Nation & World

Bad news for GOP? Fla.'s Hispanic voters no longer Cuban

MIAMI — Carlos Pereira grinned widely as he stood in the outgoing tide of newly sworn-in citizens leaving a Miami naturalization ceremony. So far, he had registered 328 people, mostly from Latin American countries. Only 62 of them were from Cuba.

''This year is exceptional because there is so much diversity,'' said Pereira, a native of Honduras who heads the Miami-based Center for Immigrant Orientation. "This change is exciting because it will bring a diversity to political power.''

The trend that Pereira sees in the voter registration trenches mirrors the one pollsters are seeing statewide: There is a new Hispanic majority in Florida, and it is not Cuban.

According to numbers from the Democratic polling firm Bendixen and Associates, 44 percent of the state's 1.1 million Hispanic voters hail from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries — slightly more than the Cubans, at 40 percent. In 2000, non-Cuban voters represented 19 percent of the Hispanic vote, Bendixen polling shows.

Hispanic Democrats also now outnumber Hispanic Republicans in Florida, making what had long been a relatively predictable voter population for politicians much more fluid.

''In order to survive here, candidates are going to have to keep the Cuban line, but also have to increasingly appeal to the non-Cuban Hispanics by catering to their issues,'' said Florida International University pollster Dario Moreno.

The newcomers, many of them just entering the U.S. political fray, are poised to exert unprecedented influence in this election year as the unquestioned dominance of the traditionally Republican Cuban voting block begins to wane.

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