Politics & Government

Clinton returns to Florida’s most Democratic county after nearly a year

Broward County is the bluest county in Florida, and yet Hillary Clinton hasn’t had a major public event in nearly a year, after she spoke at Broward College in October.

That changes Friday when she is scheduled to speak at a rally at the Coral Springs Gymnasium at 3:30 p.m.

Broward has about 580,000 registered Democrats, more than any other county in Florida and ahead of Miami-Dade, which has 560,000. Broward also has one of the largest contingents of black voters in the state — a reliable Democratic voting bloc.

So if Broward is overflowing with left-leaning liberals, why has Clinton showed the county so little love?

The answers lie in changing demographics in the county, past turnout rates and campaign strategy.

The county has had a poor reputation for turnout in recent cycles, as liberal white retirees have been replaced by a younger, more diverse group of residents who don’t vote at the same high rates. Broward had the lowest turnout among large Florida counties in 2012.

Of the 466,000 registered voters who registered in Broward since January 2008, over half are either black or Hispanic, and only 35 percent are white, according to the August 2016 voter file, said University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith. In contrast, of the 301,000 people who dropped off the voter rolls, 69 percent were white.

Similarly, 37 percent of the new registrants since 2008 are between the ages of 18 and 29, while 75 percent of those who left the voter file are over 45 years old.

“Overall, Broward is a much younger (and diverse) electorate than it was eight years ago, and higher turnout is directly related to age,” Smith said.

Clinton’s campaign hasn’t revealed much about what she will say in Coral Springs. But judging from her recent Florida ads, she has focused on turning out a reliable liberal base — black voters — and more traditional GOP voters, such as Cuban Americans.

A new Clinton radio ad features Cindy Guerra, the daughter of Cuban refugees raised in Miami.

“My first campaign, I stuffed envelopes for Ronald Reagan. I served two Republican attorney generals and even chaired the Broward County Republican Party. But this year with Donald Trump I just can’t,” Guerra says in the spot, as she reels off the reasons she won’t vote for Trump. “We send our daughters to Catholic school for a reason: The values we want them to learn I don’t see in Donald Trump.”

Trump’s standing with Miami Cuban-Americans could be hurt by a Newsweek report published Thursday revealing that Trump’s hotel and casino company tried to do business in secret in Cuba in 1998 in violation of the U.S. trade embargo. Clinton herself addressed the report in comments to reporters.

To attract black voters, the Clinton campaign unveiled a TV ad earlier this week by First Lady Michelle Obama, who had already taped a couple of radio spots for the candidate.

“Hillary will be a president our kids can look up to,” Obama says.

In Broward, about 23 percent of voters are black and 20 percent Hispanic.

Although the vast majority of black voters are expected to vote for Clinton, their support isn’t as high as it was for Obama and even a small difference could matter, since Trump and Clinton are in a dead heat in Florida.

Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who represents a black-majority district, says that Clinton’s visit may help boost interest. But to drive up black turnout, he says local officials need to spread the message at churches and in neighborhoods, and Clinton continues to struggle on that front.

“I see people are not as excited as they were for previous campaigns from my experience,” said Holness, who backs Clinton.

Republicans have bashed Clinton over issues that don’t affect black voters’ daily lives, such as how she stored her emails on a private server, Holness said. To win over the community, she needs to remind voters of her policies that hit closer to home — such as helping create the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“Republicans have done a heck of job beating her up with these things that at the end of day are not going to change their lives much,” Holness said. “If we don’t turn the vote out there in the black community, she is going to have a tough time winning the state of Florida.”

Since speaking at Broward College 11 months ago, Clinton has only dropped into the county for much smaller events. She honored Trayvon Martin and endorsed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Her more high-profile South Florida speeches have been in neighboring Miami-Dade, where her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, spoke Sunday.

There are many reasons why candidates running statewide focus on Miami-Dade — and Palm Beach — rather than Broward. Miami-Dade and Broward share a media market, so a visit to one county generates exposure in both — and there aren’t as many venues in Broward to accommodate TV-friendly political events.

Trump has also campaigned more in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties than Broward, but that is largely due to the fact that he owns resorts in those counties where he has hosted press conferences. Trump held a rally in Sunrise in August.

Although Broward has waited some time to see Clinton again, local Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar said her Friday trip is well-timed: She’s visiting as voters are about to start casting ballots.

“She is touching all the bases,” Ceasar said. “She has done Dade, she has done Palm Beach. Now she is doing Broward. I am happy to have her later in the calendar than earlier — because it’s more critical now.”