueling rallies in Miami

Almost 9 million Floridians had cast ballots before early voting ended on Sunday, about 63.8 per cent of registered voters.

They included 3,512,200 registered Democrats and 3,404,100 registered Republicans.

That meant 108,000 more registered Democrats cast early votes than Republicans, giving the Mr Biden an edge in Florida – a state the president must win if he wants to keep the White House.

Thanks to its razor-thin voting margins and fast-changing demographics, Florida is notoriously difficult to predict in elections and has a record of delivering surprises on election nights.

Mr Obama won the state in 2012 by 74,000 votes and Mr Trump carried it in 2016 by about 112,000.

Guillermo Grenier, a professor at Florida International University in Miami, said many voters in Florida were worried about the outsized role they could play in Tuesday's election.

"I'm concerned, I think most Floridians are concerned. You can feel the anxiety that we're all under," Mr Grenier, a Cuban American, told The National.

“People are really worried because we all know that Florida is a critical state. But we also know that it’s a state that is very unpredictable.

The sunshine state has large numbers of conservative-leaning retirees, veterans, military personnel and Cuban Americans.

There are also many liberal-leaning Puerto Ricans and others around Miami and other parts of southern Florida.

On Monday, Mr Obama lambasted his successor, Mr Trump, for failing to control the coronavirus pandemic at a drive-in campaign rally in support of Mr Biden at Florida International University.

“He hasn’t shown any interest in taking seriously the work that is involved in being president,” he said.

“The rest of us have to live with the consequences … 230,000 Americans dead, more than 100,000 small businesses closed, half a million jobs gone here in Florida.”

First Lady Melania Trump casts her vote in Florida

First Lady Melania Trump casts her vote in Florida