Puerto Ricans helped decide Florida's election -- just not the way most thought it would

CENTRAL FLORIDA — New numbers show Central Florida’s Puerto Rican voters made a big difference in the November midterms – but not the way many people thought.

There are few areas that have grown in Puerto Rican population as much as Orange and Osceola counties in the wake of Hurricane Maria. That surge may have swung one of the closes races in the state – and most-watched races in the country.

In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott courted Central Florida’s Hispanic population almost from day one, and it appears to have paid off. Data shows many Puerto Rican voters cast their ballot for Scott but may not have voted for Republicans in other races.

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Scott pulled in about 9,800 more votes than fellow Republican Ron DeSantis, who ran for and won the governor’s race. That 9,800 difference between Republicans is key considering Scott defeated Democratic opponent Sen. Bill Nelson by only 10,000 statewide.

“He did a fantastic job of showing up in Central Florida but also showing up in Puerto Rico,” said Wadi Gaitan, who works for a conservative Hispanic outreach group called the Libre Initiative, which backed Scott.

“It’s no secret that he visited the island seven to eight times. That news makes it into Central Florida news, but people also hear it from their family members that still live in Puerto Rico,” Gaitan said.

Read: Florida blue wave? Not really: What we learned from the 2018 election

Digging deeper into the numbers shows Scott’s outreach to the community paid off. An analysis of six heavily Puerto Rican precincts in Osceola County shows Scott’s success. In one area, Scott secured about 250 votes more than fellow GOP candidate DeSantis.

Overall, Scott did not win the Puerto Rican vote – or Orange and Osceola counties for that matter – but he did keep the margins close enough, which made the difference – and why Governor Rick Scott is about to be Senator Rick Scott.

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