KISSIMMEE, FLORIDA—In a tailored appeal to Hispanic voters, Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden accused incumbent President Donald Trump of having “failed the Hispanic community time and time again” during his nearly four years in office, in part by fanning “the flames of hatred and division in this country for his own gain.”
The former vice president made the comment during a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Florida where he finds his critically needed support among Latinos eroding.
Biden accused Trump of neglecting the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Trump has “insulted the dignity of Hispanic families over and over and over again,” Biden said, noting that with only 49 days left until the election, “I’m asking for your vote.
Biden, in a live streamed webcast, told the Latino community: “You can decide the direction of this country.”
WATCH: Biden at Hispanic Heritage Month event
While such appeals to specific ethnic groups by candidates are frequently hyperbole, in this presidential election the appeal to Hispanics may not turn out to be an overstatement.
Both parties see Florida, one of four battleground states with a substantial Latino population, as essential for the November 3 balloting with its 29 electoral votes.
For nearly a century now, no Republican candidate has won the presidency without winning Florida, where Latinos make up over 20 percent of the electorate.
In the 2016 election, Trump won this pivotal state by just 1.2 percent, even though then- Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the Latino vote by 27 percent.
Presidential polls this year in Florida show the candidates in a virtual tie, but Trump has gained a slight lead with Latino voters while Biden has gained support among older white voters.
Nationally, Biden’s lead over Trump with Latinos has dropped from 30 percent to 9 percent.
Only a handful of supporters, with face coverings and socially distanced, were allowed in the room where the former vice president made his Tuesday evening comments – exemplifying his cautious campaign in contrast to Republican Trump’s packed rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The campaign of the incumbent has chipped away at Biden’s favorability with Hispanics as it tries to paint the Democratic Party challenger as a puppet of socialists.
Trump has also repeatedly emphasized his administration’s hardline policies on communist Cuba and Venezuela’s socialist government.
Biden flew to Florida on Tuesday to appeal to the growing Puerto Rican population in the central part of the state. Many of them feel their island, a U.S. commonwealth, has been treated poorly by Trump, especially after it struggled following the 2017 hurricane.
Also damaging the president’s image with Puerto Ricans are reports that Trump wanted to sell the island and purchase Greenland because “Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor,” said actress Eva Longoria.
“He called us drug dealers and rapists, and he spent the last four years doubling down on denigrating Latinos,” she added at Tuesday evening’s event prior to Biden’s remarks. “Latinos will decide the 2020 election.”
Biden, as president, “will respect the dignity of the Puerto Rican people,” said singer Ricky Martin, alongside Longoria.
“He will never abandon us in our time of need,” said singer Luis Fonsi, who introduced Biden, pitching Latinos to register to vote and cast ballots for the Democrat. “Nothing less than the future of our country is on the ballot in November.”
The president, who met with Latino supporters in Nevada on Monday, interpreted the polls as a clear victory for his campaign.
"I mean, this is, this is good,” Trump said. “You know, this is what the polls are all saying too you know. As a Republican, Republicans don’t do as well as perhaps they should, and probably some shouldn't do very well, but the polls came back and we’re leading 'Sleepy Joe' by a lot."
In appealing to Latinos, Biden has criticized Trump’s harsh immigration policies and promised increased economic and medical assistance to help these communities hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Older Cubans are generally seen as firm backers of Trump, but Biden is looking to gain support from a younger generation with no memory of life in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Progressive activists are urging Biden to reach out to younger Cubans who are more focused on domestic issues such as economic and racial inequality.
"There's a lot of new Latino young people, young Cubans, who've come of age who are registered to vote, who are way more progressive than their fathers or their grandmothers,” said Chuck Rocha, an adviser to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Brian Padden in Washington contributed to this report.