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Florida’s Top Puerto Rican Lawmakers Face Re-Election Challengers

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Florida’s Top Puerto Rican elected officials–US Congressman Darren Soto, State Senator Victor Torres, and State Representative Daisy Morales, all elected Democrats–have all qualified to have their names placed on the ballot for the 2022 August primary election and/or the November general election.

Congressman Soto is running for re-election in the newly redrawn Congressional District 9, Sen. Torres is running for re-election in the newly redrawn Senate District 25 and Rep. Daisy Morales is running for re-election in the newly redrawn House District 44.

 

Safe Democratic Puerto Rican Seats (Congressional District 9, Senate District 25, House District 44)

Central Florida districts oversee one of the largest and fastest growing Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. Soto, Torres, and Morales are all of Puerto Rican descent, and these longtime elected officials have campaigned with Puerto Rico as a big part of their platform, winning their Democratic-leaning seats by landslides. The three elected leaders can have an impact on every local, statewide and federal election as well as elections in Puerto Rico due to their representation of this massive Puerto Rican community.

They will face one or more opponents looking to end their winning streak in Orange and Osceola county districts dominated by a large Puerto Rican population, dubbing theirs as “Puerto Rican seats.” According to NBC News, Puerto Ricans, the fastest growing Latino group in the state with 1.2 million people, command one-third of the Florida vote, about the same as Cuban-American voters.

If Rep. Morales ends up losing her seat, that’s one less Puerto Rican voice to represent that population in the Florida House, given that her opponent is Caucasian. Should Soto lose, there’s the possibility that Florida may elect a Republican Puerto Rican for his seat (Sergio Ortiz). Sen. Torres’s seat would remain Puerto Rican, since his opponent, Peter Vivaldi, is also Puerto Rican.

 

The Puerto Rican Vote is (Still) Key

The sharp spike in Central Florida’s Puerto Rican population has also transformed Florida’s politics. According to NBC News in 2020, one of the concerns among organizers and Democratic activists is “what they say is a lack of attention to the growing number of Puerto Ricans in the state.”

The NBC News story, which was reporting on the presidential election at the time, went on to report that Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly against Donald Trump in 2016, “but in the 2018 midterm election their turnout was soft, which worried Democrats.”

Trump won Florida in the 2016 presidential election by just 1 percent, and Biden was leading in the state by 5 points in 2020.

NBC News spoke with Natascha Otero-Santiago, a board member of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, who is involved with numerous Puerto Rican organizations in Florida. She observed that organizers believed the Biden campaign at that time was “not taking the right steps and using 100 percent of their knowledge and experience with the Puerto Rican community.” She also noted that she had been “advising Democrats in Florida and nationally for months that more needs to be done to court Puerto Rican voters.”

The Central Florida Puerto Rican microcosm faces a similar dilemma. The Orlando Sentinel reports that, according to 2018 Census Bureau statistics after the large Puerto Rican migration to Florida after Hurricane Maria, Orange County has 209,151 Puerto Rican residents, and Osceola County boasts 123,897 Puerto Rican residents. Despite that, there still appears to be a need to more adequately reach the Puerto Rican population.

 

Underestimating the Latino Vote

The three incumbents share an advantage of being bilingual, which is a high priority among Puerto Ricans. Their opponents are at an immediate disadvantage there in terms of representation. Congresswoman Val Demings, who is currently running for Senator Marco Rubio’s seat, is seeing this firsthand. While she launched her “Todos con Demings” Spanish-speaking community campaign immediately following the Florida Puerto Rican Parade in downtown Orlando in April, the kickoff saw the absence of two of the three Puerto Rican leaders: Congressman Soto and Rep. Morales, who represent the largest bloc of Puerto Rican voters compared to Torres, weren’t in attendance. That speaks volumes.

 

Val Demings, Democratic Senate candidate in Florida, launches "Todos con Demings," its Hispanic press engagement campaign to highlight its message to Latino communities across the state. Photo: Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek

Val Demings, Democratic Senate candidate in Florida, launches “Todos con Demings,” its Hispanic press engagement campaign to highlight its message to Latino communities across the state. Photo: Adrian Carrasquillo, Newsweek

 

Sen. Rubio, though Cuban and not Puerto Rican, still has the advantage in the Hispanic community compared to Congresswoman Demings, despite her many attacks against him. Senator Rubio pointed out in Newsweek that she didn’t care about issues impacting the Hispanic community prior to joining the race. “She’s been in Congress for over six years and never cared about any of these issues,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe she would be a champion on these issues.”

Congressman Darren Soto’s Race

Photo via Congressman Darren Soto's (center, at podium) website.

Photo via Congressman Darren Soto’s (center, at podium) website.

Congressman Soto is the Democratic incumbent with no primary challenger for Congressional District 9 and is currently facing three Republican opponents: Jose Castillo, Adianis Morales and Sergio E. Ortiz, a fellow Puerto Rican. His race will come down to whichever Republican candidate wins the August 23rd primary election.

There was, in fact, an additional candidate, Republican Scotty Moore, who ended up having to drop out of the race for disqualification due to wrongly completed paperwork, according to Florida Politics. He filled out a state/local party oath form instead of a federal form, a big mistake for a Congressional run, despite having filed early. Florida Politics also reports that he was first listed as qualified on the Florida Division of Elections website on June 17. However, the Florida Division of Elections eventually revised that listing to “Did Not Qualify” late last Friday.

As of March 2022, Congressman Soto has raised over $700,000. Castillo has raised over $71,000, Ortiz has raised over $8,000 and Adianis Morales has raised $950.

Soto, the only Puerto Rican member of Congress currently representing Central Florida, represents a high Puerto Rican population in his district.

State Senator Torres’s Race

Photo: State Senator Victor Torres (at podium) (Twitter).

Photo: State Senator Victor Torres (at podium) (Twitter).

 

Sen. Torres got a last minute general election opponent in Republican and syndicated conservative radio talk show host Peter Vivaldi, who jumped in the race just in time to meet the qualifying deadline. Vivaldi and Torres faced off in 2016, and Torres won with 51 percent of the vote to Vivaldi’s 49 percent.

In June, Vivaldi raised $1,400 and loaned himself $400, then paid the $1,781.82 qualifying fee. Sen. Torres has over $66,000 in his campaign coffers.


State Representative Daisy Morales’s Race

Photo: State Representative Daisy Morales (Facebook).

Photo: State Representative Daisy Morales (Facebook).

 

Rep. Morales has the opposite circumstance: She has no general election challenger in November, but faces Democratic opponent Jennifer “Rita” Harris in the August 23rd primary. Harris, who is white, has raised over $26,000 as of June while Rep. Morales has raised over $12,000.

District 44, which is one part of Morales’s current District 48, still has a high Puerto Rican population, despite the addition of the International Drive and tourism corridor as well as Dr. Phillips, Williamsburg, and Lake Nona. Congressman Soto has endorsed Rep. Morales for her 2022 re-election bid for the Florida House, a repeat endorsement–he also endorsed her first campaign for State Representative in 2020.

Sen. Torres has endorsed Rep. Morales’s opponent in the race, Harris, outraging some Puerto Rican leaders who see it as Torres abandoning the Puerto Rican political voice in the Florida House.

 

Democrats Need All Hands on Deck…if They Want to Win

Newsweek reports that Latinos, who are now 26% of the Florida population and were a record 17% of registered voters in 2020, will be the center of attention again in November in a state that is becoming tougher terrain for Democrats. Former Florida Democratic Party finance director Devon Murphy-Anderson told Newsweek that more than 87,000 Democrats have left the Democratic party to become NPA–a majority 55% voters of color among Democrats are leaving the party.

Democrats will need all hands–all communities–on deck if they want to be successful in the upcoming elections.

The Florida primary takes place August 23, 2022. The general election happens November 8, 2022.

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Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | mellissa.thomas@floridanationalnews.com

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