FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Benjy Sarlin writes about the pre-debate rally that Marco Rubio held at Mitt Romney’s Hialeah office. The small city, part of the endless Miami sprawl, is the heart of the Cuban exile community, one of the most Republican-voting areas in the United States. You find more Romthusiasm there than almost anywhere in the country. Example:
“He’s 100 percent better than I expected,” Pedro Peraza, 57, tells me. Peraza’s son, Michael, 27, adds that he would have taken back his Gingrich vote in the primaries had he known Romney would campaign this hard.
The elder Peraza has also seen some tough times. He built a profitable business “starting with 50 bucks” selling fire protection equipment, only to see sales plummet when construction ground to a halt. “It’s been horrible,” he said. “People are afraid to put money into buildings now.”
He said he originally leaned Democrat back when he lived in New Jersey, where he volunteered for a number of Sen. Bob Mendez’s (D-NJ) local campaigns. But he swung to the right decisively when the Obama phenomenon took off in 2008.
“We know from childhood what communism looks like,” he said. “All populist movements lead to socialism.”
It’s not even a hard question for South Florida’s older Cubans. It’s just obvious: Obama’s a Marxist. I heard that from a Cuban-American activist working for Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s opponent (“the polls are close,” he said), and from people outside the busy Hialeah Romney-Ryan office. Nestled in a mostly-Cuban shopping center, where you need a basic knowledge of Spanish to order from restaurants, the Romney office was a bustle of a dozen or so volunteers, making bilingual phone calls. Spanish-language pamphlets were ready for volunteers, next to detailed walk sheets, under a Shepard Fairey-style portrait of Romney with the legend: “RECOVERY.” There were no Romney yard signs left, though there were plenty of them for the struggling U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack.
But this is an area that burns with Romney support. I find plenty of undecideds in south Florida. At the homey Laser Wolf bar in Fort Lauderdale, during a pumpkin carving contest, a thirtysomething Noam Chomsky fan named Josh Elliot tells me that Obama’s barely won his vote. “I just can’t believe these are the two choices we have,” he shrugged, “and I’m worried about what Obama will do on guns.” But Romney’s social conservatism spooked him. At a cafe in West Palm Beach, I took a seat next to an elderly woman and her nurse, who’d spent six years – “our anniversary was yesterday” – in that extremely Floridian relationship. The nurse warned that her ward wasn’t going to talk election issues in detail, but since her family voted Democratic, she would, too.
What about the nurse herself? She would vote for Obama, only because “Romney’s against contraception.” She had extremely specific reasons to be worried about this. “I’m not trying to bring down any nationality, but the migrant workers, they don’t make that much money. You see them on the streets, and they have so many kids already. They should be getting contraception for free!” Instead of a name, she reached into a purse shaped like a bustier and gave me the name she uses as a musician – Nina V Extreme.
The existential worries of the Cuban Republican and the wedge worries of the reluctant swing voter don’t really mesh.