But it gets worse for Sanders. Hispanic voters have been a bright spot for the Vermont in several states that have already voted. But the opposite is true in Florida.
A poll released Wednesday showed Florida Hispanics, by a 34-point margin, look unfavorably upon a candidate who describes himself as a “socialist.” Sanders exacerbated his problem during his “60 Minutes” interview last month, when he declined to roundly condemn Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, instead giving the dictator credit for literacy and health care gains.
If that weren’t evidence enough of the buzzsaw Sanders is heading toward in the Sunshine State, Biden is beating him overall by a three-to-one margin, 66 to 22 percent, according to a University of North Florida poll out Wednesday.
“Joe Biden has the best possible surrogate when it comes to Democratic Hispanic voters. And his name is Bernie Sanders. Every time Bernie opens his mouth and reaffirms his status as a socialist, it sends more Hispanic voters to Biden in Florida,” said Florida political consultant Fernand Amandi, whose firm Bendixen & Amandi International was the lead consultant for Hispanic research, messaging and media for Barack Obama’s successful in 2008 and 2012.
In a focus group of Hispanic Democrats that Amandi conducted last month, he said nothing matched the visceral response people had like the reaction to Sanders’ “60 Minutes” interview.
“One woman literally cried” after listening to it, “Amandi said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Another woman told the focus group that she was cooking dinner when the show came on and got so angry that she forgot what she was doing and burned her food.
A Sanders campaign advisor who spoke on condition of anonymity after the interview dismissed the controversy as “not a big deal. This is red-baiting from the establishment and really it’s just Cubans from Miami who care about this and they’re Republicans and they’re not voting for us anyway.”
But a new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey for Telemundo Station Group shows that Florida Hispanics of different backgrounds – Cuba, Puerto Rico or Central or South America — disfavor a socialist candidate by 18 percent to 70 percent.
The poll also shows Sanders matching up poorly against President Donald Trump, which would help guarantee the Republican carries his newly adopted must-win state.
The UNF poll, which had a smaller sample size of Hispanic voters compared to Mason-Dixon’s, showed they favored Biden over Sanders by 65-28 percent. Black voters preferred Biden, 68 to 18 percent. And white voters, which comprise about 60 percent of the primary electorate, broke for Biden, 67 to 21 percent.
Biden started showing tandem strength among white and black voters starting with his Feb. 29 win in South Carolina. He followed up by sweeping 10 of 14 states Super Tuesday with that same coalition. And he did it again Tuesday by winning four of six states, including Michigan.
Michigan had special symbolic value for Sanders, who became a serious threat to Hillary Clinton in 2016 after his upset primary win there. Along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Michigan was part of the trio of Rust Belt swing states that put Trump in office.
This time, Michigan was supposed to be the place where Sanders could show his opposition to free trade agreements had special salience that would bring support from working class white and black voters, as well as union homes and rural voters. But they largely backed Biden.
As a swing state that reflects Michigan and many regions of the country, Florida and its voters look like an amalgam of the Midwest, Deep South, the Northeast and modern day suburbia — all of which have strongly broken for Biden. Another weapon for Biden: he has deep roots with political leaders in the state and one of Florida’s top Democratic consultants, Steve Schale, leads the pro-Biden Unite The Country super PAC.
Along with Florida on Tuesday, Arizona, Illinois and Ohio also vote. And like Florida, polling and insiders say each of those states favor Biden. Sanders won none of them in 2016, when he was throttled in Florida.
Carrying 577 delegates total, the March 17 states could make it mathematically impossible for Sanders to become the nominee if Biden wins the lion’s share, as he’s expected to do.
“Biden is looking toward a blowout in Florida,” said UNF pollster Michael Binder.
Especially if he’s swept in all states next week, Sanders is expected by backers and Democratic insiders to leave the race.
Andrew Gillum, who became the Florida Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nominee after a primary endorsement from Sanders, similarly predicted Florida would be a “Biden runaway” — in large part because of Sanders’ remarks on 60 Minutes.
Smelling a chance to kill a progressive campaign in their home state, Florida Republicans are taking shots at Sanders ahead of the upcoming primary. Sen. Rick Scott announced he would run Spanish-language ads in Florida starting Thursday that highlight his Vermont colleague’s past comments on Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
But Sanders does have intense support among his progressive followers, which rival campaigns have envied.
“The biggest active group of Latino supporters for Bernie Sanders are in Florida. They have the largest Our Revolution group in the nation down in Miami,” said Chuck Rocha, a senior Sanders advisor. “They’re not directly part of our campaign. But they’re crazy active down there.”
So is the group Dream Defenders, a progressive activist group of African-American and Latino youth, which is canvassing for Sanders.
The group’s communications director, Nailah Summers, who described herself as “half Cuban,” said that many Latinos in Florida support Sanders. His backers said the 60 Minutes comments didn’t offend them, and Summers pointed to polling showing a “pretty stark generational divide,” which Biden would need to bridge to help him beat Trump in the state.
“Young people don’t care about the redbaiting,” she said in a written statement that mentioned troubles with deregulation, climate change, college costs, health care and gun violence.
“Young people know these systems aren’t working and we’re pushing for things that do,” she said. “And you can call that socialism, but whatever you call it, you’ve got to deal with the fact that Millennials and Gen Z are fed up.”