POLITICS

Latino leaders see complicated picture in Hispanic election turnout and support

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College Monday, June 13, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. Trump attacked Hilary Clinton by name in his speech in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College Monday, June 13, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. Trump attacked Hilary Clinton by name in his speech in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

The day after the presidential election, Latino leaders reflected on the complicated reality that while the community turned out in large numbers to vote, they defied projections by casting ballots at a lower rate than expected, and in some areas supported GOP nominee Donald Trump to an extent not anticipated.

“Every single strategist in Florida had Clinton winning,” said Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, an analyst at Political Pasión in Florida who classifies herself as independent. “Hispanics did a great job voting by mail and participating in early voting – there were 990,000 votes from Hispanics.”

“That made us think Hispanics were going to come out [on Election Day] in greater numbers,” Pérez-Verdia said. “But it was only 11 percent nationally, only one percent more than 2012. And when we see 29 percent of Hispanics according to exit polls voted for Trump, we did not imagine that Trump was going to receive those numbers.”

Some Latino Republicans who have said the community is not a monolith maintained that the larger-than-expected support Trump received from Latinos proved their point.

“We always knew this election was going to be a very close one and very hard fought,” Helen Aguirre Ferré, director of Hispanic communications for the Republican National Committee, told Fox News Latino. “The big focus was Florida, not only because it was a must-win state for Donald Trump, but because it’s a bell-weather of the rest of the country. We saw that Donald Trump won Florida, and sure enough all the other states started coming in and falling into place.”

Many political experts predicted and some polls indicated that Trump would fare worse among Latinos than the last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, did in 2012, getting only 27 percent of the electorate.

In fact, many predicted that Trump – who had accused Mexico of dumping criminals on the United States and vowed to build a wall that it would pay for – would perform far worse.

Instead, Trump got at least 29 percent of the Latino vote on Tuesday, and more than 30 percent of their support in states such as North Carolina, Texas and Florida.

“It was clear to us that something very different was going on last night,” Aguirre Ferré said.

“It speaks a lot to how invigorated the Hispanic vote was in favor of Donald Trump, and this shows that we can’t be painted with a broad brush,” she said. “We’re Americans too, and we’re interested in all issues other voters care about.”

Latino leaders and political experts say that while the community did not meet the expectations, or hopes, some had, Latinos did turn out in strong numbers, and that fact should not be understated.

“Puerto Ricans did turn out” in Central Florida, said Pérez-Verdia. “That helped elect Darren Soto, and they supported Hillary Clinton.”

Soto, a Democratic state lawmaker, became the first Puerto Rican from Florida elected to Congress – a milestone for that segment of the Latino population which in recent years has grown to about a million. Many fled Puerto Rico because of its worsening economic crisis.

Pérez-Verdia  said that while she is concerned on one level about the long-lasting impact of the victory of a candidate who did next to nothing to court Latinos, the Hispanic electorate remains an important one.

“I see the need in local and state politics” to win Latino support, she said. “We saw this with Patrick Murphy, even though he is a Democrat he focused on Latinos too late, six weeks before the election.”

Murphy lost to incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican who sought re-election after losing a bid to become the GOP presidential nominee.

“Latino voters are important, and they will continue to be and will continue to grow,” she said.

But perhaps the electorate needs to be seen through a different lens, she suggested, one that doesn’t necessarily respond to identity politics, more to issues and individual candidates.

“Trump’s focus on the economy and jobs spoke to them,” she said. “It shows an assimilation, like we saw with the Irish or Italians, saying ‘I’m American first.’”

Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a conservative group that seeks to get more Latinos involved in the political process, agrees with Pérez-Verdia.

“Regardless of the outcome, I was proud of the Latino turnout,” Garza said. “They were the defining constituency in Nevada in the Senate race.”

Former state attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Republican Rep. Joe Heck to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

“I don’t agree with the outcome,” said Garza, “but they really flexed a muscle there.”

Garza’s group expressed opposition to Trump’s rhetoric about immigration and other campaign references to Latinos, but they did not support Clinton either, seeing her policy positions as too liberal.

Garza said Latinos must hold Trump and other political leaders accountable.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “We have to hold them to their promises on Obamacare, tax reform, responsible spending, pro-energy policy, regulations and immigration reform.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.