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Latino Democrats Warn Biden Needs to Do More to Reach Demographic, Especially in Florida

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Latino Democrats Warn Biden Needs to Do More to Reach Demographic, Especially in Florida

2020-09-15 17:36:25

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Joe Biden (Image source: Screenshot)


Much of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign has been going well since the turnaround in the primaries. Yet, the Latino community is accusing the campaign of ignoring them. While he's not in danger of losing the Latino vote, the question is how much of a lead he will get with the demographic.

It's especially alarming that polls show Donald Trump has been gaining ground with the Latino community. Some say this shows problems that have been there all along. Latino activists and officials say Biden now has to catch up, especially in Florida.

Luckily, he'll be campaigning in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, which just happens to be the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and reaching out to the Latino community will be a key focus. He'll be in Tampa and Kissimmee, two towns known for their Puerto Rican populations.

"Within the last two weeks, they've been making an effort to put all the pieces in place," said José Parra, a senior adviser to former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV), who lives in Miami. "What worries me is how late in the game they are trying to put those pieces into place."

Not that all of the Hispanic population is waiting to be wooed by Biden, as Trump is popular with conservative Cuban Americans.

The worries with the Latino community extend to other states as well, including Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

Biden has critics as well as allies who are left frustrated that he has not given a major speech on Latino issues, advertised more and earlier on media for Spanish-language listeners, or given more Latino news outlet interviews.

"The campaign understands that this is a priority, but at the same time, there needs to be a little bit more support shown," said fellow 2020 Democratic primary candidate, and the only Latino, Julián Castro. "If we allow a narrative to take shape that somehow the issues of concern to this growing community are not prioritized, then we risk backsliding in the years to come."

Again, Biden isn't expected to lose the Latino vote, but there's question of how much he will lead Trump. Nationally, polls show him faring just a little under the popularity of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton who won the Latino group by 38 points.

But Trump is seen as so anti-immigrant and anti-Latino that it seems that margin should be more for Biden. However, former President Barack Obama was seen as tough on deportation, so there's question of how much Biden will emulate that. Latino Democratic leaders are also concerned about a lack of Latinos in Biden's inner circle and that his campaign has focused so much on White suburbanites and African Americans.

Biden campaign officials argue that they're slowly building a more aggressive outreach to the Latino community. They have placed Latino vote directors in 11 states as well as targeted efforts in select communities. They have added speakers with specific Hispanic accents in these communities, such as Mexican accents in Arizona, Cuban accents in Miami, and Puerto Rican accents in Orlando and Tampa.

"We take Florida extremely seriously," said senior Biden adviser Cristóbal Alex, who works outreach with the Latino community. "As the vice president said in my very first sit-down with him, we are committed to competing for every single vote."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was the last remaining candidate before pulling out and handing the nomination to Biden, had success with the Latino community. Chuck Rocha was assigned to Latino outreach for the Sanders campaign and fears that the party may now leave behind such an influential population.

Sanders has voiced concerns privately as well about how Biden fares with the community, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. He "thinks that a stronger outreach to young people, the Latino community, and the progressive movement will be of real help to that campaign," said Faiz Shakir, Sanders's former campaign manager.

Biden campaign officials insist Latino voters are a priority. "We really see the coalition to win as helping to rebuild the original Obama-Biden coalition," said deputy campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of César Chávez.

"That definitely includes White voters and African America voters, but it also includes Latino voters, [American American and Pacific Islander] voters and the tribal community."

Projections from before the pandemic hit showed Latinos as being set to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group, just over 13 percent of eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. With the pandemic hitting the Latino community disproportionately and a move toward mail-in voting, the 13 percent is at risk, as Castro noted the community "has lower confidence in mail-in voting than communities."

The Florida vote is hotly contested, as the state could be the deciding point of who wins the presidency. While Trump moved his residency to Florida last year and had a head start campaigning there, he's losing popularity with seniors due to how he handled the pandemic, and that gives Biden an opening, if he chooses to work with it.

The Biden campaign is outspending Trump in every Hispanic media market, noted Alex. The campaign is involved in text-banking in Spanish ad has placed daily calls to Hispanic radio stations.

"We've done really well with Hispanics," said Trump at a White House roundtable with Latino leaders in July. "We like them, they like me, and we've helped them a lot with the jobs. Whether it's jobs, education, or so many other things, it's been really good."

The GOP has described Democrats as radical socialists. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), who emigrated from Ecuador as a teen, said, "[The  GOP has] repeated it for so long that they really have caused fear in our community."

She added, "Maybe we should have rejected that premise much earlier. But when something is so far from the truth, the initial reaction, I think, was to just completely dismiss it, not even address it."

To go along with that push from the GOP, Trump tweeted on Sunday that "Sleepy Joe Biden has spent 47 years in politics being terrible to Hispanics. Now he is relying on Castro lover Bernie Sanders to help him out."

The Biden campaign has his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is the daughter of immigrants and is also from a state with a sizeable Hispanic population taking on some of the Latino research.

She campaigned in Florida last Thursday and stopped in an arepas restaurant in Doral. She used the language, referring to her husband as "mi esposo." This weekend she held a virtual talk with Latino business owners in Arizona. 

"They are just waking up to the coffee," said Roberto Rodriguez Tejera, a Spanish-language radio show host in the Miami area.

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