MIAMI, Fla. – Like many young voters in Florida, Jared Machado is concerned about rising sea levels, college tuition and landing a job when he graduates from the University of Florida in a few months. But the political science and history major can't ignore how his father and grandparents came to the United States: as refugees fleeing communist Cuba.
As he considers his options for president in Florida's March 17 primary, Machado was disappointed and disturbed when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, seemed to praise former Cuba dictator Fidel Castro in a recent interview.
“He doesn't understand the traumatizing experience endured by the Cuban people," said Machado, 22, whose grandparents left the island more than a half century ago, carrying his father, then just a few months old.
Making inroads into Latino communities has been a priority among Democrats and Republicans alike — and Sanders' big win in the Nevada caucuses Saturday demonstrated his progress toward that goal. But the 78-year-old senator's remarks, aired Sunday as the candidate was still celebrating, may also show where Sanders' outreach hits a speed bump.
Sanders' socialist identification and his willingness to praise leftist regimes have given his Democratic opponents ammunition to question his electability in a state with a large Cuban American population that remains fiercely skeptical of leftist governments.
In Florida, where Hispanics account for nearly one in every five voters, that skepticism could present a major hurdle for Sanders in the state's primary, and for Democrats hoping to win Florida's 29 electoral votes in November.
“Candidates need to understand our immigrant communities’ shared stories, as well as provide solutions to issues that matter to all Floridians," Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said Monday.
During an interview aired Sunday on the CBS news program “60 Minutes," Sanders said he opposes Cuba's authoritarian regime but “it's unfair to simply say everything is bad.”