Biden blew it with Miami’s Cuban, Venezuelan voters, and got clobbered | Opinion

Democratic candidate Joe Biden may still win this election, but he can only blame himself for losing Florida. Why? He failed to court Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters. He did almost everything wrong with that critical Hispanic voting bloc.

Biden’s campaign underestimated the negative impact of President Trump’s absurd claim that Biden is a “socialist.” Instead of proposing a pro-active plan to help restore democracy in Cuba and Venezuela, Biden just played defense, saying “I am not a socialist.”

Biden never offered Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters in Miami a road map to force Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro to hold democratic elections or to help press Cuba to respect human rights.

He should have proposed a U.S.-led international diplomatic campaign to widen and deepen sanctions on Venezuela, something that Trump cannot do because he has insulted major European leaders. Biden also should have stressed that it was President Obama, not Trump, who started imposing sanctions on Venezuela.

Biden should have come to Miami and said: “Only I can put together an effective international coalition to increase sanctions on the Venezuelan and Cuban dictatorships. Trump’s tough talk is nothing but empty demagoguery to win votes in Florida.”

Instead of proposing ways to bring about political changes in Venezuela and Cuba, the Biden campaign naively thought that it could win over Cuban-American voters by changing the subject and stressing Biden’s universal healthcare and immigration proposals.

The campaign touted Biden’s promise to give Venezuelans in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and to restore family travel to Cuba, as if those measures could be a substitute for giving exiles hopes of bringing down their countries’ repressive regimes.

Of course, Biden had an additional problem with Cuban Americans. Many Cuban exiles, especially older ones, still resent President Obama’s 2014 decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Biden, then vice president, was part of that move, and the Trump campaign made the most of it in its South Florida ad campaigns.

But Biden could have overcome that by admitting that the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba has not worked as it should.

When I repeatedly asked the Biden campaign for an interview with the candidate on his Cuba and Venezuela policies last month, they offered me to talk instead with one of Biden’s top foreign-policy surrogates, former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry, who was secretary of State at the time of the Cuba opening, did a surprising mea culpa when I talked to him on Sept. 4. He told me that he was disappointed that, “Things that were supposed to take place in Cuba in terms of the economic opening obviously didn’t.”

Kerry conceded that, “Cuba seemed to harden down” after Obama’s visit to the island to open the U.S. Embassy there, “and I don’t think that anybody was pleased with that.”

He added, “Vice President Biden as president will clearly want to reinvigorate policy toward Cuba. ... Cuba will need to be called out on some of the human-rights abuses and denials of opportunities for its own people.”

But it should have been Biden himself, not Kerry, who brought that message to Miami. Biden — perhaps because he didn’t want to upset Obama, who helped him in the final stretch of the campaign — never did so. Instead, he ignored the elephant in the room in South Florida.

As a result, despite losing the overall vote in Miami, Trump clobbered Biden among Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans, and went on to win Florida.

By Wednesday morning, Biden was only leading by 7.3 percentage points in Miami-Dade. Comparatively, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by almost 30 points in Miami-Dade in 2016.

Just as bad for the Democrats, they lost two key congressional seats in Miami. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Cuban-American TV personality Maria Elvira Salazar embraced the “socialism” narrative against the two sitting congresswomen, and won.

All of this should teach Biden a lesson if he becomes president. If he wants to recover Florida for the Democratic Party, he will have to address what really matters for Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters: U.S. pressure to help bring about basic freedoms in their native countries.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera