Neither Ros-Lehtinen nor Rubio speaks to the aspirations and outlook of this new majority -- and indeed, if you look closely at the voting patterns in exile community, you can see cracks in the foundation of the bloc beginning to emerge. According to exit polling in the 2008 election by Bendixen & Associates, 84 percent of Cubans in the Miami area over the age of 55 voted for John McCain, a traditional Republican Cuba hawk -- but Barack Obama, the first major presidential candidate with a record of opposition to the embargo, garnered 55 percent of the under-30 vote. This year's election also saw the second serious challenge in as many elections from a Cuban-American politician running in a Florida House race on a platform of engaging with Cuba. Joe Garcia, a former leader of Mas Canosa's Cuban American National Foundation who has reinvented himself as a Cuba policy reformer, got 42 percent of the vote against Cuba-hardliner David Rivera -- a loss, but in an exile-heavy district and an election year that favored Republicans, a hopeful sign for the future.
But there are other means besides Congress of breaking the exiles' monopoly on Cuba policy. Most foreign policy, after all, is made by the executive branch, not the legislative one, and considerable reforms to the embargo can be managed through executive orders alone. Obama's policy toward Cuba has so far consisted only of improvements around the margins: giving Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit the island and send unlimited remittances to their relatives there, and a smattering of cultural exchanges. But the chances that Obama -- who, as a state legislator in Illinois, declared that the embargo had "utterly failed" -- will do more are greater now than in the first two years of his presidency. This week's Republican electoral rout means that Florida Democrats have less to lose from a Democratic president supporting loosened travel restrictions; the Cuban government's recent political prisoner releases and accelerated economic reforms have increased international pressure on the United States to change course. None of Obama's most Cuba-relevant foreign policy officials -- soon-to-be-National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Obama's senior advisor on Latin America Dan Restrepo, Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, and Valenzuela's senior advisor for Cuba, Dan Erikson -- have ever defended the embargo as an effective policy. The circumstances are ripe for Obama to put U.S.-Cuba relations on the path to de-escalation. And no one should be surprised if, an election or two down the road, Cuban Americans vote their approval.