Can Trump finally win Miami-Dade County? An early poll highlights Democratic worries

Douglas Hanks and Max Greenwood, Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

MIAMI — Democrats in Miami-Dade County face the kind of unsettling possibility they hoped had died with the Ron DeSantis presidential campaign: Joe Biden losing a county that’s gone blue by a comfortable margin since the 1980s, and dragging local Democrats down with him.

A November poll by the reelection effort for Democratic Mayor Daniella Levine Cava spelled out how much the landscape had shifted since Donald Trump lost Miami-Dade by 7 points to Biden in 2020. The phone and text survey of 500 likely voters by EMC Research found Biden the choice of just 35% of the respondents, compared to 46% for Trump.

The poll forecasts a political headwind for Democrats running for a countywide positions on the ballot for the first time, like sheriff, and reinforces the perspective that Florida is a reach for the president’s reelection campaign.

“Unlike the last 30 years, I don’t think we can say in 2024 that Miami-Dade is definitely a blue county. If anything, it’s a purple county in a state that’s leaning toward — if it’s not outright — Republican,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster and analyst who advised former President Barack Obama’s successful 2012 campaign in Florida. “To deny that this has happened in Dade over the last six years is to deny political reality.”

The results at the top of the ticket could have more local consequences than in any other presidential year, given a state mandate to hold partisan elections for three county positions that currently report to Levine Cava.

Those posts — sheriff, elections supervisor and tax collector — will be on the same ballot as Trump and Biden, each with the candidates identified by party.

“Those races will probably go the way of the presidential,” said Kevin Cabrera, a Republican county commissioner who served as the state director of Trump’s Florida campaign in 2020. “I think President Trump will win Miami-Dade and usher in Republicans for those countywide races.”

So far, presidential worries don’t translate to the senior Democrat in the county: Levine Cava, who holds a non-partisan office and can win reelection in August if she gets more than 50% of the vote during a countywide primary. The November survey showed her polling above 60% with voters, even with a 54% unfavorable rating from county Republicans.

A win in Miami-Dade County for Trump would come eight years after he lost the state’s most populous county by 300,000 votes to Hillary Clinton but still managed to win Florida.

Since then, the trends have shown GOP momentum here as Trump used his four years as president to win over Cuban-American voters and shift his role from Republican insurgent to the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. His 2020 loss to Biden in Miami-Dade was the closest since county voters favored John Kerry over George W. Bush by 6 points in 2004.

The low point for Democrats came in 2022, when Gov. Ron DeSantis won Miami-Dade by 11 points in a reelection bid so successful that Florida is no longer viewed as a swing state.

When DeSantis’ presidential run fizzled, local Democrats were relieved the GOP looked ready to ditch a candidate that had recently won Miami-Dade for one who has lost it twice in a row. But Trump’s strong polling nationwide and Republican momentum in local voter registration numbers have revived worries.

“I have plenty of anxiety,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state lawmaker who served six years as mayor of Miami Beach. “Hope is not an action plan. We can’t just hope the pendulum has stopped swinging.”

In November, Biden was more unpopular in Miami-Dade than Trump, DeSantis and Rick Scott, the Republican senator up for reelection this year, according to a 46-page summary of the EMC survey results recently obtained by the Miami Herald.

Meanwhile, the latest report from the Miami-Dade Elections Department shows a surge of new Republicans ahead of the March GOP presidential primary: 4,000 Democrats and independents switched their registration to Republican in January and February, compared to fewer than 1,000 independents and Republicans who switched to the Democratic Party.

“I have a feeling we’re going to have another red county in November,” said Alex Rizo, a Republican member of the Florida House and chair of Miami-Dade’s Republican Party. “It just keeps trending that way.”

Miami-Dade Democrats: Joe Biden will win again

Still, Democrats lead in the voter rolls, with a 34% share in Miami-Dade, followed by independents and then Republicans in third with 29%. And Democratic leaders continue to say they still think Biden will win Miami-Dade in November once the general election settles into a choice between the Democrat and another four years under Trump, extending a Democratic winning streak that began in 1992 with Bill Clinton.

“Trump continues to have the same challenges he faced in 2020,” said Annette Taddeo, a Democrat running to take on Republican incumbent Juan Fernandez-Barquin for county clerk. “On a scale of 0 to 10, I would say closer to 0 on the concern level”

Biden’s political team has placed a higher premium on other battlegrounds, like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. But in November, the president told supporters at a top-dollar fundraiser in Pinecrest to campaign to win because Florida is still in play.


Christian Ulvert, the Levine Cava campaign leader who commissioned the November poll that was so dismal for Biden, said he’s since commissioned a survey that shows Biden back on top.

“He’s rebounded in a big way,” Ulvert said, pointing to results from a two-day poll in late February that he hasn’t released. A one-page summary of that survey showed Biden at 55% and Trump at 35%, with the Democrat now winning independent voters and consolidating support among Black voters.

Ulvert, who advised Biden’s Florida operation in 2020, credited what would be a roughly 20-point swing by the president in his two recent polls to easing economic anxiety and support in Miami-Dade for Biden backing Israel’s approach to the conflict in Gaza. “He’s also the incumbent, so he’s more sensitive to circumstances.”

A spokesperson for Biden’s campaign did not respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment on this story

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried rejected the notion that Biden is at risk of losing Miami-Dade, insisting that the county remains solidly blue.

She and other top party officials argued that the political winds in Florida are beginning to move in their favor, noting recent bright spots for Democrats: a victory in a special election for an Orlando-area state House seat in January and Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan’s win last year.

Miami-Dade, she said, was also moving in the right direction.

“Is there work to be done? Absolutely,” she said. “We fundamentally believe that we are still going to hold onto Miami-Dade in the ’24 election.”

Will Trump help Republicans win or lose the Miami-Dade sheriff race?

Factors beyond the top of the ticket, including political coalitions and possibly a ballot question on abortion, will influence the busy election season in Miami-Dade.

John Barrow, a Black candidate in the Democratic primary for sheriff, sees the countywide races as potential turnout drivers for his party — but only if local leaders embrace a slate that appeals to all constituencies. The major overseeing the Miami-Dade Police Department’s personnel bureau said he tried to win Levine Cava’s endorsement in a November meeting with her and Ulvert, only to see her back an Hispanic newcomer to her administration in public safety chief James Reyes.

“I said my background and my story can energize people,” said Barrow, a Caribbean-American who is also gay and the choir director at his church. He said he pitched the value of Democrats backing a Black candidate for sheriff at a time when DeSantis was attacking state diversity programs. “How good would it be to have a Black, gay candidate and to say in Miami-Dade, we still believe in it.”

Last week, Levine Cava announced her endorsement of Reyes, who spent most of his career running Broward County jails before taking over Miami-Dade’s Corrections Department at the end of 2022. Levine Cava appointed him to oversee all of public safety in November, weeks before the Democrat filed to run for sheriff.

Reyes joined two Ulvert clients running for the open county seats, Juan-Carlos Planas for elections supervisor and David Richardson for tax collector. If successful in the August primary, the Ulvert slate — which includes Taddeo in the clerk race — would have Levine Cava’s party running in November with no Black candidates for the partisan countywide offices.

“If party leaders don’t believe we can win countywide as Black Democrats, what chance do we have?” said Willis Howard, a longtime political consultant running for elections supervisor.

The November poll showed Black voters as a key source of Miami-Dade support for Biden, with a 47-point edge over Trump. White voters favored him over Trump by 3 points, while Cuban-American voters picked Trump by 41 points. Trump also won by 10 points with non-Cuban Hispanics.

That survey also showed an abortion-rights referendum overwhelmingly popular in Miami-Dade with 75% support and strong backing from Democrats and independents. That makes it a potential turnout driver for Biden-leaning voters who might otherwise stay home, but only if the Florida Supreme Court allows it on the November ballot.

“Republicans are poised for the first time in decades to put Miami-Dade in play for a presidential election,” said Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a Republican political consultant. “The asterisk is the abortion issue.”


©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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