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Cuban-Americans Play A Big Role In Florida's Presidential Voting


And I'm David Greene in Orlando, where we're broadcasting from member station WMFE as part of our project Divided States. We came to Florida because it's a famous, well, perhaps infamous swing state. And Greg Allen, our NPR colleague based in Miami, went to visit one voter - a Cuban-American stay-at-home mom named Annie Ruiz (ph). Her golden retriever greeted Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: That's right.

ANNIE RUIZ: Come say hi, Bear. He'll calm down in a second. He just has to say hi (laughter).

GREENE: Greg reminded us that Florida is actually now the third-largest state in the country. The Cuban-American vote, it's still important. It was once reliably red. It's now evenly divided.

ALLEN: Well, last election in 2012, President Obama and Mitt Romney split the Cuban-American vote almost in half. And that was a big surprise for people because in the past, the Cuban-American population had always been very heavily Republican. And that's started to change. We've had newcomers to the Miami area and also the younger generation of voters as the second and third-generation Cuban-Americans.

GREENE: And it sounds like that's some of what I'm going to be talking about with Annie Ruiz, who you're going introduce me to right now, I guess?

ALLEN: Right. Yeah, here, let me hand the phone to Annie. Here she is.

GREENE: Oh, good.

RUIZ: Hi, David.

GREENE: Hi, Annie Ruiz. How are you?

RUIZ: I'm doing well. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. Thanks for letting us come into your home. I understand your dog is listening very intently.

RUIZ: He's sitting on a sofa right now, yes, listening to every word.

GREENE: Has he decided on his vote yet?

RUIZ: His vote is anybody who supplies him endless balls and bones. He's very happy with those.

GREENE: Got it. Well, I gather your family's history in Cuba shapes your political views today?

RUIZ: Absolutely. My parents came over in 1961. They didn't want to leave Cuba. They didn't have much choice because everything was changing overnight pretty much for them. They lost their business. They lost control of most of their life. I know for my mom in particular, she went to school to pick up my brother one day. And the teacher said, oh, he's doing really well. He's very bright, and he's going to make an excellent soldier for Castro. So my mother said, oh, great, that's wonderful and took him by the hand and went home and made her decision right there that she was leaving.

GREENE: And so how does that shape the kind of president you look for in this country?

RUIZ: You know, we need to maintain our rights. I think that whenever your rights are stripped away, your freedom is stripped away. And I saw that with my parents. And I believe in the Constitution and I don't want it changed. I don't want people appointed to the Supreme Court that are going to change it. That's very important to me.

GREENE: And you saying you want a leader who, like, in terms of foreign policy will fight to protect the United States and what we stand for?

RUIZ: Absolutely, that's important as well.

GREENE: And you see that kind of leader in 2016 in Donald Trump?

RUIZ: Between him and Hillary Clinton, I do see a stronger leader in Donald Trump. I don't think that what Hillary Clinton and this administration has been doing has led us to a safer world.

GREENE: May I ask you about some of the allegations that have come out about sexual misconduct? A lot of women have come forward and said that they feel that they were sexually harassed by Donald Trump. He has denied this very strongly. But has any of that led you to doubt him?

RUIZ: Well, what I do find doubtful is at this point in his life, after 70 years and not a hint of any allegations from any of those women, it takes about four weeks before a presidential election for that to come out. It doesn't make sense that there's never been an allegation against him until he decided to run for president.

GREENE: So the news organizations who have brought these out have, you know, say that they've done lots of fact checking to confirm that they're true. But you seem to be saying that there's something orchestrated happening in your mind potentially?

RUIZ: That's what it feels like from, you know, just a regular person's point of view. Nobody knows, I guess, until that gets a real investigation. I'm not talking about the media, you understand? To me, the media is not - it's not a reliable source anymore. It's not credible. So if there was a criminal investigation, that I would trust.

GREENE: Donald Trump has gone so far as to use the term rigged when talking about this election. What do you make of that word?

RUIZ: I do believe there's a lot of voter fraud. I don't know, you know, who's doing it. I don't know how much of it and I don't know if it's enough to influence the election. Certainly, there have been issues of voter fraud in the past, whether it's illegal immigrants voting. I know a lot of people - illegal immigrants they just found out that were given citizenship that shouldn't have been and they could vote in the election. So things like that happen. And that's, you know, a scary thought that that can go on.

GREENE: I guess I just want to make it - it's such a - it's a sensitive issue to bring up the idea of illegal immigrants voting when they shouldn't be allowed to. You know, I guess I wonder if that is actually happening, if it's just a very isolated case and not something that would sway an election.

RUIZ: And I don't know. The only thing I can tell you is there should definitely be some sort of an investigation into it. It's not OK. And, you know, I mean, you see third-world countries where elections are rigged. But this is the United States of America. That should not be happening.

GREENE: Are you worried that if that charge is made - and Donald Trump sort of suggested what you're saying at the first debate - that if he does indeed lose that people will look around and try to seek out people they see as illegal immigrants and try to blame them or, you know, lash out at them for...


GREENE: ...The results.

RUIZ: No, I think - you know, I think the media looks at Republicans and paints them as these crazy people. And I think it's quite frankly the opposite. I think a lot of what's been happening during this election, a lot of the Republicans and conservatives that support Trump are being targeted. I think the whole election is so contentious right now and the country's so divided and it's so ugly. But, yeah, I don't have a fear of anyone from the right - from conservatives targeting illegal immigrants that way. No, that's not something that I'm worried about.

GREENE: All right. Well, Annie Ruiz, thank you for taking the time to let us into your living room. And I really look forward to meeting you in Orlando in the morning and seeing what you thought of the debate.

RUIZ: Thank you so much, David. I appreciate it. I look forward to meeting you, too.

GREENE: That was Annie Ruiz. We're going to hear from her and three other Florida voters tomorrow to get their reactions to the final presidential debate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.