Well, we know how Marco Rubio feels about the US “normalizing” relations with Cuba. His anger is understandable. Rubio’s parents fled Cuba and he feels as many older Cubans do that negotiating with the Communist state validates its human rights violations. Oh, and than there is the little fact Cuba has a cop-killer living in their country. Foreign policy implications aside for the moment the Obama administration’s announcement could rock the Florida electoral map.
Florida’s Hispanic population has largely been more conservative than their counterparts nationally. This is due to the historically large Cuban-American exile population in the state. But younger Cuban-Americans who have never grown up under Communism and a growing Puerto-Rican population based around Orlando have slowly been turning the Floridan Hispanic vote blue, if not at least purple.
Look at the results from prior elections. Since 2000, Orlando based Orange and Osceola counties have been turned a dark shade of blue. Meanwhile, exit polls from 2008 and 2012 suggest the Cuban-American electorate is becoming more swingy. Most recently, 2014 exit polls show Charlie Crist won Cuban-Americans by 4% in the Governor’s race. Rick Scott’s campaign disputes the claim and say their internal polling showed them winning the demographic up to election day.
As ideological and partisan realignment continues nationally and in Florida it is crucial for both parties to retain and build on their existing coalitions. Hispanic Puerto-Ricans are unlikely to be significantly impacted by the Obama decision. But for whites and Cuban-Americans the policy decision could be profound.
It is notable that support and opposition for “normalizing” relations with Cuba has been a bipartisan affair. New Jersey Democratic Senator Rob Menendez has never been a fan of changing Cuba’s embargo status. Rubio made his stance clear in an op-ed he recently penned. Still, views on the issue are partisan as well. Charlie Crist was a fan of “normalizing” relations with Cuba in the Governor’s race. Rick Scott, in both 2010 and 2014, was firmly opposed. The Cuban-American vote has largely been split on the issue.
The Obama administraion’s actions could also shake up the GOP Presidential nominating contest. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in a Facebook post stated, “The Obama Administration’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba is the latest foreign policy misstep by this President, and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority. It undermines America’s credibility and undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.” Other potential 2016 Republicans have been less direct on the issue, minus Rubio.
Hill Republicans have been more direct. According to Politico, Senator Lindsey Graham warned on Twitter, “I will do all in my power to block the use of funds to open an embassy in Cuba. Normalizing relations with Cuba is bad idea at a bad time.” Ted Cruz is not a fan of a policy change and John Boehner has made clear he will not revisit the issue in the 114th Congress. Only Rand Paul seems to be a fan of the policy decision.
This suggests that Obama’s ability to change America’s relations with Cuba are extremely limited. With this limitation may come limits on its electoral outcomes. Hispanics in Florida vote on more than just the issue. As more Puerto-Ricans and Cuban-Americans are integrated into the American political system the potential for the set of issues they vote on to change is significant. Hence, the relationship change may only have a short term impact.
Regardless, we know which side the 2016 contenders are likely to line up on. Hillary Clinton is on baord with the plan. Meanwhile, Rubio, Cruz and Bush, three prospective 2016 prospective candidates, certainly are not. It does not appear that will change anytime soon.