MIAMI — Five undocumented domestic workers, all named Maria, fanned out across Little Havana delivering a desperate, last-minute plea to Hispanic voters: We can’t vote, but you can. Vote early to ensure a President Trump does not deport us.
In Hialeah, a traditional stronghold for Cuban American Republicans, backers of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton drove a colorful, Colombian-style chiva party bus with bongo drums and rumba dancers handing out Cuban pastries and “Hispanics for Hillary” signs.
And in ritzy Coral Gables, Maria Ballaster, a 60-year-old Cuban American who has always voted Republican reflected on why she had just split her ballot — sticking with her party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio, while casting a vote for Clinton.
“I trust Rubio, but I don’t trust Mr. Crazy,” Ballaster said.
Here in Florida and across the country, there are early indications that Hispanics have mobilized for this election like no other in U.S. history. Activist groups and Clinton allies, motivated largely by a deepening fear of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, are deploying new voter outreach strategies and hoping to take advantage of growth in the Latino electorate.
In Nevada, thousands of voters lined up outside an early-voting site at a Latino market Friday night, prompting voting hours to be extended at the end of what has been a record-breaking early-voting surge in the state. Turnout was so high in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, that Democrats enter Tuesday with an advantage similar to the one they held there four years ago when President Obama won Nevada by seven points.
Early voting is not necessarily an indication of final results, given that those who have turned out so far are highly motivated and that the election will be decided by the millions more who cast ballots Tuesday. Some analysts say it is possible that Latino early voting will draw from Election Day turnout rates.
Nonetheless, the increase has taken place even in states such as Texas, where Democrats have not focused on galvanizing voters. The spike appears to be the result of the rising number of Hispanic voters and the increasingly aggressive efforts to organize what has long been considered a potent voting bloc whose numbers have never lived up to their potential. Adding to the fervor is widespread anger at Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about Hispanics and Mexico, suggesting that Clinton could outperform Obama’s 71 percent share of the Hispanic vote from 2012.
“Trump has built a wall, indeed,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster who specializes in Latino voters. “And it is a new firewall for Democrats.”
Experts who closely track Hispanic voters caution that the turnout numbers so far seem to reflect anticipated growth rates expected to continue into the 2030s. “This year’s historic turnout in some respects is not unusual,” said Mark Lopez, Pew Research Center’s director of Hispanic research.
About 11.2 million Hispanics voted in 2012, representing just less than 50 percent of all eligible Latino voters. Since then, the number of eligible Hispanics has jumped by about 4 million voters, which is on par with the overall growth rates of the Hispanic population, according to Pew.
In Colorado, the steady growth of the Latino vote has fueled a narrow edge for Democrats. Obama’s campaign registered thousands of Hispanics there in 2008 and 2012, and many more have been registered by Clinton’s campaign and that of her Democratic primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and groups such as the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
In every part of the state, Democrats have found Latino voters who have not been active in recent elections or had voted for more moderate Republicans. Damian Alcazar, 46, was registered with the Republican Party and had backed the 2008 presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But by Friday night, when he stopped by a GOP get-out-the-vote rally in Aurora, he had already cast a ballot for Clinton.
“Trump’s way too risky,” he said.
In Colorado Springs, the center of the state’s largest Republican stronghold, Democrats were targeting and turning out Latinos. Over lunch at El Ranchito 2, a supermarket and restaurant, an entirely Latino clientele was divided between those who could not vote and those who had already voted for Clinton.
“The Democrats sent me mail, but I didn’t really need it,” said Jaime Valdez, 70. “I was going to vote for Hillary.”
In Florida, early-voting data suggests that Hispanics are emerging as a larger force in the state’s electorate — and that many Latinos are participating for the first time.
The Hispanic share of overall early voters is sharply higher this year, reaching about 15 percent from about 10 percent at this stage four years ago, according to an analysis by University of Florida political scientist Daniel A. Smith. Another examination of the numbers, by Democratic strategist Steve Schale, found that more than half of the Hispanics who have voted so far have either never voted before or voted only once previously.
The diversity of the state’s Hispanic electorate has long presented a challenge for campaigns in both parties. Cuban Americans, particularly in Miami, have been Republican stalwarts, though younger generations have been trending toward the Democrats. People with roots in Central America and Mexico have favored the Democrats historically. In the past, Republicans have made some inroads with the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have settled largely around Orlando and have been a swing bloc.
Overall, the polls in Florida are tight. The Trump campaign and its allies have been working to mobilize voters in the state’s more rural and conservative areas. Trump and his backers have also predicted that many Hispanics will turn out for him Tuesday.
“I don’t believe the polls,” said Nelson Diaz, the Miami-Dade County GOP chairman. “There’s been an incredible intensity for Trump and long lines in our Hispanic Republican precincts. There’s a big misunderstanding of what’s happening. There’s a silent majority and first-time voters that the polls aren’t capturing, and I think he’s going to end up doing well here.”
On Saturday, the Democrats’ efforts to court Cuban Americans was on display in Hialeah, the heart of the exile community. In addition to the chiva bus, Clinton allies parked a van blasting hip-hop and reggaeton music. They also handed out guava pastries from a tent. Waiting for them were a group of Trump supporters who started yelling, “Lock her up!”
The Democrats started shouting back, comparing the GOP presidential nominee to the reviled Cuban dictator: “Castro, no! Trump tampoco!” They also chanted another Spanish phrase that suggested Trump and Castro were funded by the Russians.
Across Miami-Dade County, Hispanics seemed to be heavily favoring Clinton.
Marilyn Ralat-Albernas considered the stakes in the election so high for her Hispanic community that she took a month off work to volunteer for Clinton.
Ralat-Albernas, a 62-year-old registered nurse of Puerto Rican descent, said she has spent days knocking on doors, canvassing neighborhoods, attesting to the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and proclaiming the threat posed by Trump to millions of undocumented immigrants.
“When he insulted Mexicans, he was insulting all of us,” said Ralat-Albernas, referring to Trump’s description of Mexican immigrants as rapists. “He doesn’t understand our culture. We need to come together and show him that our community is powerful.”
In Florida, a network of immigrant rights organizations, unions and leftist nonprofits aligned to bring out the vote for more than a year, according to Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
In the past year, they knocked on 1 million doors of low- and mid-propensity voters throughout the state, nearly 60 percent of whom were Latino. In the trendy Miami Modern District, they handed out cups of Cuban coffee near a mural depicting Trump as a flying pig, to attract young Latinos to vote; they invested in ads on salsa radio stations on Pandora that encouraged listeners to vote early. They scoured areas with large Central American populations to interact with Honduran and Nicaraguan voters who are not typically targeted.
The community seemed ready to engage, according to Monica Russo, executive vice president of the local Service Employees International Union. Those voters who answered the doors were already concerned with raising the federal minimum wage and immigration reform. By the time Trump captured the Republican Party’s nomination, Russo said these voters were already inspired to make a difference.
“Folks don’t seem afraid,” Russo said. “They seemed determined.”
Lorella Praeli, the Clinton campaign’s director of Hispanic outreach, said the campaign sought to recruit ambassadors inside communities — the owner of the local bodega or Spanish grocery and the matriarchs and abuelas who might have an affinity for electing the first female president.
“We look forward to welcoming some of the most influential Latinas in the country as we build our path to la victoria para Hillary,” read one advertisement. “Latinos will shape the future of our país.”
When Praeli produced the ad, she said some asked why they would publish something in the informal Spanglish.
“This is a part of our culture,” Praeli said. “It shows that we understand how families speak with one another.”
One of the most persuasive strategies for Clinton allies has been to send undocumented workers to knock on the doors of potential Hispanic voters to explain the stakes of the election.
On Friday, Maria Bilbao and her son, Tomas Kennedy, jumped into their old Mercedes with broken air conditioning to explain what a Trump presidency might mean for their family. She was one of the five undocumented Marias canvassing around Little Havana.
“To be honest, I’m not voting,” said one woman, Maria Figueroa, 56, upon opening her door to see Bilbao and Kennedy. “They are both liars.”
Kennedy explained that he agreed the candidates were not the best, but one candidate was better than the other.
“This is my mother, and she is undocumented,” Kennedy told her. Their family moved from Argentina in 2001, when its economy was collapsing. They were told the wait list to move legally lasted 17 years. Kennedy received a reprieve through the Obama administration’s decision to shield from deportation many people who came to the country as young children. His mother is still at risk.
“If Trump is elected, we don’t know what he will do,” Kennedy continued. “He’s going to pull our family apart.”
“He is crazy,” Bilbao added, circling one finger around her ear.
Figueroa finally agreed she would vote. She wrote down the address for her polling place.
“It’s true,” Figueroa said, “he cannot be a president.”
As the sun beat down that afternoon, the Marias stood on the sidewalk and traded stories of their interactions with voters.
“I told her I cannot vote, but this country needs you to vote,” Maria Lima said, recalling another woman she persuaded. “Our dreams of better life rest on you.”
She lifted her sunglasses to wipe the moisture from her face. It was a mixture of sweat and tears.
David Weigel in Colorado and Ed O’Keefe in Washington contributed to this report.