- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If Hillary Clinton wins Florida, it will be because of her campaign’s emphasis on registering and turning out the Puerto Rican vote in the I-4 corridor — a population that’s been exploding since the island’s debt crisis.

As many as 1,000 Puerto Rican families a month have been relocating to Florida, according to the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. Many move into cities in central Florida, like Orlando and Kissimmee, where the tourist industry thrives, and they can obtain service jobs.

In a report released by WikiLeaks of John Podesta’s hacked emails, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign analytics team determined that nearly one-quarter of the work they needed to win Florida was to register new voters — with an emphasis on Puerto Ricans — who unlike foreign immigrants, arrive as U.S. citizens and can immediately register to vote.

This population wouldn’t be detectable to pollsters — largely because they have never voted before, or have only cast one ballot in the last four elections. It could be Mrs. Clinton’s answer to Donald Trump’s disenfranchised, apolitical “silent” voter.

In August, Mrs. Clinton’s team was furiously scrambling to register Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, and outside groups — like her political PAC, progressive nonprofits, and the Florida Democratic Party — responded accordingly, The New York Times reported.

“In the Orlando area — which for years has been a de facto San Juan suburb, with an estimated 400,000 Puerto Ricans calling it home — the Clinton campaign has assigned organizers to neighborhoods, churches and even bus stops,” the Times reported.

“‘Caravanas’ of cars blasting reggaeton music and reminders to vote call to mind similar processions through San Juan’s cobblestone streets during elections on the island,” the Times reported. “When neighbors come outside to investigate the fuss, they are offered brochures about the candidate, known to many Latinos simply as ‘La Hillary,’ and about her plans for education and health care.”

Mrs. Clinton’s Florida communications team has treated San Juan as a local media market, Bloomberg News reported in October, working to place stories in El Nuevo Dia de Puerto Rico as in the Sun-Sentinel, figuring new transplants were as likely to read stories from their former home as from sources in the Orlando media market.

A firm working for the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA built a statistical model to predict the ethnicity of every Hispanic voter — weeding out Cubans (who tend to lean Republican) from Puerto Ricans, so Mrs. Clinton’s team could best tailor her messages to them via digital ads and direct mail, Bloomberg said.

Mi Familia Vota, a nonprofit that worked to register Hispanic voters in Florida (the registration deadline was Oct. 18), said it expected to enroll 30,000 Latinos across five counties of Central Florida, and more than half were likely to be Puerto Rican.

The nonprofit Center for Community Change Action has paid nearly 500 canvassers in the last four months to go to the Sunshine state to target 384,000 low-propensity Latino voters in an effort to sway the state in Mrs. Clinton’s direction.

Things are looking optimistic.

The Clinton campaign estimates early Latino voting is up 139 percent in Florida, or more than twice as much, compared to 2012, according to a field report dated Wednesday.

Democratic strategist Steve Schale estimated that 170,000 more Hispanics had voted early as of Wednesday than had voted early in the entire 2012 election, according to a post on his blog.

Still, there’s no guarantee that the higher Latino turnout rate will hold until Election Day, or will make the difference in swinging the state. It’s also unclear the breakdown between the Puerto Rican vote and the Cuban-American vote. Only Mrs. Clinton’s team knows if they met their internal goals in terms of registering these new voters, and how strong her voter turnout operation is.

They’re either confident they have it won — or not.

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