Miami (AFP) – In the living room of her Miami home, Cuban-American Carmen Pelaez is losing patience with Bernie Sanders.
She wants the progressive Vermont senator to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination before her state, Florida, votes on Tuesday along with three others.
But Sanders, though he has fallen seriously behind former vice president Joe Biden, insists he is not giving up. And so a frustrated Pelaez finds herself shouting at her TV screen.
“Why is he staying in?” the 48-year-old artist demands to know. “For the four votes he’s going to get in Florida?”
Pelaez, a filmmaker, writer and actor, was born in the United States to Cuban parents. The demographic of the parents’ generation — made up of people who fled the repressive communist regime of the Castros in Cuba — traditionally has leaned strongly Republican.
But Pelaez, unlike her family, says she is a “die-hard Democrat” and plans to vote in the primary election for the moderate Biden, who she sees as the ideal candidate to defeat Donald Trump in November.
Sanders often describes himself as a “democratic socialist” — which in the eyes of many American voters, including Pelaez, makes him too radical.
That feeling is widespread in Florida’s Hispanic community, with its large numbers of exiles not only from Cuba but from other socialist-run Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Nicaragua. For them, America’s Democratic Party leans too far left.
Sanders did nothing to allay their doubts when he proved reluctant to declare Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” or when he told a TV interviewer last month that Fidel Castro had, at least, improved literacy rates in Cuba.
“He has always said good things about the Latin American dictators,” Pelaez said. “That tells me that he doesn’t see our humanity the same way as he sees the humanity of the Americans. Why should we deserve dictators?”
“Every time Bernie opens his mouth and reaffirms his status as a socialist, it sends more Hispanic voters to Biden in Florida,” Fernand Amandi, a Florida-based political consultant, told Politico.
The latest polls in that populous state give Biden a huge lead of 30 to 40 points over Sanders.
Fears of socialism
Those projections paint a bleak picture for Sanders, who is desperately in need of the state’s 248 delegates to the party’s nominating convention.
After losing another big state, Michigan, to Biden last week, the senator trails his rival by around 150 delegates in the race to amass the 1,991 needed to win the nomination outright.
In a speech Wednesday, Sanders said he was winning the “ideological debate” but acknowledged that he was “losing the debate over electability” — that is, the all-important goal for many Democratic voters of finding the candidate best able to defeat Donald Trump.
The current consensus in the party points to Biden as the candidate best-positioned to achieve that goal.
Sanders’s expected defeat in Florida — he also trails in polls in Ohio, Illinois and Arizona, the other states voting Tuesday — should put an end to his presidential hopes, for while his pro-immigrant language has attracted voters in some states, Florida’s Hispanic community appears immune to it.
“The Hispanic voters of Florida are very familiar with Latin American socialist extremism and clearly see in Bernie Sanders a candidate who favors these regimes of the extreme left, which is totally incompatible with their values,” conservative political analyst Giancarlo Sopo told AFP.
But not everyone agrees.
Andy Vila, a 21-year-old student who left Cuba at the age of six, is among the many young Americans who fervently support “Bernie,” drawn by his proposals on health care and education.
Unlike many other exiled Hispanics, the word “socialism” does not fill him with dread.
“They want to use fear and intimidation to tell us that we can’t vote for this candidate,” he said.
Still, Vila says he harbors no illusions: Sanders is going to lose, and he knows it.
And at some point Vila believes Sanders will withdraw and throw his support to his erstwhile rival.
“I think Sanders is finally going to rejoin the battle against Trump because he understands which of the two (between Biden and Trump) is the greater danger,” he said.
In any case, neither Biden nor Sanders appears to stand much chance of defeating Trump among Cuban-American voters in Florida, a crucially important state in the November elections.
According to a Telemundo poll, more than 70 percent of voters in the Cuban diaspora prefer Trump over either Democrat.