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South Florida, long a Republican stronghold on the strength of its fiercely Republican Cuban American exile community, has also become the last GOP beachhead into the Latino community. It's three representatives in the region -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21), and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) are the only Latino federal office holders in the entire Republican Party. [Update: Oh, and Mel Martinez in the Senate. We'll take care of him in 2010.]

Of course, they've had the benefit of a fiercely partisan Republican community. While most Latino communities traditionally (pre-scapegoating of immigrants) swung a fair amount between parties, the Florida Cuban community never forgave Democrats for the Bay of Pigs and have given the GOP about 75 percent of their vote for decades.

Yet demographic (in-migration by Haitian and non-Cuban Latinos) and cultural changes (younger Cuban-Americans are more likely to be Democrats) have transformed the region, and those previously unbeatable Republicans face their first real test of survival in memory. The place just isn't as Republican anymore.

In 2006, the Democratic challengers won from 38 to 41 percent of the vote. Last fall, in part of District 18, a Cuban Democrat won an election for an open state legislative seat formerly held by a Cuban Republican. And in all three districts Republican voter registration numbers are down since 2006 while Democratic registration is up and independent registration is up even further. "Independents, I don't care what district you're in in this country, are leaning Democrat this year," says political consultant Jeffrey Garcia of Rindy Miller Media, who is working for two of this fall's three Democratic challengers.

Of course, these are also the three districts that have landed Florida Rep. and Red to Blue lead Debbie Wasserman Schultz in hot water with the netroots. The person at the DCCC in charge of switching Red districts wants to sit these races out because she's "friends" with the incumbent Republicans who have fought for perpetual war in Iraq, the abolition of SCHIP, cute puppies and apple pie (figuratively speaking, of course).

We, of course, aren't so myopic. We are endorsing Joe Garcia in Florida's 25th congressional district and have added him to our Blue Majority ActBlue fundraising page.

Most recently, Garcia was chair of the Miami-Dada Democratic Party and head of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center. But most importantly on his resume, given his district, is that Garcia was a former executive director of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation, giving him credibility in segments of the Cuban community that might otherwise dismiss him outright for being a Democrat.

This is a Republican district, but not overwhelmingly so -- R+4. We have 29 Democrats representing more Republican districts. IL-14, were Democrat Bill Foster just won his dramatic special election a couple of weeks ago, is R+4.8. In 2006 against a no-name, no-money Democrat, Diaz-Balart managed an unimpressive 58 percent. In 2004 he was unopposed. In 2002, when he first won the seat, he got 65 percent in the open seat race without the advantages of incumbency. Clearly, his trajectory is headed in the wrong direction.

And younger Cuban Americans aren't as solidly Republican as their parents.

"The 'historic' exiles are passing away and not being replaced in the same weight," said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami pollster working on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Less than half of Miami Dade County's Hispanic voters are registered Republicans (48 percent), down from 59 percent a decade ago, the Miami Herald reported last month. One Hispanic group which organizes voter registration drives, Democracia USA, reports that 45 percent of the 56,000 voters it registered last year chose no party affiliation [...]

Younger exiles show less interest in Cuba and are more engaged in national issues, he says. "They give Cuba almost no importance," he said. "For them it's education, health care, and Hispanic issues such as immigration."

On top of that, new arrivals from the island are less enthusiastic about isolating Cuba, in large part because they still have relatives there.

The number of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County who support dialogue with the Cuban government has risen from 40 percent in 1991 to 65 percent, according to a poll by Florida International University.

In one recent poll conducted for the Democratic Party in two heavily Cuban-American congressional districts in Miami-Dade County, voters rated getting rid of Castro sixth among their concerns. Their top priority was getting out of Iraq.

There are a few races around the country that will help shape the post-election spin, the kind of races that can infuse Democrats with a genuine national mandate for change and make clear that Republicans are as discredited as we've always known they should be.

Those races include mostly strong challenges in traditionally Republican strongholds like the Alaska contests and Gary Trauner's challenge in WY-AL, as well as the extinction of Republican holdouts from entire regions, like the few Republican holdouts in New York, Connecticut, and the top half of Illinois. Throw FL-25 (and its sister races) on that list. Winning here would deprive Republicans of their last ethnic redoubt while proving that the Republican collapse has extended into yet another supposedly impregnable GOP stronghold.

We can help make it happen. Support Joe Garcia and his efforts to turn south Florida Blue this November.

On the web:
Blue Majority ActBlue page
Joe Garcia for Congress

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Wed Mar 19, 2008 at 01:48 PM PDT.

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