In quest for Latino votes, Miami early voting site is who's who of Trump, Biden supporters

Carmen Sesin
·4 min read

CORAL GABLES — If there is any doubt that the stakes are high in Florida in the quest for presidential votes, a trip to one of the busiest early voting sites in Miami-Dade County on Saturday involved a scene of celebrities, grassroots luminaries, politicians running for office, a popular YouTuber, and a man dressed in military fatigues surveying the crowd.

Sunday is the last day for early voting in Florida, making Saturday one of the last opportunities for candidates to make their cases and rally voters to turn out.

At the Coral Gables Public Library voting site, the scene outside included Latin music blaring, cars with flags and banners honking, free food and drinks, as well as Halloween candy for children.

It also included quite a few local and national celebrities.

On the Trump side, the group “Los Tres De La Habana” whose popular salsa song “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump” has gone viral and become an anthem for President Donald Trump’s Spanish-language ads, snapped pictures with fans and sung the chorus with Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

The Cuban-American congressman who represents parts of South Florida, said “I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm and attention in a long time.”

Trump supporters were taking pictures of Cuban-American social media personality Alex Otaola, whose Facebook Live show in support of Trump has garnered many followers, though it has also been singled out for spreading disinformation.

Image: Jose Andres (Carmen Sesin / for NBC News)
Image: Jose Andres (Carmen Sesin / for NBC News)

On the Biden side, acclaimed restaurateur José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, made an appearance and spoke to voters. He has taken part in Joe Biden campaign events and addressed food insecurity during the pandemic.

The voting site is in the congressional district of Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla, who is up for reelection. Visiting the site, Shalala told NBC News that the most important issues in her district are “the president’s mismanagement of Covid and the Affordable Care Act.”

Her district, Shalala, said, has the largest number of ACA enrollments in the country. “That’s over 100,000 people and they are scared they will lose it if Trump wins.”

Her opponent, well-known former Cuban-American television host María Elvira Salazár, is running against Shalala for the second time. Shalala beat Salazár in 2018 by six points. She accused Shalala of being a "socialist," a constant campaign message by President Donald Trump and Republicans against Democratic candidates that has resonated among many Cuban and other Latin American voters.

Related: "Some of that is to be expected, because whoever is in the White House is in the driver's seat in terms of the message," says historian Michael Bustamante.

Polls are consistently showing that Trump has made gains among Latino voters in Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, especially among Cuban American voters. According to the Miami Herald, two-thirds of the county's registered Republicans had already voted by Saturday, a seven-point turnout lead over Democrats.

A man in what looked to be military fatigues stood in the area where Trump supporters gathered, drawing reaction from Democrats who were positioned across the street. "I think it’s voter intimidation,” said Felice Gorordo, a Biden national finance committee member who was supporting Democratic candidates outside the library. “Trump said to protect the polls and his followers seem to be taking it literally.”

The Miami Freedom Project, a progressive group, was there with a trailer that had a mobile “ventanita"—the Miami-style restaurant window popular throughout the city, and they were serving free Cuban coffee, guava pastries, lunch and snacks.

The group partnered with When We All Vote, Latino Victory Foundation, and World Central Kitchen to support early voting.

“As much as I have my opinions, this is when we have to speak out," said Ana Sofía Peláez, co-founder of the Miami Freedom Project. "Now it’s just about supporting people who want to vote."

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