http://havanajournal.com/cuban_americans/entry/john_kerry_to_court_cuban_americans_unhappy_with_president_bush/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuban Americans

John Kerry to court Cuban Americans unhappy with President Bush

Posted July 28, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Americans.
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BY LESLEY CLARK | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Miami Herald

John Kerry’s campaign pledged Wednesday an all-out effort to woo Cuban-American voters to its side, hoping to exploit an emerging division in the once reliably Republican voting bloc.

The outreach effort includes making South Florida one of the first post-convention stops for vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who is scheduled to meet with Cuban-American leaders Monday at a private reception in Miami, according to sources close to the campaign.

Campaign officials would not confirm the Edwards visit, but said they have hired a Miami field organizer and plan advertising and other means of courting Cuban Americans—some of whom have assailed President Bush’s recent crackdown on Fidel Castro as harmful to Cuban families.

‘‘They gave us an unbelievable opportunity and we have a policy that gives us an opportunity to take advantage of that,’’ said Tom Shea, Kerry’s Florida campaign manager.

Several polls have suggested some softening of support for Bush, mostly among younger Cuban Americans, presumably those with family still on the island.

‘‘We plan on going after that vote aggressively,’’ Shea said. “They’ve left themselves very vulnerable.’’

OLDER SUPPORTERS

Polls show Bush still overwhelmingly popular among the largest and perhaps most politically active group of Cuban-American voters—those who arrived in the United States before 1980. It was that group that warned Bush last summer that he risked losing community support if he didn’t get tougher on Castro.

Sensing vulnerability, Bush began shoring up support earlier this year, rolling out plans to harden the economic sanctions against the Cuban government, including restricting cash assistance and limiting visits to Cuba to once every three years.

The hard-line approach has endeared the president to some exile groups, but has triggered a backlash from some moderate Cuban Americans, who support the U.S. trade embargo but want to be able to travel and support relatives in Cuba. Several groups have vowed to launch voter registration drives to register younger Cuban Americans.

Last week in Tampa, Bush sought to defend the policy, accusing Castro of taking advantage of loosened travel restrictions to let child prostitution flourish. Castro has angrily denied the accusation.

Kerry has sought to benefit from the divide, suggesting Bush’s policy will only hurt ordinary Cubans and declaring that he would encourage more travel to Cuba, lift the cap on remittances and pursue greater international condemnation of Castro.

At least eight in 10 of Florida’s nearly half-million Cuban-American voters backed Bush in 2000, but Democrats note that candidate Al Gore was hobbled by the decision to return Elián González to Cuba. Democratic strategists suggest that if they can take away even a sliver of the Cuban-American electorate, their nominee could win the state that decided the presidency in 2000 by 537 votes.

Shea said that the campaign has also identified swing voters in the swath of Florida between Tampa and Daytona Beach, along with voters in North Florida, as potential pickup areas.

The campaign plans to open offices in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola, stressing Kerry’s status as a Vietnam veteran.

‘‘We have to have a level that is at the 2000 level or better, and I have every reason to believe it will be better, given the level of energy that we’ve seen on the ground,’’ Shea said.

NOT CONCERNED

Bush campaign officials rejected the suggestion that Kerry, who has had a voting record generally sympathetic to increasing contact with the island, will pick up many votes.

‘‘The president has been consistent in cracking down on Castro while supporting the people of Cuba,’’ spokesman Reed Dickens said. “John Kerry comes to Florida just to hold his finger in the air, just to see which way the wind is blowing.’‘

Member Comments

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On July 28, 2004, publisher wrote:

Will Cuban Americans and Florida decide the 2004 election as they did in 2000?

Seems like Bush vs. Kerry in South Florida is a battle to watch.

Will Cuba be a “national” issue?

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On July 29, 2004, Dana Garrett wrote:

Increasingly, the issue in Florida seems to be less about what positions on issues will garner the most votes, but how the votes will be counted and certified. 

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On July 29, 2004, Jesus Perez wrote:

It seems to me that the travel restrictions to Cuba are not only cruel to Cuban American families, but also an infringement on the freedom of all U. S. citizens to travel and therefore they should not be viewed as just a Cuban American issue.