In every political race, every vote counts. And for three Florida candidates vying for the U.S. senate seat, the I-4 corridor is a major gateway to getting the Hispanic Vote. The I-4 corridor encompasses Tampa, Orlando, and Daytona Beach. It has one of the largest concentrations of politically-involved Latinos in the state, mainly Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. But regardless of their ethnicity, the candidates need those votes.
"It's very important because of the demographics of the state," said Rollins College political science professor Dr. Richard Fogelsong. "The Southeastern corner of Florida has Democrats. The Northern part of the state is primarily Republicans and conservatives. And so the battle is usually over the I-4 corridor where you have a larger concentration of independent voters and different kind of Democrats, not as liberal as the northeast," Fogelson said.
Republican Marco Rubio, independent candidate governor Charlie Crist, and Democrat Kendrick Meek have been making the rounds in central Florida for months now. All of them pushing their political agendas to sway voters their way. Some people might think Rubio's Cuban heritage might give him an edge over his competitors. Will it really? It depends on who you ask.
Frank Torres, a local political expert thinks Rubio just might clinch it. "Rubio's story is very inspirational. His father was a bartender. His mother was a maid," Torres said. "That will resonate with a lot of voters."
But Dr. Fogelson thinks otherwise. "There's no easy or polite way to say this but Cuban Americans are often outsiders to the broader Hispanic community", Fogelsong said. "I know that in this election, Hispanics are saying Rubio is not one of us. He's Cuban and they are overwhelmingly Mexican voters.''
So what does Rubio need to do to get mass appeal? He may need to talk about immigration laws in a more friendly,broader sense. Puerto Ricans and Cubans don't have an issue with immigration in the United States. But Central Americans and Mexican Americans do have immigration issues and they want them solved.
"Marco Rubio dodges the question because of his background," Torres said. "If you ask him about immigration he'll say we need to get our borders secured first. Marco's in a tough position because he's Cuban. He has to stay loyal to his roots without getting the party upset. One thing Hispanics are aware of his pandering."
Central Florida Latinos also care a lot about job creation, job opportunities, education, and small business development.
But it might not matter what issues they're passionate about if you can't get them motivated to head to the polls in the first place. So for the three U.S. senate candidates, it all may all boil down to ditching the mainstream American media and canvassing the Hispanic outlets with their party platforms.
"It will take mobilization through their community networks which means their radio stations, print publications, their pastors, their community leaders," Dr. Fogelson said.
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