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Florida U.S. Senate race could trigger 'monumental' shift on U.S.-Cuba policy

For the first time in Florida's modern political history, Patrick Murphy is proposing something that no major party nominee for the U.S. Senate has dared to say.

End the embargo with Cuba and replace it with more targeted sanctions.

For the last 54 years, the one automatic for any Republican or Democrat seeking to win a U.S. Senate seat in Florida was to assure voters they would back the embargo with Cuba until it forced the communist dictatorship out of power.

From when the embargo started in 1960 through 2012, every single party nominee for the U.S. Senate — both Democratic and Republican — opposed weakening the embargo.

And for good reason. Almost 1 million Cuban-Americans live in Miami-Dade — the state's most populous county — and as a bloc they can end any candidate's political ambitions.

Florida's senior senator, Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has not called for ending the embargo. But he has been firm in calling for changes of U.S. policy toward Cuba to "get into the 21st century" and has supported President Barack Obama's steps to normalize relations.

Enter Murphy, a Miami native, who backs Obama's efforts to engage more with Cuba.

Suddenly, Florida voters are in a position to have both U.S. Senators who support a more open diplomatic approach to Cuba.

"It's monumental," said Hector Perla, senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Perla said if Florida — 90 miles from Cuba — suddenly has both senators supportive of warmer relations with Cuba, it changes the entire debate in Washington.

Murphy's position is even more startling given he faces U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in November. Rubio's world view is shaped by his Cuban roots. He's positioned himself as the Obama administration's toughest critic on Cuba. He has been unwavering in his support of the embargo and has opposed scaling back restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. In fact while running for president, Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who has lived most of his life in Miami, told The Guardian he "absolutely" would have reversed Obama's policies toward Cuba.

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