TALLAHASSEE, Florida—In a state famous for razor-thin margins, the size of former Vice President Joe Biden's loss to President Donald Trump was humiliating for Democrats and sent many searching for answers to how they failed to close the deal with voters—again.
Democrats zeroed in on two clear explanations: Biden didn't connect with the state's Latino voters, performing particularly poorly with Cuban voters in South Florida. They also second-guessed the party's decision to freeze in-person organizing during the worst of the pandemic, a decision that set them back in reaching voters.
“Clearly, Biden was not able to capture the imagination of the Florida electorate and create the type of enthusiasm to go out and vote for Biden like Trump did with his base of supporters in the state," said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based Democratic pollster. “It’s an unacceptable record of futility. What makes it so vexing is that the problems that need to be fixed are so apparent. But they just don’t get fixed."
Amandi focused on the Biden campaign's struggles to connect with Hispanic voters in the state.
Trump and Republicans pummeled Biden for months with claims the United States will move toward a socialist society if the former vice president wins the election and would cater to the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Republicans' words added power with Cuban and Venezuelan Americans, who associate the labels with Latin American leaders.
Biden's weakness was most evident in his underperformance in Miami-Dade County, which has the state’s deepest concentration of Hispanic voters, particularly Cuban Americans. Biden won the county, the state’s most populous, by just seven percentage points—compared with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 30-point victory margin four years ago against Trump.
AP VoteCast, a survey of the Florida electorate, found Trump won 58 percent of Cuban American voters statewide, while voters with South American heritage split evenly between Biden and Trump. The survey said Puerto Rican voters backed Biden by about two to one.
The relatively poor showing in South Florida hurt other Democrats, as Republicans swept out two Miami-area congressional incumbents—Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
“When you look at Miami-Dade in particular, there was a lot of advertising on the other side of the aisle dealing with socialism and in some cases even the word communism,” said Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor who has held three statewide offices.
“I think that obviously had an impact," Crist said. "When you’re attacked you need to fight back. I’m not sure how much of the fighting back occurred on our side.”
Trump had a head start in his adopted home state and used it to make inroads with the Hispanic community, which accounts for about one in every five voters in Florida.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, for one, credits the Trump campaign for generating excitement, even amid a pandemic.
“He won a really significant victory in the state of Florida,” said DeSantis.
“I think his barnstorming, to which the extent of his campaigning matters—in his case, doing these big events ... the electricity they generated,” he said.
Some Democrats also give Republicans credit for registering thousands of new voters and narrowing the voter registration advantage Democrats have long had.