Almost 40,000 early voters cast ballots in the county mayoral race, about 5,000 more than those who went to the early voting sites in the May 24 election.
Like the 77,500 absentee ballots, the majority of which Ladra thinks will still go to the machinery paid for by former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina (though with a smaller margin than on May 24), the EV ballots could also go to the better bankrolled candidate, who reportedly had busloads of voters driven to the West Dade Regional Library on Coral Way and other sites. Numbers are high in each of the candidate's strongholds, but Ladra's informal exit poll Saturday of 160 voters shows that Robaina takes a small lead in the early voting statistics. At West Dade Regional, 100 voters were split 55 to 45 in favor of Robaina over former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez. And the JFK library in Hialeah was a little more than 2 to 1 for the heralded homeboy. Gimenez blew him away, however, 3 to 1, at the Coral Gables library. We chose those three top vote banks because they have consistently been the number 1, 2 and 3 early voting sites throughout this race and ended up again on Saturday, accounting for a third of the 39,691. Each of the three visited also got between 600 and nearly 1,000 more votes than on May 24, a likely result of stepped up efforts by both campaigns.
Voters who chose Robaina told me that they were fed up with the establishment and wanted to hold the line on taxes. "As a homeowner, that is important to me," said one woman who voted in Coral Gables. Roman Ayala, 70, voted for Robaina at West Dade Regional "because he is closer to the Cuban cause than Gimenez is. At least in my view," he said. Meanwhile, Gimenez voters seemed closer to Earth. "I've met him and talked to him and I agree with his policies and positions," said David Miller, 80, who is retired after having owned a clothing manufacturing business -- in Hialeah. "He is an honest man, approachable." Nurse Elizabeth Rodriguez, 45, said Gimenez had more experience and more integrity (her words). "I like his track record, his background, and how much he has done for the community."
Most of the Robaina voters did not want to talk about their reasons. Gimenez voters were only to happy to share. Likewise, Robaina (who got in a Buick SUV and was driven away as soon as I arrived at the JFK library in the afternoon) declined to chat with Ladra during two stops (yes, I asked twice) at the West Dade Regional library. I even told him I wanted to share the good news from the informal exit poll, but he just shook his head from 15 feet away. He won't even let me get near him (thus why he is so far away in the photo), walking away at a rapid clip and even in zig-zag to get rid of me. And my parents were afraid he would confront me. (No, I don't think I need any bodyguards, Candela writer, but thanks for the offer). Gimenez, on the other hand, greeted me at the Hialeah library and let me tag along as he spoke to voters. He posed for photos. I asked him about party involvement in this nonpartisan race (more on that later), something I did want to ask Robaina about but he never gives me the opportunity. He answered me. And they were fresh and spontaneous answers, not practiced and off point. I asked him about that infamous anti-Hialeah robocall, which he continued to say he had nothing to do with and that he would fire anyone working for him that was tied to it. I asked him for his take on early voting and he said he felt confident. He looked relaxed and carefree -- like a man without federal authorities breathing down his neck, a man with nothing to fear or hide. He's said he is "good with whatever happens." Bet Robaina is not. And I'm not judging him because I sure as hell am not good with whatever happens. I told Gimenez that I hoped I did not have to move out of the country after June 28. He said, very confidently, that I could stay put. "Other people might have to move out of the country," he said, laughing, relaxed and feeling good.
Maybe for good reason. The Bendixen Amandi poll shows that Gimenez's chances of being our next mayor increase with the voter turnout. Robaina's support base may be deeper (read: more motivated) but Gimenez's is wider. And so far, we have 117,000 votes cast, more than the 107,000 early and absentee ballots in the May 24 primary. If the trend holds out and we get another 10,000 extra votes, that could be a very good thing for Gimenez , indeed. That's the magic number in his email to supporters as well. He asks everyone to get 10 people to vote and I know volunteers have been asked to help on phone banks Sunday and Monday to make it happen.
Because EV and AB votes may hold the expected lead for Robaina, however narrowed by the Gimenez campaign's concerted efforts, but election day votes are what will take Mayor Gimenez to his righful place at County Hall.