Harris ‘electrifies’ West Indian voters — and gives Biden a new edge in Florida

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Marc Caputo (Politico) writes about Kamala Harris’s effect on Caribbean voters, stating that “the Black West Indian diaspora community is a little-discussed but increasingly influential slice of the electorate of the nation’s biggest swing state.”

Almost as soon as Kamala Harris became the first woman of Jamaican-Indian descent to be nominated for vice president, a mock White House menu of oxtail and jerk chicken cropped up on a West Indian diaspora Facebook group called Soca de Vote.

Calls from Caribbean radio show hosts flooded the Biden campaign from South Florida. And a jolt of excitement shot through the crowd of early vote poll workers at the Lauderdhill Mall, in the midst of Broward County’s growing Jamaican community.

“There was just this sense of energy,” state Rep. Anika Omphroy, a daughter of two Jamaican immigrants, said in describing the moment the announcement was received. “It was all Black women out there working under the tents,” she said. “It was 98 degrees in August in South Florida, so it was too hot to cheer. But you could feel it, this sense.”

That feeling stretches beyond the Jamaican-American community and the more traditional African American community, shared by those in South Florida with roots in Haiti, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago or Guyana. They comprise a growing and varied Black West Indian diaspora community, a little-discussed but increasingly influential slice of the electorate of the nation’s biggest swing state.

While exact numbers are hard to come by, census estimates and political studies peg the diverse Black community — nicknamed the Caribbean Massive by some — at more than 2.5 million, including hundreds of thousands of Florida voters. That’s crucial in a battleground state where elections are often decided by less than a percentage point.

For a campaign that’s been dogged by questions of lackluster enthusiasm since Biden declared his candidacy 16 months ago, the electricity sparked by the Harris pick has produced tangible results. The campaign reported raising a record $48 million in 48 hours. Pollsters logged an uptick of support for Biden, who was already leading Donald Trump — including in the president’s must-win state.

“It’s the pick that’s going to energize us. It’s the pick that’s getting us motivated,” said Karen Andre, one of Biden’s top advisers in Florida who’s of Haitian-American descent. She said the campaign plans “a full 360 degree effort” to engage Caribbean-American voters, including with paid radio ads in Creole and English and possible interviews with Harris with local hosts who have audiences with roots in the West Indies. Andre said that, after the Harris announcement, her phone was “burning” with calls from Jamaican-Americans and also “heard from Haiti, Trinidad, Barbados, Bahamas.”

At the same time, the independent, Biden-backing super PAC Unite the Country is considering its own program aimed at Black Caribbean voters. The PAC is led by veteran Florida operative Steve Schale, who noticed a drop off in enthusiasm among these voters when Hillary Clinton unexpectedly lost the state to Trump in 2016.

Even Republicans acknowledge Harris could have an effect.

“There is a very tight connection between Haitian Americans in South Florida and Jamaican Americans in South Florida,” said Hans Mardy, a Haitian-American Republican activist from Miami. “We are one when it comes to our struggle. We fought the same war. We have the same Bible. What is good for one immigrant, is good for us all.” [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/15/kamala-harris-west-indian-voters-395554?

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