Gubernatorial candidate targets Puerto Rican voters with bilingual TV ad

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, 10:42 AM EST

In his quest to become Florida's next governor, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is launching a bilingual television ad this week aimed at wooing a constituency that could help reorder much of the state's political landscape in 2018: Puerto Ricans.

  • Philip Levine targets Puerto Rican constituency
  • State's Puerto Rican population already tilts Democratic
  • 168,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida since September

The ad, titled "Siempre," features video of the multimillionaire mayor speaking at his campaign announcement event earlier this month.

In the clip, he recounts his initial reaction to the devastation Hurricane Maria wrought on Puerto Rico.

"Washington politicians pointed fingers at each other; I pointed a cargo plane filled with life-saving supplies to San Juan," Levine says, adding in Spanish at the end of the ad, "Nosotros siempre estaremos con Puerto Rico (we will always be with Puerto Rico)!"

Since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, 168,000 people have traveled to Florida from the island, most of them evacuees who intend to stay in the state for the foreseeable future.

Florida's already-sizable Puerto Rican population tilts Democratic, and some political strategists say the new arrivals represent a game-changing opportunity for Democrats, especially given a history of close statewide elections.

Democratic consultant Kevin Cate projects the additional Puerto Ricans could boost Democratic performance by at least half a percentage point in Florida's marquee 2018 races, including the gubernatorial contest, elections for three state Cabinet posts and Gov. Rick Scott's widely expected challenge of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

But, he cautions, Puerto Rican outreach efforts could backfire if they're perceived to be patronizing.

"I think there's a certain risk about putting up ads this early, using this much money, and maybe some Puerto Rican families are watching that, thinking (Levine) could have been using that money to help more Puerto Ricans during their time of need rather than promoting his political agenda," Cate said.

Levine, however, is working to cast his political agenda as out of step with the political mainstream.

While unflinchingly progressive, he often invokes his successful business career as evidence that he'd be able to work outside of Tallahassee's hyper-partisan echo chambers to get things done.

That message, his team suggests, is especially well-suited to the new Puerto Ricans.

"We need leaders who stand by their promises and get things done when others need it most," said Christian Ulvert, the senior advisor to Levine's 'All About Florida' political committee.

"This ad underscores Philip's commitment to doing the right thing and for getting things done."