TAMPA — On her first Tampa campaign swing as running mate for Charlie Crist, Annette Taddeo worked crowds at Hispanic restaurants in West Tampa on Thursday and vowed to boost the Hispanic and South Florida voter turnout Crist is seeking to defeat Rick Scott.
Taddeo also said the U.S. should help immigrant children now coming to this country to escape violence in their Central American home nations, comparing them to thousands of Cuban children brought to the U.S. by “Operation Pedro Pan” in the 1960s.
Taddeo, who’s of Colombian heritage, hit two Colombian restaurants — La Pequeña Colombia and Antojitos Colombianos — and one Cuban spot, Aguila Sandwich Shop.
All are popular spots for political campaign visits. Scott visited La Pequeña Colombia on a campaign swing July 14. More importantly for Taddeo, they’re in the heart of the West Tampa Hispanic community.
Crist chose Taddeo in a surprise announcement July 17, breaking the tradition that candidates for governor with primary opponents usually wait until after the primary to name a running mate.
But as an Hispanic woman from Miami, Taddeo could help Crist fend off primary challenger Nan Rich, a former state senator from Broward County, as well as stimulating voter turnout among women and Hispanics, a crucial ethnic group in Florida elections.
The last three Democratic candidates for governor, all from Tampa, have lost in part because of low turnout among minorities and among voters in the three big South Florida counties where a third of all Florida Democrats live — Broward, Miami Dade and Palm Beach.
Taddeo acknowledged that’s a problem, but said it won’t happen again.
“We’re gonna turn out the vote,” she said. “We learned our lesson in 2010. Many of our voters stayed home. We’re reminding everyone, ‘You can’t do that.’”
Taddeo said Crist’s campaign is incorporating volunteers and team leaders from the successful Barack Obama campaigns in Florida, which spurred unprecedented turnouts of minority voters and young voters.
On Tuesday, she said, one team leader at a Crist campaign office opening in Hispanic Orlando admitted she sat out the 2010 election but went to the polls in 2008 and 2012 to vote for Barack Obama.
“See what happens? You end up with Rick Scott in office,” Taddeo said.
The Crist campaign is fighting a strong historical trend, however. Florida voter turnout in non-presidential years typically drops 20 percentage points or more — 49 percent in 2010 compared to 75 percent in 2008 and 72 percent in 2012, for example.
Those most likely to stay home are the strongest Democratic constituencies — blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women and voters under 30, according to a recent study by the Democratic-oriented polling and research firm Lake Research Partners.
Sam and Helga Ruiz of Brandon, lunching at Aguila when Taddeo visited, said they think this year could reverse that trend.
“A lot of people don’t like Scott,” Helga Ruiz said. “I think they’re getting more aware.”
Airline pilot Pedro Prado of Tampa said he’s not sure whether the Crist-Scott race will spur a high turnout but thinks Taddeo’s name on the ballot will help. “Becoming more involved is a plus,” Prado said. “We need to be heard.”
Asked about the Cuba trade embargo, Taddeo said she agrees with Crist, who, if he wins the nomination, would be the state’s first major-party candidate for governor to advocate ending it.
“After 50 years, I don’t know many people who would disagree that this has not worked,” Taddeo said.
For the most part, she said, Hispanic voters are concerned about the same issues as other voters — “education and the American dream” — but pay particular attention to immigration.
That should be a deciding issue, she said, because of Scott’s 2010 stance in favor of an Arizona-style anti-illegal immigration law in Florida and his 2013 veto of a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants brought to the country as children, no through their own volition, to get driver’s licenses.
She also noted the departure of Scott’s campaign finance chairman, Miguel Fernandez, after he overheard staffers talking in mock Spanish accents. The Scott campaign showed “a culture of insensitivity, of not understanding us,” which won’t appeal to Hispanics, she said.
Asked about child immigrants at the border, Taddeo said, “As a mom, it’s heartwrenching that somebody would have to put their kids through that situation.”
She compared it to “Operation Pedro Pan,” which brought Cuban children to the U.S. — many to Miami. The project was run by the Catholic Church — according to some reports, with help from the Central Intelligence Agency.
“We welcomed them, and Miami became a lot of what it is because of those Pedro Pan kids,” Taddeo said. “We shouldn’t look at them as a burden. ... I think we should have much more of an open heart. They’re kids.”