2015 was a buzzworthy year for Miami-born rapper Pitbull. His ninth studio album—the Spanish-language Dale—won the artist his first Grammy and dominated Billboard's Top Latin Albums charts. He released a new single, "FREE.K," the star track off his tenth album, the upcoming Climate Change, set to release later this year. And his US tour alongside Latin music heartthrob Enrique Iglesias had such mass appeal they had to double their tour dates. Yes, Mr. 305 enjoyed worldwide fame, but the buzz surrounding Miami's favorite rapper wasn't entirely focused on his music. Instead, it was Pitbull's voting preferences that were getting all the hype last year, as pundits hotly debated who Pitbull would endorse leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
As a pop star whose music and image are inextricably rooted in his Cuban heritage and Miami upbringing, Pitbull doesn't exactly remain silent when it comes to his political views. A staunch supporter of immigration reform, Pitbull's endorsement of President Obama at a 2012 rally in South Florida was a victory for the Democratic party. Since roughly one quarter of Florida voters identify as Hispanic, support from the world's most visible Latin American artist was pivotal for Obama's win in one of the country's most crucial swing states.
Leading up to 2016, major media outlets like Buzzfeed and the Washington Post were questioning whether Pitbull might team up with the Republicans this time, especially because the election included a 305 rivalry. Would Pitbull pledge allegiance to his friend and contemporary Marco Rubio, the young Cuban American senator beloved by Pitbull's loyal Miami fan base? Or would he support Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor and fluent Spanish speaker who vastly appealed to the Latino community because of his pro-Cuban policies and Mexican wife?
While the media was going into a frenzy over Pitbull's political endorsement, an unlikely opponent was slowly gaining momentum in the race to the presidency. Boisterously offensive, incessantly arrogant and frighteningly bigoted, Donald Trump officially threw his hat into the Republican ring in June 2015. What was initially labeled a publicity stunt by the businessman turned reality TV star, would in a few months erupt into a full-fledged attack on the American consciousness: misogyny, white supremacy, and toxic nationalism have become the hallmarks of Trump's rhetoric. And the scary part is, voters seem to be agreeing—Trump's approval ratings are through the roof, and the candidate is dominating in the polls. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump is sure to win North Carolina, Illinois, and even Florida in the race to the Republican nomination.
With Trump on a path to victory, and Bush out of the running, a Pitbull endorsement seems more crucial than ever: Can a Pitbull endorsement for Rubio save the Republican nomination from falling into Trump's overly tanned hands? Or has Trump's angry majority overshadowed Pitbull's influence?
"People love Pitbull across all demographics, and even if he moves just one or two percent of the vote, that can make a difference for the Rubio campaign," says Bettina Inclan, a Republican strategist that's worked on several Republican campaigns, including John McCain's and Mitt Romney's presidential bids. "Pitbull could end up being the game-changer."
But Inclan questions whether a Pitbull endorsement at this stage of the election would be enough to move voters. She says a celebrity endorsement like this one would pack way more punch during the general elections, since a Pitbull endorsement would probably rally Americans who have a lower tendency of voting—and it's unlikely that those voters will be hitting the polls on March 15.
"Primary voters have to be pre-registered to vote early, they tend to be people who vote all the time, even for their local politicians, and they tend to be older," Inclan says. "I think Pitbull could attract voters from a younger demographic that consider themselves independent of any one party, but we usually don't see that kind of engagement from that group during primaries."
Still, more and more young voters are becoming engaged with the political process well before November elections, and some say a Pitbull endorsement could make a critical difference leading up to the Florida primary. "It's something our party would love to see. Pitbull is a big figure, culturally," says Jessica Fernandez, the Co-Chair of Marco Rubio's campaign and the leader of the Hispanic Caucus in Miami during Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign. "We're trying to connect to a younger audience, to an energy. After all, millennials represent the largest voting block."
According to Fernandez, Romney's 2012 campaign "had fought hard for a Pitbull endorsement" too, since nabbing Latino support is becoming an increasingly crucial endeavor for both parties. However, the rapper's stance on immigration was a major roadblock that time around.
In 2011, Pitbull told CNN that a policy against immigration "is very contradicting to everything that the Constitution stands for," and that President Obama was "handling [the issue] well." A year later, he endorsed the incumbent president in the 2012 election, a move that disrupted politics as usual among his Cuban American fan base—a group that typically equates President Obama's policies with that of Fidel Castro's communist ideals.
In a sense, Pitbull's support of Obama gave many young Latino voters permission to support a candidate that was generally persona non grata in their staunchly Republican households. And according to Inclan, an endorsement by Pitbull for Rubio can have the same effect. "Endorsements can have a huge impact when they're helping you out in an area you're weak in," Inclan says. For example, Pitbull supporting Rubio, despite the candidate's wishy-washy stance on immigration, could potentially convince Latino voters that Rubio would eventually support immigration reform and work towards instating less restrictive immigration laws.
If Rubio is going to win the Florida primary—a crucial state for the Republican party—then a Pitbull endorsement is key.
Still, political advocates question whether a Pitbull endorsement for Rubio would be enough to sway Latinos to the other side. "People take the Latino vote for granted," says Daisy J. Baez, the former President of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus in Miami and a candidate for State Representative in Florida. "We're savvy voters, and Rubio's policies are disastrous for Latinos," Baez says. "I really don't think an endorsement from Pitbull would make a difference."
Would a Pitbull endorsement make a difference for women, another group that's often taken for granted during election season? Alarmingly, Trump is remarkably popular among female voters, despite his track record of misogyny. Inclan says that's why the candidate so frequently focuses on his daughter Ivanka when he's on the stump. "Again, here we see the power of the endorsement to reshape a candidate's weak areas," she says. "Women love Ivanka Trump, they see her as a smart and successful business woman, and they think, 'Trump can't be that bad if he raised Ivanka.'"
At the same time, Inclan isn't convinced that Trump will ultimately win a substantial pool of female voters. "Really, what's most important to us is that we have a place at the table and that we're not being demeaned or talked down to, and that we're being treated as equal," she says. And if that's the case, a Pitbull endorsement for Rubio wouldn't sway many women either, since Pitbull himself has reduced women down to beautiful playthings who exist solely for male pleasure.
Despite the importance of celebrity endorsements in presidential campaigns, the power a celebrity endorsement can have on an election remains somewhat murky. Craig Garthwaite, an assistant professor in strategy at the Kellogg School of Management, studied celebrity endorsements during the 2008 election, after a young, black senator upset the Democratic favorite for a victory during the primary election. He found that Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama was crucial during the primary election, garnering the candidate an additional one million votes and generously tipping the scales in a very close race.
According to Garthwaite, the similarities between Clinton and Obama in the 2012 Democratic race were precisely what made Oprah's endorsement key. "In certain circumstances, celebrities can have a lot of influence," says Garthwaite, "especially when the endorser has a core demographic who would support the same platforms they do when voting." Garthwaite that says that voters will look to celebrities when looking to non-policy factors that influence their decisions. In other words, Garthwaite says celebrity endorsements really hit home when two candidates are running on very similar platforms and a voter can't decide which candidate they like best.
Rubio and Trump differ on plenty of ideological fronts, but their stance on immigration, workplace equality, and abortion rights are virtually the same. And in the 2016 election, many young, Latino, and female Republican voters may be trapped in a damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don't situation. So could a Pitbull endorsement really be the deciding factor in the race for the Republican nod? Says Inclan: "If Rubio is going to win the Florida primary—a crucial state for the Republican party—then a Pitbull endorsement is key."