With Republican presidential debate in Miami, Democrats counter-program to court voters

Over trays of pastelitos, croquetas, Cuban sandwiches and cups of café con leche, officials from the Democratic National Committee and President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign met with Hispanic community leaders and activists from across Florida on Wednesday at Sergio’s, a Cuban restaurant in Doral.

The event was part of a flurry of counter-programming hosted by Democrats ahead of Wednesday evening’s Republican presidential debate in Miami and former President Donald Trump’s planned rally in Hialeah. There was also an LGBTQ roundtable in Brickell, a Black community roundtable in Miami Shores, and an event planned in North Miami for the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a youth mentoring program.

As South Florida voters have shifted toward the Republican Party in recent years — following statewide trends — Democratic leaders said they aren’t giving up on the state in 2024.

“Florida is a part of the extension plan the president has,” DNC Chair Jamie Harrison said at the event in Doral. “He wants to put Florida into play for this election cycle.”

Participating Democratic officials from Florida included Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried; former U.S. Rep Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is running against incumbent Rick Scott for his seat in the U.S. Senate; former state Sen. Annette Taddeo, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, center, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.
Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, center, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.

There were also Hispanic organizers and activists present from the state’s Cuban, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, and Venezuelan communities, among others.

“The only way that Florida can win, Joe Biden can win, and the nation can win is if in fact we are understanding and recognize the importance of the Hispanic community, not just here in Florida but across the nation,” said Fried. “I know that we, as Democrats, haven’t always done a good job at that.”

Wednesday’s events were part of national Democratic efforts to signal unity within the party and support for its local leadership in Florida. Harrison repeatedly praised Fried’s efforts to mobilize Democrats in the state.

The Doral gathering was also a forum for national, county and state party officials to connect with local Latino leaders about how to improve the Biden campaign’s outreach with the state’s Hispanic communities, and to hear concerns they had about political and social issues and the upcoming presidential election.

Fried and Harrison took notes as speakers chimed in about the party’s messaging in the Hispanic community, ideas about how to reach new voters, and criticisms about the party’s lack of support for local candidates.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, was also in attendance.

“We see Florida as an important part of our strategy this election,” Chavez Rodriguez said. “We know there’s prime opportunity for Democratic voters here in the state, and we’re going to do the hard work that we need to to reach them.”

Julie Chávez Rodríguez, Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign manager, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.
Julie Chávez Rodríguez, Joe Biden’s 2024 campaign manager, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.

Other events

The LGBTQ roundtable event — which was an off-the-record discussion held at a coworking space in Brickell — gathered members and leaders from groups such as Equality Florida, a civil rights organization that works with the LGBTQ community, and PRISM, a nonprofit that provides sexual health information to LGBTQ youth.

Fried and Harrison attended that event, as well.

“This is a very important event for us because LGBTQ rights are under attack, especially in Florida,” Maca Casado, the DNC’s director of Hispanic media, told the Herald.

Casado pointed to new state laws that limit classroom discussions about sexuality and gender identity and efforts to remove books from school districts if they discuss LGBTQ issues or include queer characters.

“It’s important for us to be here and to hear from [members of the community] about how we can support them, how we can work together [and] what they need from us,” she said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Florida Rising, a nonprofit focused on organizing in marginalized communities, hosted an off-the-record discussion in Miami Shores between Harrison and Black Miami organizers and stakeholders.

During a contentious meeting, Black Miami residents talked about how they have felt overlooked by the DNC and how they hope things can improve ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.
Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, speaks during a Democratic roundtable session held on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at Sergio’s in Doral.

A new ad blitz

Wednesday’s counter-programming coincided with the Democratic National Committee putting up billboards in South Florida along I-95 and the Palmetto Expressway attacking Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

One of the billboards featured DeSantis, haloed by what appear to be the lyrics of a famous song by Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañón: “¡Es mentiroso, ese hombre es mentiroso!” (“He’s a liar, that man is a liar.”) On the other side of the billboard is Donald Trump, with an arrow pointing at him that says “¡Y este tambien!” (“This one, too.”)

One mobile billboard truck ad in both English and Spanish slams “Donald Trump’s Extreme MAGA agenda,” which the ad says includes the former president’s support for abortion bans and denying the results of the 2020 election. It also brands other Republican candidates for president as “MAGA.” Officials said the truck would be driving around all day Wednesday near the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami, where the debate will take place.

The Biden campaign separately launched cable and digital television ads aimed at the Hispanic community in South Florida. One of them is focused on Biden’s opposition toward Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and it also references the recent expansion of Temporary Protected Status, which made an estimated nearly half a million additional Venezuelans already in the United States eligible for temporary deportation protections and work permits.

Another Spanish-language ad focuses on the growth of Hispanic businesses and features recognizable Miami imagery, including older men playing dominoes and shots of Calle Ocho and Wynwood.

“Many come here for liberty, to make their dreams come true. Joe Biden knows that, and that’s why he focused on rebuilding our economy,” the narrator says.

The ad also says Biden stands up to “antidemocratic, corrupt dictators,” and features images of Maduro and Cuban leader Miguel Diaz Canel.