TAMPA, Florida — Cornered a day earlier into making stark promises on deportation policies that will be difficult to keep, Hillary Clinton on Thursday rallied supporters at a historical Cuban-American district here, notably breezing over one key issue: immigration.
Clinton spoke before a diverse crowd in Ybor City, a traditional haven for waves of Cuban immigrants, where she largely shied away from addressing the issues that dominated the Democratic debate a night earlier.
Instead, she mixed a general election pitch with an appeal on hyper-local issues, touching on climate change and infrastructure investment, leaving out any mention of the cultural significance of the city’s historical downtown or the community’s ties to Cuba.
Clinton is protecting her sizable lead in recent polls as she and Bernie Sanders make their final campaign swings through Florida before the primary election on Tuesday.
But in a state where Hispanics are not a monolithic voting bloc – Cubans and Puerto Ricans each account for roughly 30 percent of Latino voters – the pitch to Hispanics is a delicate dance in crafting a message that will resonate with all groups.
And in light of Sanders’ upset victory in Michigan this week, the Clinton campaign is not taking any chances, particularly in a diverse swing state that is bound to play a determinative role in the general election.
“I want to be a really strong candidate to take my vision and our views into a general election against whoever the Republicans nominate,” Clinton said. “You know, people ask me all the time, well, who do I want to run against. That’s not for me to decide. But given what they’ve all said, I will take any one of them.”
The Sanders campaign is relying on the Sunshine State’s makeup to keep the Vermont senator competitive for the Democratic nomination. A diverse array of surrogates on the road with him opened his rallies by speaking to their backgrounds growing up in minority communities. And earlier in the week, Sanders released an ad highlighting the economic hardships of migrant farm workers.
“Our campaign is listening to the brothers and sisters in the Latino community,” Sanders told a crowd of 9,000 supporters in Tampa on Thursday. “They are tired of living in the shadows, tired of living in fear, and I agree with them when they want and they are fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.”
Both candidates have faced intense pressure to stake the most bold and progressive stances on immigration seen yet. Raising the stakes, both candidates at Wednesday’s Democratic debate appeared to promise to not deport any children or adults without criminal records – a clear departure from the status quo.
They are vows that some Latinos say they had been waiting to hear but were fearful that they were too good to be true.
“I love the idea that they both promised not to deport children or adults without criminal records,” said Anna Garcia, who came out to support Sanders on Thursday. “I think the back and forth really pushed them to make that promise.”