- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry and that of former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor and former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez could come down to how the large Cuban population here votes today.

Mr. Martinez has an edge in the Senate race. Though polls show the race dead even, the Cuban-born Mr. Martinez has a great deal of support from 800,000 fellow expatriates here, as well as the majority of Florida’s burgeoning Hispanic population.

But for the first time in a presidential election, Florida’s Cuban-American voters are split. The division is age-specific, said Miami-based pollster Sergio Bendixen.

“The last poll I did in September showed older Cubans voting for Bush four-to-one, but younger Cubans are supporting Kerry,” he said.

Demographic changes among the state’s Cuban-American population have led to differences of opinion on Cuban foreign policy, Mr. Bendixen said.

In the mid-1980s, he said, 90 percent of Cuban voters in Miami-Dade County were middle- and upper-middle class, well-educated refugees who came to the United States before 1980 to escape the communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

“The latest figures indicate that those early exiles only represent 67 percent of the total Cuban electorate [in Miami-Dade] — roughly 250,000 voters,” said Mr. Bendixen, who said his polls indicate that 89 percent of the older Cubans favor Mr. Bush over Mr. Kerry.

The remaining 33 percent are younger Cubans, who are either American-born or less-educated expatriates who immigrated after 1980 not out of hatred for Mr. Castro, but for economic reasons.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Martinez have called for tougher measures against Mr. Castro, which has split the vote for president, where Cuban-American voters could represent 13 percent of Florida’s more than 10.3 million voters.

Mr. Bendixen’s latest poll showed that Cubans who arrived after 1980 “split 40 percent for Mr. Kerry, 31 percent undecided and 29 percent for Mr. Bush,” he said. Mr. Kerry did even better among American-born Cubans: 58 percent for Mr. Kerry, 32 percent for Mr. Bush and 10 percent undecided.”

That division was clear outside the Coconut Grove Expo Center yesterday.

“We must continue to punish Castro, and President Bush will do that,” said Carl Sanchez, 56, who lives in Miami. He said he agreed with Mr. Martinez, who also campaigned with the president, that current restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba “were not the problem.”

But Olivia Saldana, 25, said she would not support Mr. Bush as long as he supported the tough sanctions. “We need a change and better relations with Cuba. The sanctions only hurt the people, not Castro,” she said.

Mr. Martinez’s support for sanctions against Cuba does not appear to have hurt him with Florida’s Cuban voters. Despite the editorial-page opposition of nearly every newspaper in the state, he received 90 percent of the Cuban vote in the Republican primary. He continues to have a stronger presence on Spanish-language television and radio stations here, and his Democratic rival, Mrs. Castor, has said she has had difficulty in cracking Mr. Martinez’s strong Hispanic support.

Also hindering Mrs. Castor is that she has not energized the state’s black voters. “She hasn’t inspired us or said anything that makes me think she is working for us,” said Jimmy Smith, 62, a retiree.

“She’s running on her education record in a state that is something like 43rd in education,” said a black female voter in Tallahassee, a government employee who said she did not wish to be named.

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