In 1996 Art Teele, an African American county commissioner, ran for county mayor hoping to assemble the same majority in demographic proportions like those that propelled Carlos Gimenez to the county mayor seat over Julio Robaina this week. The theory was, that if Teele could pull moderate support from Hispanics, overwhelming support from African Americans, and a majority of non-Hispanics whites that he could trump Alex Penelas. Teele, like Robaina, was dogged by allegations of shady business practices.
1996 was before the dot.com boom, before the Jeb Bush terms, and housing boom and bust. The demographics (Hispanic, African American, and non-Hispanic White) have shifted but they haven't fundamentally changed. (The subtleties are emphasized in the shift among Hispanic voters.)
The determinant factor in 1996 was money piled in from the Latin Builders Association members. The top players were Republican but they also counted on Penelas (and President Clinton) to obtain the Homestead Air Force Base for a privatized commercial airport. They plowed, then, nearly two million dollars into Penelas' campaign and he handily defeated Teele, a Republican.
According to The Miami Herald and an Bendixen & Amandi poll, non-Hispanics whites voted for Gimenez over Robaina by a 3-1 majority. It was a huge advantage in a low turnout election. Tellingly, Jeb Bush backed the loser, Robaina, who was closest to his own support base among the builders and developers who crashed the economy in South Florida.
It is true that we tend to fight the last war, in this one. It is also true that politicians tend to fight the last campaign. There will be raised eyebrows about this week's election results by the political class, in view of the upcoming 2012 election. The performance of the white non-Hispanic vote for Gimenez shows that a strong segment of voters is highly disturbed by insider dealing and corruption that is usually taken for granted. But what of the weak performance of non-Hispanic whites relative to Jeb's endorsement?
While the Robaina loss may be a relatively minor point for the former governor, Bush is cultivating a role as a GOP sage. Jeb Bush must have regretted his early support of Robaina. (Perhaps the point is that corrupt business or unethical business conduct are poison with this electorate, unless the candidate has millions of your own money to plow into a campaign.) Miami is Bush's base, and he shouldn't be backing a loser here. Then there is another Miamian Bush is tied to -- US Senator Marco Rubio-- being cultivated for a national campaign carefully as a hot-house rose.
The point is: voters are paying attention is ways they hadn't, when the economy was flush and everyone was using their homes as personal ATM's. These are tea leaves from a low-turnout election. Still they point in a direction for candidates ambitious enough to set a new course for 2012.