In Florida, a changing Latino mosaic reshapes politics

Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:19am EST
 
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By Kevin Gray

MIAMI (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidates courting Florida's influential Latino vote have hit the campaign trail lambasting Cuba's Fidel Castro and heaping criticism on U.S. policy toward the communist island.

But the candidates' focus on the fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American community in South Florida may be overlooking a changing Latino vote in which the underlying political views are no longer seen through the prism of U.S.-Cuban relations.

An important voting bloc in a crucial swing state, Florida's Hispanic community has grown more diverse and now includes a fast-growing Puerto Rican population, an influx of South Americans and a rising number of Mexicans.

The evolving demographic will likely force both Republican and Democratic politicians to rethink ways to woo Florida Latino voters.

"For years we lived in this world that was all about the Cubans," said Steve Schale, a Tallahasee-based Democratic strategist. Florida's "changing mosaic is going to have an impact on our politics."

Florida's primary on Tuesday provides Republican candidates the first opportunity to test their support among Hispanics, who nationwide could account for as much as 10 percent of the vote in November's general election, analysts say.

Republicans will be able to count on a base of conservative Cuban-Americans who make up the majority of Florida's 400,000-plus Hispanic Republican voters, many based in Miami.

Overall, Latinos represent more than 23 percent of Florida's population, but only 13 percent of the state's 11.2 million registered voters.   Continued...

 
<p>Supporters of U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stand during a rally in Tampa, Florida January 30, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>