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Three Florida men are on the ballot in 2024. Voters there still want Trump

A supporter of former President Donald Trump speaks into a megaphone as supporters gather in Tropical Park in Miami, to convoy to his Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., June 11.
Gerald Herbert
/
AP
A supporter of former President Donald Trump speaks into a megaphone as supporters gather in Tropical Park in Miami, to convoy to his Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., June 11.

MIAMI — At a small Miami-area museum, a Cuban hip-hop artist known as El Funky performed a Spanish song that once triggered large-scale protests to topple the island's communist regime for freedom.

El Funky, whose given name is Eliexer Márquez Duany, was part of a group of musicians who collaborated for the 2021 Latin Grammy-winning song known as "Patria y Vida," or country and life.

It led to detention in his home, and later his escape to the United States.

"You are the remains, nothing is left for you, you are going down," El Funky raps in Spanish to a crowd that includes members of Congress and pro-Democracy Cuban activists. "The town is tired of holding on. We're waiting for a new dawn."

Rapper Eliexer Marquez Duany, also known as "El Funky" listens to a congressional roundtable on human right abuses in Cuba, July 10, in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
Marta Lavandier / AP
/
AP
Rapper Eliexer Marquez Duany, also known as "El Funky" listens to a congressional roundtable on human right abuses in Cuba, July 10, in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.

Now, El Funky is working to become a legal U.S. resident this year, and he hopes to vote for the re-election of former President Donald Trump in 2024. He's part of a larger trend among Miami-based Cuban-Americans disappointed with Democrats' stance on Cuba.

"The current president... is not helping at all," El Funky said after his performance, which followed a congressional roundtable to commemorate the July 11, 2021 Cuban demonstrations. "I'll vote for Trump to come back."

In a crowded Republican presidential field for 2024, three are Floridians — the most of any state.

Nationally, Trump leads the contenders for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination, which includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a much lesser known Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

The red state arguably gives Republicans their best test case to see who will come out on top for their party's ticket.

Without Trump, there's 'no Ron DeSantis'

Most Florida Republicans understand that were it not for Donald Trump, there would be no Ron DeSantis.

Yet even as Trump faces growing legal problems, he still leads DeSantis — his closest challenger — for the GOP presidential nomination.

While DeSantis made a national splash as governor that led to his presidential run, his home state illustrates a case study on why Trump still holds a grip over the party.

"All one has to do is look at the current state of polling in Florida among Republicans, Trump enjoys a 20-point lead over the twice-elected incumbent governor," said Fernand Amandi, a Florida political analyst who largely works with Democrats.

This month, a poll released by Florida Atlantic University found that despite Trump's legal woes, he's well ahead of DeSantis, arguably the next top GOP presidential candidate.

"Most Florida Republicans understand that were it not for Donald Trump, there would be no Ron DeSantis," Amandi added. "So as long as Donald Trump is running for reelection in a party that is in his image and his making, I think of Republicans will vote the way other Republicans across the country are overwhelmingly for Trump interests."

Trump 'weakest incumbent' in recent memory

DeSantis has run a copycat campaign. And when given the choice between the real thing and an imitation, voters are going to choose the real thing

Former Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo calls Trump the weakest incumbent in recent history, pointing to his party's three losses in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 election years.

He argues if Trump's legal troubles keep piling up, other candidates could have a shot.

In South Florida, Trump is facing 34 federal charges over the alleged mishandling of classified documents following a separate New York criminal case. Now, he's facing the threat of new criminal charges tied to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"Trump was indicted... he will likely be indicted again," Curbelo argued. "Perhaps at some point Republican primary voters start thinking about electability and whether he would be the best choice and that could provide an opening for someone else."

If DeSantis wants to break out, he'll need a new strategy to differentiate himself from Trump, Curbelo said.

"DeSantis has run a copycat campaign. And when given the choice between the real thing and an imitation, voters are going to choose the real thing," he explained.

DeSantis has to "not simply try to use the Trump playbook again that worked for him in 2018 in the state of Florida. But he wasn't running against Donald Trump. Now he is," Curbelo said.

Across town at the Versailles Cafe in the Little Havana neighborhood, a popular Republican stomping ground, Cuban-Americans Bernardo and Rita Betancourt are also familiar with all the Floridians running for president.

In their native Spanish, the longtime Miami residents, who are both in their 80s, call Suarez a friend, DeSantis a good governor but identify Trump as their favorite to become president, again.

"Donald Trump, all day," they said. "I'm confident that he can improve the situation in this country."

It's an argument heard from many Republican voters across the state and beyond, but it's still not clear they can convince the rest of the country it's a winning formula for the presidency.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.