Fabiola Santiago: Come on down to Miami, Joe Biden, and look Cuban Americans in the eye

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event September 4, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden spoke on the economy that has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. - Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/TNS

It was a fitting, unexpected — and safe — gesture from a Catholic presidential candidate educated by nuns in parochial schools.

Not to mention, from a former U.S. vice president and senator who met for 45 minutes with Pope John Paul II in pivotal 1980 and discussed, among other topics, the spread of communism in Latin America.

But Democratic candidate Joe Biden will have to do more than send a message to Cuban American voters on the feast day of Our Lady of Charity calling for freedom, respect for human rights and democracy in Cuba.

“Jill and I pray that the love and compassion that ‘Cachita’ inspires will fill the hearts of her believers around the world,” Biden said Tuesday in a statement. “We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to fight for human rights, freedom and democracy on the island.”

Well said, but an energetic and more specific Biden — with a plan — is going to have to show up in Miami-Dade if he wants to win Florida. Biden must earn in person something he can’t get from afar or through surrogates: voters’ trust where the ground game is owned by the Republican Party.

President Donald Trump’s campaign also issued a similar statement to Cuban Americans marking the feast day of Cuba’s patron saint. It was expected. Like him or loathe him, Trump, who was campaigning in West Palm Beach, has made himself a familiar figure in South Florida.

What Trump lacks in substance, integrity and experience, he makes up for in presence in a confused and divided state where the GOP is selling Trump as the savior of America from socialism and the Democratic Party as the radical left instead of what it is, mainstream.

Although Biden seems to be beating Trump 55% to 38% in Miami-Dade, he’s losing ground in Florida’s most populous county, where Hillary Clinton trounced Trump, according to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International and the Miami Herald.

The reason?

Among Hispanic voters, the vote is split: Trump at 47% and Biden at 46%.

Biden needs higher Miami-Dade numbers to offset solidly conservative counties in a state where statewide office is won by the slimmest of margins.

Voters need to hear from Biden in the flesh.

As preposterous as it may sound to him that some people equate the Democratic Party with socialism, he needs to address the lie head on — and with facts.

“Biden has been a centrist for 47 years. Notwithstanding, the opposition is painting him as a commie. Sadly, it’s working with the ill-informed Cuban community,” said Nat Chediak, the Cuban American founder of the Miami Film Festival, its director for 18 years and a Grammy-winning record producer. “He needs to hold a major rally in Miami-Dade, flanked by major community figures, to dispel that particular lie especially, and many others. It’d be tragic if Cubans were to hand Trump a must-win state.”

Exactly.

Too many Hispanic voters don’t know or don’t trust Biden and a party they see as hijacked by the extreme left the same way Democrats see the Republican Party as hijacked by Trump.

Biden has far more obstacles to overcome than authoritarian Trump, who has a strong, loud, visible base quite at home with a populist figure. Trump also has gained by heavily courting evangelicals.

Biden should lay out thoughtful policy plans for Cuba and Venezuela and be prepared to answer specific questions about what went wrong with President Barack Obama’s engagement policy.

Staying silent is not an option. It’s a surrender of the topic to Trump.

On another subject, Miami-Dade is the Florida epicenter for the coronavirus, and the losses of loved ones, jobs and businesses are palpable here. Biden, a diligent mask wearer, is the role model that the county and state can use.

When what people see is a letter signed by President Trump with their USDA food basket, it becomes imperative for Biden to lay out his plan to rebuild.

The list of issues Biden needs to tackle — in person in Florida — is long and growing by the minute.

Sending running mate Kamala Harris, daughter of immigrants, and her Jewish husband is a plus, not a substitute.

Time to visit Miami, Joe.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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©2020 Miami Herald