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Charges Trump Broke Cuba Embargo Could Be Costly

A report that Donald Trump’s company violated the Cuba trade embargo in the late 90s was more than a political bombshell. It’s also a reminder of the crucial role Hispanic voters play in must-win Florida.

Donald Trump's attacks on Hispanic beauty queen and telenovela star Alicia Machado is angering Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of registered voters in Florida.

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Trump’s trouble with Hispanic voters started the day he launched his presidential campaign. He promised to build a wall on the border and referred Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.

It was a far cry from the Trump who was strongly courting the Hispanic vote when he launched his first bid for president in 1999. That year, Trump came to Miami and promised the Cuban American National Foundation he would never do business with the island nation while Fidel Castro was in charge.

“He’s a murderer, he’s a killer, he’s a bad guy in every respect. And frankly, the embargo against Cuba must stand, if for no other reason, than if it does stand, he will come down…”

Now Newsweek claims that at the time, Trump was secretly paying a consultant to go to Cuba and explore a hotel deal, which was illegal. Even if it’s true, the statute of limitations has run and Trump can’t be prosecuted.

But the court of public opinion is a different matter, especially in Florida, where Hispanics make up 17 percent of registered voters. Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day insists Hispanic voters don’t care what Trump did decades ago.

“Today, you know, when you look at Hispanics, whether it be Cubans or our Puerto Rican friends in the I-4 corridor, their real concern is about jobs and what we’re going to do for America today, not about something that is reported to have happened 20 years ago.”

The conventional wisdom is that nobody wins the White House without winning Florida – and nobody wins Florida without strong Hispanic voter support.

Here’s Miami-based political consultant David Duckenfield, president of Balsera Communications. Balsera just produced the first Spanish language ad for Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy.

“It’s pretty much a fact, a candidate cannot win Florida without winning the Hispanic vote and that’s only happened once within the last 12 years. And if Hispanics show up like they did in 2012 as 19 percent of the electorate, they will deliver about 13 points to the total tally.”

The polls show Hillary Clinton winning 59 percent of the Hispanic vote to Trump’s 29 percent. But President Barack Obama won 60 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida four years ago.

And Obama beat Mitt Romney in Florida by only a single percentage point. That means Trump could easily make up his Hispanic deficit with a strong showing with other voter blocs, like White men.

Qunnipiac University pollster Peter Brown puts it this way.

“Hispanic Americans are a key to the electorate, they’re just not the entire key. It’s worth nothing that in the year 2000 when George Bush won Florida with less than 1,000 votes, that any group could have made the difference.

Brown and others also point out that while Hispanic voter registration is climbing, Hispanic voters don’t go to the polls as consistently as other groups, like seniors.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.