LatinaLista — If this was the year 2006, the candidates vying in next week's GOP Florida Primary would have been releasing a lot more ads in Spanish, practicing their "Sí se puede" cries and brushing up on the differences between Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans — if this were 2006 when more Latinos in the state were registered Republicans.
According to a new factsheet released by the Pew Hispanic Center titled, Latinos in the 2012 Election: Florida, six years ago more Latinos claimed to be Republican. Ever since then, it's been a downward spiral.
Today, more Florida Latino voters are registered Democrats, creating the widest party gap between registered Latino voters than at any time since 2006. It's a gap that the GOP needs to take seriously.
Nationally, Florida has the third-largest Hispanic eligible-voter population. In a state where Latino immigrants arrive via water, air and land, rhetoric about harsh immigration enforcement isn't accepted quietly, inside or outside the voting booth.
It's especially true in a state like Florida where Latino eligible voters are less likely to be native-born citizens (57%) compared to Latino eligible voters nationwide (75%).
Almost half of Latinos in Florida are eligible to vote and what makes Florida so unique is the diversity of Latino voters that exist within the state.
Hispanic eligible voters in Florida have a different country-of-origin profile from Hispanic eligible voters nationwide. One- third (32%) of Hispanic eligible voters in Florida are of Cuban origin, 28% are of Puerto Rican origin and 9% are of Mexican origin. By contrast, among Hispanic eligible voters nationwide, 59% are Mexican, 14% are Puerto Rican and 5% are Cuban.
With such diversity, politicians have to know their audience. It's no longer enough to say that Republicans share Latino family values and expect a Florida Latino audience to be comprised of strong entrepreneurs or Cuban Americans, who gained their citizenship via the wet feet, dry feet policy.
These days, Florida Latinos' family situations are as varied as their countries of origin. Families can be either of mixed status (some in the family have citizenship, while others do not) and have family members facing removal from the country, or live in poverty and are collecting unemployment checks or are successful and living the American Dream.
Yet, all share one thing — pride in their roots. For many Floridian Latinos, that pride is manifested in speaking Spanish — everywhere; upholding cultural traditions in families and communities and empathizing with those Latinos who want to be a part of the American Dream.
Politically, it may be a different Florida than what existed six short years ago among Latino voters but it's a change born out of necessity and circumstances.
It's up to the GOP to decide whether or not this change is permanent.