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Trump Is Gaining Ground Among Latino Voters In South Florida

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

President Trump is pushing hard to win the crucial state of Florida. To do so, his campaign is targeting South Florida Latinos. And it sees young Latinos in particular as a way to expand his support. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was in Miami last week speaking with young Latino voters. And he begins by taking us to band practice.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Miguel Arango had just turned 18 when he voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Vocalizing).

ORDOÑEZ: He voted for a third-party candidate in 2016.

MIGUEL ARANGO: I was still a full-blown Democrat, Bernie supporter. I felt the Bern.

ORDOÑEZ: At the time, Trump was not an option.

M ARANGO: I was not going to vote for Trump either. I thought all these things about him - that he was this, he was that. And slowly, it started transitioning.

ORDOÑEZ: That transition involved patriotic music that he and his brother play. The Colombian Americans lead a group called Voices of Freedom.

M ARANGO: Ready and...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ORDOÑEZ: Their group has even submitted a song for consideration to be the anthem of the newly-formed U.S. Space Force. Federico Arango, who is 30, voted twice for Obama. Like a lot of young people of color, Federico says the Democratic Party's message of change appealed to them. But he says they've since been exposed online to new perspectives. And growing up in Miami, they see the impacts of socialism and communism from family and friends.

FEDERICO ARANGO: We see the parallels between things that are happening in those other countries and those places with the left and the Democratic Party. And we see the Trump administration standing up for and implementing policies that would fight against those things.

ORDOÑEZ: The Trump campaign is pushing this socialism message as a strategy. They're testing the thinking that younger Latinos like the Arango brothers lean toward Democrats and are less affected by the scars of Latin American autocrats. It's a narrative that has frustrated Jessica Fernandez, the chairwoman of the Florida Young Republicans, who pokes fun at those who argue younger Latinos have upended South Florida's electorate.

JESSICA FERNANDEZ: Because you have one or two college students who are woke, you know, saying that they support, you know, leftist policies doesn't mean that that's a reflection of the greater Latino community.

ORDOÑEZ: To be clear, Biden is ahead in most major polls of Florida Latinos, but Trump is gaining ground. And the stakes in Florida couldn't be higher. Trump won the key state in 2016 by just a percentage point. Trump doesn't need to win the Latino vote, but reducing the margins would help. Trump lost Miami-Dade County by almost 30 points in 2016, but a recent poll found he's down only 17 points at the moment.

CLAUDIA GUERRA: I'm very worried, very worried.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Claudia Guerra (ph), who was born in Cuba but grew up in Miami. She doesn't need to see polls to understand what's at stake. Sitting in her backyard with her grandparents' parrots chirping, the 22-year-old says several members of her family believe incorrectly that Biden is a socialist. She's alarmed by a cousin who has shunned politics for decades but is now a vocal Trump supporter.

GUERRA: And I've had conversations with him. We've argued. And he has told me he was, like, oh, I've never voted in this country because policies don't interest me. But he buys into some starting (ph) conspiracy theories. And now it's, like, oh, I saw him make a poster, like, in favor of Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ORDOÑEZ: And do you remember that band Voices of Freedom? It's not a conservative group. They're actually split in a few different ways.

SOPHIA MARTINEZ: We have everything. We have, like, a whole, like, mix.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Sophia Martinez. She's 18 and plays the guitar. She calls herself a liberal Democrat. The Cuban American realizes some members are concerned about Democrats and socialism, but she sees those fears as misguided. She says the real problem is the president himself.

MARTINEZ: I feel like Trump is mishandling the pandemic and this world horribly. I don't like the way he's handling it. I don't like how his presidency is going. Like, I'm just super-against it.

ORDOÑEZ: She says the band does a good job keeping politics out of the music, but she sees political tensions are rising in her community.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "MAKTENE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.