Socialism or death in Miami

Spanish-speaking Democrats appear in South Florida as the Cuban Republican juggernaut begins to stumble.

By Tristram Korten

Published November 4, 2008 10:25PM (EST)

MIAMI -- The most loaded word in Miami's Hispanic community today is "change." To Julio, a 66-year-old from Cuba who declined to give his last name, this election was about "whether you were willing to take a chance on change. I'm not." He waited in line nearly four hours in Miami's financial district to vote. "I think it means the country will move to the left. I've seen it before."

The most loaded word used to be "socialism." The McCain campaign pushed the association that Obama's policies equaled socialism in the last days of the campaign here in Florida, the biggest swing state of them all with 27 electoral votes. Any whiff of Marx or Castro is a, yes, red flag to the Miami area's million-strong Cuban community, long crucial to Republican victories statewide, and the reason there are three Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House from South Florida. Those people who chased Obama supporters down the street after a McCain rally last week started screaming "Socialist! Communist!" at the mere sight of an Obama poster. The police had to escort the Obama supporters to safety. But the Cuban community is not necessarily the cakewalk it once was for the Republicans. The older generation of hard-line exiles is dying off, and the younger ones may have other things, like job security in a shaky economy, on their minds. Cries of socialism may not be enough to counter heavy early voting and heavy turnout by reliably Democratic demographics. That and the fact that Cubans are no longer the majority among Hispanics here anymore. No one group dominates like that now in a crucial demographic. Based on current polling and turnout trends, today may end with fewer than three Cuban-American Republicans reelected to Congress.

Basilio Serrano, a 23-year-old unemployed construction worker, whose parents are Cuban, didn't have to wait at his polling place in the inner city, but without a car and having just moved to a cheaper apartment farther away, he did have to cobble together transportation. I gave him a ride to his polling place. To him Obama's slogan was all good. "Well, something needs to change now," he said.

Tristram Korten

Tristram Korten is a journalist living in Miami Beach.

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