The poll also gives Jeb an overall edge in Miami-Dade County.
In their home county in Florida, Jeb Bush is beating Marco Rubio by double digits among GOP voters and even among those who are most like the freshman senator: Cuban-American Republicans, a new poll shows.
Bush’s “shocking” 43 percent to 31 percent lead among Cuban-American Republicans is a “real serious problem” for Rubio because it indicates the son of Cuban immigrants will have broader problems in Florida in the March 15 GOP primary, pollster Fernand Amandi with Bendixen & Amandi, told POLITICO. His firm conducted the Miami-Dade poll for The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
“Jeb is an honorary Cuban, but Marco Rubio would be the first actual Cuban-American president. So how is the Cuban community not supporting him en masse?” Amandi asked, before answering his question: “Marco Rubio hasn’t made a persuasive case to his own community that he can win. And if he can’t make that case here, he can’t win Florida if the trend holds.”
Bush’s 12-percentage-point lead among Cuban-American Republicans is driving his overall 10-point lead (35 percent to 25 percent) among Miami-Dade County’s GOP over Rubio, where 73 percent of the party’s registered voters are Hispanic, nearly all of them of Cuban-American descent.
Miami-Dade, the only county in America to produce two top-tier Republican presidential candidates, is crucial to winning Florida. Of the state’s 67 counties, Miami-Dade is the most populous and has more Republicans than any other in the state, which has a closed primary where Democrats and independents can’t vote. In 2012, Miami-Dade accounted for more presidential-preference primary votes than any other in the state, 7 percent.
Bush in the early 1980s helped turn Miami-Dade’s Republican Party into a regional powerhouse and then helped do the same for the state GOP as governor from 1999 to 2007. The bilingual Bush’s efforts — and his support for the Cuban embargo and Cuban exile politics — made him a favored local political figure for decades. Only Rubio rivaled Bush’s status as a favored local son as he climbed the political rungs of power to become Florida House speaker in 2007 and 2008 and, in 2010, a U.S. senator.
To make sure Rubio didn’t eclipse him at home, Bush made sure his announcement for president in June had a local, Latino flavor that played far more to the Cuban-American base in the county than Rubio’s announcement. had Bush also has a larger stable of longtime community figures backing him, such as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.
One of Diaz-Balart’s brothers, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, is a longtime figure in Cuban exile politics and supports Bush, as does Mel Martinez, Florida’s first Cuban-American senator.
The poll by Bendixen & Amandi, which often surveys for Democrats, is the first publicly released survey to test the two men on the same GOP ballot. Because the race is early and because the sample size is relatively small, 250 registered Republicans, the survey is an early window into the race, not the final or most exhaustive poll that has or will be done. Of all the other candidates in the GOP race, Cuban-American Ted Cruz, from Texas, came in a distant third, earning 7 percent of the vote. the same percentage as undecided. The margin of error is plus or minus 7 percentage points.
This portion of the Miami Herald poll didn’t include a head-to-head matchup between Democrat Hillary Clinton and either top Republican because, Amandi said, there wasn’t room to ask the question and Miami-Dade is so heavily Democratic leaning that it’s “Hillary Country.” President Obama won the county by more than 208,000 votes in 2012.
While some have said support for Rubio and Bush in Florida and Miami-Dade reflects a generational divide, even young Cuban-American Republicans back Bush. Diana Arteaga, a 30-year-old voter and member of the county’s Young Republicans club said Bush’s support can be summed up in a word: “gratitude.”
“Dade Republicans and Cuban-Americans have known Jeb for a very long time. He has been embraced by our community and genuinely cares about issues that are important to us,” Arteaga wrote in an email to POLITICO. “He has been our advocate both in and out of office. Jeb is familia.”
And some older establishment Republicans also support Rubio, including the three brothers of the Diaz de la Portilla family. One is a state senator, the other used to hold that seat and a third is a former school board member.
Former state Sen. Alex Díaz de la Portilla told POLITICO that he doesn’t consider Bush “an honorary Cuban” and added: “The days of a candidate yelling ‘Viva Cuba Libre’ and then not doing anything about it are long gone.”
Díaz de la Portilla said he could see some members of the community supporting Bush over Rubio because some might think “Marco is too young and will have another chance.” But he added, “I don’t think people should vote for someone because it’s their last chance, and they feel sorry for him. They should vote based on who would make the best nominee and have the best shot at beating Clinton, and Marco is clearly that choice. He brings us the future and not the past.”
Rubio backers say the poll results are not unexpected and that it’s just a clarion call for Rubio to make the case that he’s the better choice for the party. But older Cuban-Americans, the base of the Republican Party in the county, seem to deeply appreciate Bush.
“He’s the only one who’s going to be strong, who’s going to calm things down a bit, because there’s a lot of crime in this country,” Dora Lorenzo, 81, told The Miami Herald. Of Rubio, she said, “of course, I like him too. But I think he’s too much of a youngster.”
In looking at the numbers, Amandi said Rubio’s big task is to take a page from Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign in which, at the beginning, he wasn’t even backed by many African-American figures because they didn’t think he could win.
“This is Miami-Dade’s version of Obama vs. Hillary,” Amandi said. “The question we all are asking is: Will the result be the same?”