Jon di Paolo, Sky News (UK), October 21, 2008
The Democrats believe they can take Florida on November 4—but they are facing a battle to overcome prejudice that extends deep into the heart of the Sunshine State.
Many Cuban Americans like Laura Vianello have not forgiven the Democratics
Racism is notoriously widespread in regions away from the traditionally Republican state’s major cities, such as the Panhandle in the north.
A seventh-grade school teacher there was recently suspended for writing on a blackboard that Obama’s “Change” slogan stood for “Come Help A N***** Get Elected”.
Senator Obama is pinning his hopes on the more cosmopolitan areas of the south, and getting black voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers in order to take a state that has proven key in past contests.
On Monday, as he embarked on a two-day trip to Tampa and Miami, he launched a drive to get voters to place their ballots early to avoid a repeat of the scandal of 2000 that saw thousands of black people’s votes discounted.
However, to take the state he must win support from white, black and Hispanic voters—and it is not just in the rural areas that he faces an uphill battle against bias based on his race and background.
In Miami and elsewhere across the state, Cuban Americans form a hugely powerful voting bloc that is traditionally Republican, the party most opposed to the hated Castro government in their homeland.
Miguel Saabedra is president of the Vigilia Mambisa organisation for Cuban exiles which staged a street demonstration in the area of the capital known as Little Havana to show support for John McCain.
He and others at the event repeatedly linked Mr Obama with fundamentalist Islam—a charge that has been levelled against him since the primaries, despite the fact he has been a practising Christian for decades—and accused him of being a closet Communist.
“Obama wants to talk to Castro, he wants to talk to (Venezualan president Hugo) Chavez, he wants to talk to Iran,” he told Sky News. “These people don’t want to talk to us!
“It’s not because he is black, if Condoleezza Rice was running for president, or Colin Powell, that would be good. I support black people. I have good friends who are black.”
Another demonstrator outside the Versailles restaurant, a focal point for the Cuban American community, waved a placard at passing motorists with a crudely-drawn picture of Mr Obama wearing what looked like a beard, robes and turban below the word “Evil”.
Many passing cars tooted their horns in approval and several slowed down to shout encouragement—although one or two drove past shouting abuse and pro-Obama slogans.
For many Cuban Americans like Laura Vianello, the Democratic party still have not been forgiven for President John F Kennedy’s failure to properly back up the Cuban expats who tried to topple the Castro regime in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
She lost three uncles in the invasion, a memorial to which stands prominently in the street in Little Havana.
“Most Cubans here in Miami are Republican by tradition. You could put the Devil up there as a candidate and we would vote for him,” she said.
Mr Obama has sent four of his top strategists to the Sunshine State and poured money into advertising, with local radio stations regularly broadcasting attacks on Senator McCain on issues such as healthcare and the dire state of the economy.
But it seems that for some in the crucial Cuban American constituency, voting will be based on issues that make winning the arguments an irrelevance.