In this election season, Florida politicians are making an unusually strong effort to bond with Latino voters. But those good intentions led one prominent Florida politico to do something he’d now like to take back.
“I understand that you have a little bit of an election coming soon for your next president," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told a cheering crowd of Brazilians as he stepped onto a stage in Orlando last week.
The event was a rally for Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is the leading contender in Brazil’s election on Sunday. (He is recovering after being stabbed with a knife by an attacker this month.) And Demings’ appearance signaled a growing political trend among expats in Florida.
Many of them cast votes here for elections back in their home countries. So they sometimes like to get respected Florida politicians to endorse their favorite candidates as a way to influence other expat voters. And Florida politicos are often glad to do it because it helps them bond with expat communities.
Last month Demings was also elected Orange County’s next mayor. So Brazilians at the Orlando rally for Bolsonaro were thrilled to hear him say:
“We will be supporting Bolsonaro!”
There was just one problem: Demings is an African-American Democrat. And he really hadn’t briefed himself on Bolsonaro - a right-wing Brazilian congressman who's been called "the Donald Trump of Brazil." Many of his remarks and stances are considered authoritarian, homophobic, sexist and racist – including disparaging comments about black people. (Bolsonaro backers insist he's the answer to Brazil's current economic and public security crisis.)
Mayor-elect Demings - who in a video of the rally is shown chanting "Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro!" alongside the Brazilian's expat supporters - has criticized President Trump and his administration for measures and remarks he considered racist. So when WLRN pointed out Bolsonaro’s record to Demings this week, he replied by email through his spokesman that he’d changed his mind:
The email conceded Demings had only “brief information” about Bolsonaro before the rally. And he now “renounces any support for Mr. Bolsonaro…and regrets that he was misled.”
Demings' wife - Florida Congresswoman Val Demings - was also at the rally and, in the video, posed for pictures with Bolsonaro supporters. (She herself did not register an endorsement of Bolsonaro on the video.)