With Marco Rubio Out, Will Conservative Latinos Vote for Donald Trump?
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump cruised to Super Tuesday II victories in at least three of five primary states this week, and he could add one more depending on whether Sen. Ted Cruz asks for a recount in Missouri.
In Florida, the Republican presidential front-runner swept every pertinent voter category -- gender, income bracket and education level -- en route to collecting all 99 delegates. However, Hispanic voters weren't swayed. A majority of Latinos, including two-thirds of Cubans, voted for Sen. Marco Rubio amid warning signs that his campaign may not endure beyond the primary.
According to an Associated Press and Edison Research exit poll, Trump won over half of white voters but only 30 percent of Latinos. Hispanics only made up about 20 percent of the GOP primary electorate on Tuesday, but half of those that participated sided with Rubio.
Latino support wasn't enough for Rubio to win the primary, though. He didn't even wait for a final tally before cancelling his campaign.
"While it is not God's plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever, and while today my campaign is suspended, the fact that I have even come this far is evidence of how special America truly is, and all the reason more why we must do all we can to ensure that this nation remains a special place," Rubio said in his concession speech.
It was a humiliating loss for the Sunshine State's homegrown senator. His presidential aspirations lived and died with Floridians, especially the ever-growing Latino population, who believed he could defeat leading Democrat Hillary Clinton in a general election. His Cuban-American roots and softened immigration stance weren't enough to draw a bigger Hispanic turnout. Neither was a Puerto Rico primary win two weeks ago that saw a record number of voters give him overwhelming support.
With Rubio out, conservative and Independent Latinos have one less option.
Conservative Latinos Are Crucial to Battleground State
Over a million Puerto Ricans live in Florida, up 110 percent from 2000. Cubans remain the state's largest Hispanic group with 1.4 million residents. Of those, 610,000 are unaffiliated registered voters and 479,000 are registered Republicans.
Latino voter turnout for presidential elections tripled between 1996 and 2012, from 510,000 to nearly 1.4 million, according to the National Directory of Latino Elected Officials. Hispanics have played crucial roles in each of the last four elections, first by giving Gov. George W. Bush unanimous support in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns -- the former was crucial in winning a recount over Al Gore -- then by electing Barack Obama twice.
The common factor is that Latinos' growing participation in primary and presidential contests usually favors the winning candidate.
"Florida's Hispanics account for 12% of the state's registered Republican voters, and they are poised to have a significant impact on the outcome of the Republican primary," read the NALEO's 2016 Primary Election Profile for Florida.
"In the 2008 Presidential primary, [John] McCain received more than half of the Hispanic Republican vote, which helped him gain a critical victory over [Mitt] Romney," the report added. "McCain's Florida victory helped sustain the momentum of his candidacy and stall Romney's campaign."
Contempt for Donald Trump Runs High
A Gallup poll found 77 percent of Hispanics view Donald Trump unfavorably, compared to 12 percent with a favorable opinion. The Republican front-runner holds the most negative image among all remaining presidential candidates and is "significantly" less popular with conservative Latinos than Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
"[Trump] is the only one of the four GOP candidates with a negative image among Hispanic Republican, with a net favorable rating of -29," said Frank Newport, study author and Gallup editor-in-chief. "By contrast, [Marco] Rubio, [Ted] Cruz, and [John] Kasich all have net positive images among Hispanic Republicans, with Rubio's +34 the best of the group."
While respondents didn't say whether they were registered voters, dislike for Trump appears to cross party lines.
The sample of 311 conservative Hispanics gave Trump a 60 percent unfavorable rating. Clinton received 50 percent; Sanders had 37 percent; Cruz had 22 percent; and Rubio and Kasich each earned 19 percent of the unfavorable vote.
Trump's immigration reform views have been clear since announcing his candidacy last summer. He's repeatedly insulted Mexicans and doubled down on plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite warnings from former and current Mexican officials that they would never pay for it, as Trump has claimed.
It's hard distinguishing what role his rhetoric played in the Florida primary win. Only one-fifth of conservative Latinos voted for Trump on Super Tuesday II, far fewer than for Rubio and only a fraction of anticipated voters in the fall.
If history serves as a precursor, Latino opinion of Trump may decide who fills Obama's seat.
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