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Latino evangelicals in Florida talk politics
03:27 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Around two million Latinos are registered to vote in Florida, according a City University Of New York study

The study adds that Latinos will cast about 20% of the votes in Florida

Daytona Beach, Florida CNN  — 

The sound of Christian Latin pop music fills the air inside Ministerio Apostolico Avance Misionero, a Christian church on a recent evening in South Daytona Beach, Florida.

The lyrics profess love and faith in Jesus Christ while devout believers raise their hands to the heavens, signaling the start of Wednesday night service.

Ministerio Apostolico serves the growing Hispanic community in the Daytona Beach area, the starting point of the so-called Highway I-4 corridor stretching from Tampa on the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean with Orlando in between. This region is home to the second largest and more diverse concentration of Latinos in Florida after Miami and the southern part of the state where Cuban Americans are the majority.

“We have people from about 15 cultures in our congregation,” says Yoan Hechavarria, the head of this church, who said Ministerio Daytona is part of a much larger church based in Jacksonville.

And while politics are not part of the pastor’s sermon, Hechavarria admits the presidential election is part of the conversation before and after the service.

“We have an obligation to be in tune and to be informed about the politics of our country,” Hechavarria says.

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Around 2 million Latinos are registered registered to vote in Florida, according to a study by the City University Of New York commissioned by CNN en Español. The study adds that Latinos will cast about 20% of the votes in that state on November 8, and that some 500,000 of those votes will come from the I-4 corridor.

The number of evangelical Latinos is rising. A report by Pew Research Center found in 2013 that 16% of Latinos identify as evangelicals an increase from 2010 when only 13% did according to the CUNY study.

That growth would be good news for the GOP who generally speaking enjoys the backing of the religious right. In 2006, the Republican Party enjoyed a lead among Latino voters in Florida. Back then 37% of the Latino electorate was registered as Republican.

This year Republican affiliation has dropped to 26% compared to almost 39% registered as Democrats and 33% registered as independent.

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But the conservative values championed by the Republican Party that appeal to evangelicals could be lost this year by the party’s nominee for president. Hechavarria adds that his church members are confused because neither presidential candidate offers them a clear choice.

“As Christians we are usually more inclined to follow the Republican party, but Donald Trump doesn’t seem to represent our values,” Hechavarria says, adding that while he thinks Hillary Clinton seems to be qualified to occupy the White House, her views on social issues are not aligned with his, particularly on abortion and same-sex marriage issues.

Harry de Jesus, an army veteran who worships at Ministerio Apostolico, says national security and veteran’s care are top priorities for him in choosing a president and thinks Trump would be better at handling them, but he rejects the offensive comments Trump has made about woman and immigrants.

“As the father of a girls I can’t condone him,” he says.

But Clinton should not see De Jesus’ rejection of Trump as a vote for her. He says that besides disagreeing with her on abortion and same-sex marriage, he didn’t find her to be honest even before she ran for president.

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“She is hiding a lot behind the curtains,” he said.

Samuel Peinand, who also attends Ministerio Apostolico, also finds Clinton to be dishonest but is willing to give her a chance.

“I am inclined to vote for her because of her experience, not her ideas,” he said.

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But not everybody is rejecting Trump. Carmen Santiago thinks the Republican candidate can change if elected president.

“I believe the Almighty can transform anyone and it Trump confesses before Him, The Lord will change his ways,” Santiago says.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for both parties this year is to get people to the polls.

20-year-old Coraly Rivera is one of the singers in Ministerio Apostolico choir and her voice can be heard at church gatherings.

But her political voice won’t be heard this November: she believes no candidate, even those from third parties, has done anything to earn her trust.

“I know I have a responsibility as a citizen but none of the candidates match my beliefs,” Rivera said.

One thing they all agree on is that whomever is sworn in next January as president, they will be praying for his or her success.