Florida's Puerto Rican voters could determine U.S. Senate race

Puerto Rican hurricane refugees are shaping out to be a crucial voting bloc in Florida, where incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican challenger, former Governor Rick Scott, are both aggressively seeking their support.
By Rick Docksai | Jul 12, 2018
When Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson defends his Florida seat this fall, he will have a new population of voters in play: tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who moved to the peninsula in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans have now overtaken Cuban immigrants as one of the state's fastest-growing demographic groups, according to experts, who forecast that Puerto Rican voters could be critical to determining whether Nelson or his Republican challenger, former Governor Rick Scott, will represent Florida in the Senate next year.

An estimated 40,000 Puerto Ricans arrived in Florida after the hurricane. Nelson and Scott are both aggressively courting their support to tip the balance in what is shaping out to be a highly competitive race: Recent polls give Scott a two-point lead, and financial reports indicate that he has almost matched the incumbent three-term Democrat in fundraising.

Puerto Ricans generally favor Democrats. And they may especially do so this year as a backlash against President Trump's response to the hurricane. However, Scott has been actively engaging with the Puerto Rican community in Florida and in Puerto Rico from the time he was governor, according to sources, who said that he has also made efforts to distance himself from Trump on the hurricane issue.

Democratic activists hope to win more Puerto Ricans over, however, by reminding them that Scott is still allied with Trump. Jos Parra, a Democratic strategist and CEO of Prospero Latino, a consulting firm, suggests that Democrats urge their audiences to question whether Scott will stand up for their interests when working with the Trump administration.

"[Scott's] done the easy stuff take the trips, be seen," said Parra. He added that it remains to be seen if he'll use "the actual power of office to influence the administration he's allied with."

 

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