HIALEAH, Fla. — For Osmanny Herrera, Ron DeSantis’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was spot-on and made him a fan of the Republican governor. As the owner of an adult day care, he felt DeSantis balanced keeping people safe with making sure businesses stayed open and afloat.
But recently he said he’s been frustrated with DeSantis. He says the governor isn’t focusing enough on the sky-high insurance rates in Florida, which have affected homeowners, businesses and automobile owners. Above all, Herrera said, DeSantis shouldn’t have taken on Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary.
“I don’t think DeSantis is loyal,” Herrera said, adding that he now has “a little bit of an animosity with him.” DeSantis should drop out of the presidential primary “stay as governor and just back up Trump as much as he can.”
“En union está la fuerza,” he added in Spanish. There’s strength in unity.
In Miami-Dade County, the former liberal stronghold where DeSantis won reelection by a double-digit margin just a year ago, some Republican voters see DeSantis’ presidential bid as a non-starter as they remain loyal supporters of Trump. They say they still view his work as governor favorably, but are frustrated to see him out on the campaign trail in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has struggled to gain traction, instead of focusing on the issues facing Floridians.
DeSantis will be on the stage with other presidential contenders on Wednesday when the third Republican presidential debate will be hosted in downtown Miami. Trump is again skipping the debate, instead hosting a rally the same night in Hialeah, a working-class, predominantly Cuban city about 11 miles away, or about a 30-minute drive from where the debate will take place.
Some voters here say they largely ignored the first two debates because their preferred candidate and the primary front-runner, Trump, wasn’t on the stage. But with the election one year out, they’re planning to start tuning in more, and some say they will be flipping the channels on Wednesday to get updates from Trump’s rally and the debate.
Trump continues to lead the pack in national polls with 59 percent support, followed by DeSantis at 14 percent and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley at 9 percent, according to a national average compiled by The Washington Post. Trump and Haley both ticked up in support since September, when they were at 57 percent and 6 percent, respectively, while DeSantis remained at 14 percent, close to his 15 percent average in August.
DeSantis peaked early, with 32 percent support in The Post’s February and March averages, but in the April average he fell to 25 percent, then 24 percent in May, 23 percent in June and 21 percent in July.
In Florida, a poll by Florida Atlantic University in July found that 50 percent of GOP voters would back Trump, compared with DeSantis’s 30 percent in the primary. In a head-to-head with just those two candidates, 54 percent said Trump and 37 percent said DeSantis.
Herrera’s father-in law, Walfredo Lopez, 77, said he is not surprised that DeSantis has failed to gain traction in the polls; he doesn’t think the Florida governor is ready to be president. Sporting a hat with an American flag pin, Lopez had stopped by Herrera’s office at the Social Center Adult Day Care, tucked in a shopping center a few doors down from a Sedano’s supermarket. In the background, groups of seniors could be heard playing dominoes in the common room. He eagerly shared his assessment of DeSantis’s standing in the GOP presidential primary field.
“He’s not going anywhere,” Lopez said. “Everyone was seeing him as a second Trump. Not today. Today, any of the other candidates could take him out of second place.”
Lopez, who donated to DeSantis’s gubernatorial campaigns, said the governor has some liabilities he needs to address, such as his move this year to sign a bill allowing residents to carry concealed guns without a permit.
“I think it’s wrong,” Lopez said, shaking his head.
Like his son-in-law, Lopez is also frustrated that DeSantis hasn’t done more to address insurance prices in Florida. DeSantis has signed into law reforms aimed at stabilizing the property insurance market in the state, where homeowners insurance premiums are the highest in the nation. But he’s been dinged on the campaign trail by Trump for not acting with enough urgency to address the crisis that predates his governorship and has worsened in recent years.
“Letting insurance companies do whatever they want doesn’t speak well of him. That means the insurance companies control you,” Lopez said. “You don’t want that in a president.”
Lopez is backing Trump, who he said looks out for the United States and respects the American flag. He wants to see Trump back in office, viewing his reelection as key to bringing gas prices down and getting immigration under control at the U.S. Southern border.
Herrera, 42, agreed: “I’m all in for Trump. At the end of the day, I think the best thing that could happen to us is to have Trump back in power.”
He added, however, that his frustrations with DeSantis don’t mean he’s writing off a future DeSantis presidency. He’s “just too fresh, too young still, too new to be president,” Herrera said.
If Susana Torres, 39, owner of Ideal Insurance Group, had to vote in the Republican presidential primary today, she would back Trump.
“Es mejor un mal conocido que un bueno por conocer,” Torres said, referring to a Spanish phrase akin to “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” “I know he’s going to come in and clean house. We know he won’t give into any B.S. That’s why people are gravitating toward him.”
Torres said she’s also a fan of Haley, calling her levelheaded and able to see the other side of issues. She pointed to Haley’s rhetoric on abortion — the former South Carolina governor has urged Republicans against pushing for a national abortion ban that Congress is unlikely to pass — as a perfect example of her pragmatism.
Torres said she’s supportive of a 15-week limit, saying she thinks “that’s more than enough time” for women to know they’re pregnant and decide if they want to keep or terminate the pregnancy. She said DeSantis shouldn’t be proud of the stricter six-week ban he signed into law in Florida.
“That’s not right,” she said sitting at her desk in her open floor plan office in a busy corridor of Hialeah with several strip malls filled with small businesses. “Es un atraso — it’s backwards.”
Mayrelis Herrera, 45, an insurance agent, nodded in agreement. “It’s a little extreme,” she said.
Torres and Mayrelis Herrera discussed with the other employees at the insurance agency how they were very happy with DeSantis’s first term, particularly how he kept the state open for business during the pandemic. But they said they feel DeSantis hasn’t been focusing enough on issues in Florida since launching his bid for president.
“People can’t buy houses, and then insurance is through the roof,” she said. People who move to Florida from other states are thinking, “‘Oh, it’s cheap and affordable’ but it’s not affordable for us,” Torres said.
“It’s us, the Floridians, who he should care about,” Mayrelis Herrera added.
“It’s like he’s more focused on running for president than what’s happening here where there’s a lot of work for him to do,” Torres said.
Asked if they think DeSantis shouldn’t have run for the 2024 GOP presidential primary, both women responded at the same time: “100 percent.”
“Now was not the time,” Torres said. “We already have Trump. Maybe he thought he had the momentum but … This has turned into Trump country. That’s the reality.”
Mayrelis Herrera nodded in agreement: “I’m not saying he would not be a good president at the right time but I think he should have backed up Trump in this election instead of going against him.”
A couple doors down from Torres’s insurance agency, Denise Garcia, 37, shared that she hasn’t always voted. Garcia has been focused on Oye Hialeah, the health food cafe she owns with her husband, and raising her two children, she said. Plus, she doesn’t fully trust politicians — or what the media has to say about them.
But she’s certain she’s voting in the 2024 election — and that it will be for whoever becomes the Republican presidential nominee. Right now, however, she’s not certain who she’s rooting for among the field, but she is a fan of DeSantis.
She said she likes how DeSantis has focused on protecting children, saying there’s no need for teachers to be “teaching our kids crazy things in school when it comes to sexuality.” And she feels DeSantis has been a champion for law enforcement, a point she made as she looked over to two police officers standing by the front counter as her husband took their orders.
“Every decision I’ve ever made since I’ve had my children or even right before my children is based on: What’s their life going to be like?” she said, looking over to her 5-year-old son eating a snack before his afternoon karate class. “So that’s a big thing for me and what my vote will come down to.”
Luis Rodriguez, a member of the Hialeah City Council, feels that there’s no question most people in Hialeah and the rest of Miami-Dade County are supporting Trump. In conversations with voters, he said he’s noticed Republicans speaking more passionately in favor of Trump and independents and even some Democrats more willing to embrace the former president.
In 2016, Rodriguez, 50, voted for Trump but admits he viewed it as a “pill I didn’t want to swallow” after having previously supported more traditional conservative candidates like members of the Bush family. But now he considers himself all-in on Trump.
“The only person that can win the election now is going to be Trump as a Republican,” Rodriguez said. “And the only person that I know is going to go in on the first day with a lot of experience and ready to go is going to be him.”
Rodriguez said he isn’t paying attention to other Republicans in the primary but he likes Haley a lot and would love to see her as Trump’s vice president pick.
As for DeSantis, he said the governor supported his campaign for city council and has been very involved in helping Hialeah prosper. But he said he felt a DeSantis win would divide the country more, whereas Trump could unite more people.
“I’m an American and I feel like the right thing to do is support Trump when it comes down to it,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t see a path for anyone else.”
Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.