Today was a tale of two cities for Democrat Charlie Crist in Miami.
The candidate for governor held a field office opening in Little Havana, on Calle Ocho, and promptly ran into the buzzsaw of the Republican Party. This is GOP country. Holding an outdoor event, as Crist did, was an invitation for disruption and, as noted earlier, the GOP happily obliged.
Later in the day, the candidate for governor had a totally different experience in Liberty City, a predominantly black area of Miami. He was adored by the crowds at the field-office opening there, according to Miami Herald correspondent Theo Karantsalis.
“He knows where he came from and he will help the people,” said Renita Holmes, a community activist. “As you can see, the black community welcomes him back.”
So many supporters, about 300, came to welcome Crist that organizers had to move his welcoming speech outdoors.
Why? Because the Miami-Dade GOP, like the Florida and national party, has really no foothold in any black community in the county or state. Of Miami-Dade's 362,000 registered Republicans, only 1.9 percent is African American. That's compared to 19 percent of the overall voter rolls and 36 percent of the registered Democrats, who outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 188,000.
Relatively speaking, the GOP is shrinking. Registered Republicans in Miami-Dade (as in Broward, Palm Beach and Orange counties, to name a few) are now outnumbered by registered independents (that is, those of no party or other party affiliations). The independent advantage over the GOP is relatively small (only 4,336) but it's a telling statistic about a local Republican Party that former Gov. Jeb Bush helped build to prominence in the 80s and 90s.
Unlike anywhere else in the country, though, Miami-Dade's GOP is heavily Hispanic: nearly 73 percent. Almost all of them are Cuban-Americans. They soured on the Democrats ever since Kennedy botched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Nixon had ties to the community, and Reagan then wooed them better than any other president. These Republicans, bearing the cultural and actual scars of Castro's communism that they fled, are super voters. They know the value of voting. They're far more reliable than Democrats and the even-less-reliable independents. That's why Miami-Dade still has so many Republican leaders, nearly all of whom are Cuban American.
History dies hard.
And in Liberty City, home to the McDuffie Riots of 1980 and placed on the hip-hop map by Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew, there's a palpable sense of the past as well, of being shortchanged or kicked around or ignored. Crist said his office opening there was designed to send a message that he's ready to fight for the community and their votes.
"Education is the key,” Crist told the crowd as he stood in front of a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama, whom Crist helped reelect in 2012. “My grandfather, Adam Cristodoulos, immigrated to this country from Greece, in 1912.”
“He had a dream about coming to this place called America,” said Crist, as he panned toward Miami-Dade County Public School board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. “He also understood the importance of education.”
Aside from education, Crist also drew praise for his views on healthcare and restoring the civil rights of some convicted felons, which he helped do when he was a Republican governor.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Crist said.
Crist, who lost to Miami’s Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate primary where he also ran against Miami Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek in 2010, wants that second chance as well.