“Who is the most important politician in Miami? Fidel Castro.”

That’s an old joke I’ve heard many times down in Miami, but it rings very true in one of the most-watched midterm House elections this cycle. In Florida’s 26th district, which encompasses southwest Miami-Dade county and the Florida Keys, Hispanics are the majority and Cubans the plurality. Both incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia and Republican Carlos Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County School Board member, are sons of Cuban exiles.

Recently, Roll Call changed the district from a Toss-up to a Toss-up/Tilts Republican district. This is has been part of the long-term trend that has seen Curbelos steadily gaining ground against Garcia after starting significantly down in a Lean Democrat district to now edging out ahead of Garcia. Readers can read my previous articles detailing the candidates life stories, platforms, gaffes, and controversies here and here.

Oddly enough, though, the topic of U.S.-Cuban relations has only just seen its birth in this election. But now that the genie has been unleashed, it’s become more than apparent how the election in FL26 is like no other in the country.

The topic of Cuba elicits the most impassioned responses and emotions from Cuban-Americans, and that’s why it is tread so carefully. Contrary to, perhaps, “outsider” perceptions of Cuban-Americans, there is no monolithic Cuban-American view of what U.S.-Cuban relations should be. Roughly, it is divided between the older and younger generations in that the older Cubans–born on the island and usually having escaped with at least some memories of life under the Communist regime–are vehemently against any type of detente; they oppose increased travel and remittances, too. Younger generations–either born in this country or having come over after the 1990s–want to see eased relations, an end to the boycott, more travel, etc.

Despite being nearly twenty years younger than Garcia, Curbelos is against easing of relations, increased travel, and increased remittances, whereas Garcia is for them.

A few days ago, the two candidates participated in their eighth (8th) debate, which saw the first real debate about the issue of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Curbelos brought the issue as a criticism of Garcia because the Democrat recently released an ad featuring notable Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who dined with President Obama at a Democrat fundraiser last year. The Miami Herald claims the ad, which shows Fariñas practically endorsing Garcia (despite being a Cuban citizen and resident), is an appeal to older, conservative Cubans (i.e. Reagan Cubans) who would recognize Fariñas and therefore might take this highly-respected figure’s endorsement to hear and the ballot box.

However, there is serious doubt in the Curbelos camp and among many local Cubans that Fariñas knew he was participating in a political ad. Fariñas told the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald that he would have said those words “for any of the members of Congress.” He later clarified his statement, saying that he supports all Cuban-Americans in Congress. The Miami Herald also reports that there is an unwritten rule among Cuban dissidents to not interfere in internal American politics, making this ad the first violation of that rule.

The Curbelos campaign has also attacked the ad and Garcia for turning to Cuba when the focus of the election should be on the U.S. and South Florida. But Curbelos quickly learned just how dangerous foraying into the Cuban issue in South Florida is, as his in-debate attacks against Garcia were soon met with criticisms against his past affiliation with a businessman who has done business with the island nation. Curbelos shot back that his consulting firm never did any formal work for the businessman in question, Ariel Pereda, and that Pereda is actually one of Garcia’s biggest supporters because Garcia advocates eased relations between the two countries.

Clearly, this is a complicated topic. But the fact remains that Curbelos is now slightly favored over Garcia by an outside polling and ratings agency. This change could be because of the Cuba issue, but most likely it’s due to Garcia being a tried-and-true progressive liberal Democrat irrevocably leashed to the downfall of the Obama presidency. Come Tuesday, voters will decide on much more than the Cuba issue, but it certainly will play a bigger role than either candidate ever participated–and perhaps ever wanted.

(Also, yesterday I had the chance to meet Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, a former Congressman from Florida, who assured me Curbelos would win. So there’s that.)