Is the Biden campaign doing enough to reach out to Latino voters?

Daniel Gonzalez Arizona Republic

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign has been slow to reach out to Latino voters, who have become increasingly influential in battleground states such as Arizona with large and fast-growing Latino populations.

However, outreach to Latino voters has picked up steam in recent weeks, including during the Democratic National Convention, when several Latinos from Arizona spoke in support of Biden.

But the convention still drew criticism from some Latino political leaders for not including enough prominent Latino voices.

And many Latino leaders and grassroots organizers remain concerned that Biden’s campaign is taking Latino voters for granted, including the growing numbers of younger Latinos who recently have become eligible to vote, and is missing out on an opportunity to expand support among Latinos who could play a deciding role in 2020 and future elections.

“I do think even the Biden campaign would acknowledge that they have not done as good a job a they should have,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy group.

The Biden campaign has recently ramped up efforts to reach out to Latino voters, hiring more Latinos to speak directly to voters and rolling out a plan to improve the lives of Latinos.

“But I think it is fair to say that up until this point, we have not seen that meaningful engagement,” Murguia told The Arizona Republic during a conference call with reporters. “They have got a lot of work to do because … it’s not just about big states like Florida, Texas and California. We really need to be looking at all these swing states and beyond and making sure we are making smart investments as a country to acknowledge the Latino vote and know that it will make a difference in some of these key states.”

Latinos are projected to make up 10.6% of voters nationally in the Nov. 3 general election, up from 9.2% in 2016, according to UCLA’s Latino Politics and Policy Initiative.

OP-ED: Biden and Trump need Latinos to win. Why aren’t they reaching out to them?

In Arizona, Latino voters are projected to jump from 19.6% of the electorate in 2016 to 24.6% in 2020, according to the initiative. That would be the third highest share of Latino voters of any state in the country, behind only New Mexico, where Latinos are projected to make up 38.9% of the electorate this fall, and California, with 25.6% according to the institute.

States with growing Latino populations in battleground states such as Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida represent an opportunity for the Biden campaign to expand support among Latino voters, said Sonja Diaz, director of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

Diaz believes the Biden campaign is not paying enough attention to Latino voters.

“Instead, what I have observed is a persuasion campaign that is expending finite resources on persuading white voters who are on the fence and may want to sit this election out or in 2016 supported Donald Trump to come out and cast a ballot for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Diaz said. “This is at the expense of expanding the electorate because there are finite resources, and the party and the campaign need to decide what is the priority.”

What do the polls say?

Recent polls show that Biden has a significant lead over President Donald Trump in Arizona and nationally. But the polls show that Trump has not lost support from Latino voters from four years ago and may actually be gaining support, which could also spell trouble for Biden’s campaign, especially in a tight race.

Biden has a 42-point lead over Trump, 66% to 24%, according to a Somos UnidosUS survey of 1,842 Latino voters conducted Aug. 7 to Aug. 15 by Latino Decisions, a polling and research firm. The poll’s national sample had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

But Biden has a narrower 34-percentage-point advantage over Trump in Arizona, 63% to 29%, according to the same poll.

In Florida, another key battleground state, Biden’s lead falls to 14 percentage points, 55% to 41%, the poll found.

A recent nationwide Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed 31% of Latinos plan to back Trump. That is higher than the 28% of the Latino vote Trump received in 2016.

The Trump campaign is pushing harder to reach out to Latino voters this year than in 2016, airing ads in Spanish and English on digital media and on the radio that feature Latinos who support the president. At a recent rally in Yuma, Trump was praised by a Border Patrol union leader who is Latino, and Trump made a point of highlighting Hispanics living along the border who support his border wall. Several Latino Trump supporters also spoke at the Republican National Convention, including a Florida businessman from Cuba who said Biden’s policies remind him of the socialism he fled.

Latino voters tend to favor Democrats

Biden may be banking on broad support from Latino voters because Latino voters tend to vote Democratic.

In the 2018 midterm elections, 69% of Latinos voted for Democratic candidates in congressional races, compared to 29% of Latinos who voted for Republican candidates, according to Pew Research Center.

Many Latino voters have been turned off by President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric characterizing a wave of asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America as “invaders” and his tough immigration and border policies. Those efforts include a raft of executive decisions to curb both legal and illegal immigration, a 2018 “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation of nearly 3,000 families and the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that is in progress.

The recent Somos UnidosUS survey of 1,842 Latino voters found that nearly three-quarters of Latino voters blame Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic for the virus’ disproportionate impact on their health and jobs. Nearly half of Latino households say they have had a family member or friend get sick from the new coronavirus, and half have lost jobs, the survey found.

While all of those factors tend to favor Biden among Latino voters, Biden risks having some Latino voters stay home by not actively reaching out to them. Especially because Biden so far has failed to energize younger Latino voters the way Bernie Sanders’ campaign did during the Democratic primaries, political organizers say.

“Joe Biden has not always been a champion for the issues that we care about,” said Abril Gallardo, communications director at Latinos United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA,.

The group endorsed Sanders in Arizona’s Democratic presidential preference election, or primary. Sanders is credited with running one of the most aggressive and successful grassroots campaigns to engage Latino voters, especially young voters. Many could be seen wearing “Tio Bernie” T-shirts at his rallies.

TIO BERNIE: Why Arizona’s young Latino voters are fired up about Bernie Sanders

As a result, Sanders won strong support from Latino voters in high-density Latino precincts in Iowa, Nevada, Massachusetts, California, Washington and Illinois, according to an analysis by UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

LUCHA has not endorsed a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, an indication of the group’s lukewarm support for Biden.

The group also has not forgotten that under the Obama/Biden administration, record numbers of immigrants were deported from the U.S., which resulted in the breaking up of many Latino mixed status immigrant families, Gallardo said.

Still, the group is determined to “get rid of Donald Trump” because the threat to Latino immigrant families for four more years “is even bigger,” she said.

The group also is encouraged that since winning the nomination, Biden has moved closer to some of the policies Sanders supported, she said.

Those include increasing the federal minimum hourly wage to $15, maintaining and expanding the Affordable Care Act, making permanent the DACA program for young undocumented people living in the United States, and proving a pathway to citizenship for their parents.

Here is what the Biden team is doing

There are signs the Biden campaign is building on outreach that started earlier this year.

In May, the Biden campaign’s hired Julie Chavez Rodriguez as a senior advisor to shore up outreach to Latino voters nationally. Chavez Rodriguez is the granddaughter of Latino civil rights leader and farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez. She also directed the presidential campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris of California, now Biden’s running mate.

“They have a superstar heading their national Latino effort,” said Andres Jimenez, a public policy analyst and former director of the University of California’s Policy Research Center. “And you better believe she knows how to organize communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada.”

The Biden campaign says it is working to reach out to Latino voters in other ways. The campaign believes Latinos are key to flipping Arizona. Trump narrowly carried Arizona in 2016 by 3.5 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

CHOOSING HARRIS: Biden’s VP pick isn’t the biggest issue for Latino activists

Larry Sandigo recently was hired to coordinate Latino outreach for the Biden’s campaign in Arizona.

Sandigo previously was director of outreach for Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and before that was managing attorney at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, where he represented children seeking asylum in the U.S.

The Biden campaign also has increased efforts to reach out to Latinos through digital and text messages. The campaign conducts Spanish-language phone banks every day, including weekends, said Geoff Burgan, the Biden campaign’s Arizona communications director.

“Joe Biden knows that the electoral path to victory runs through the Latino community, and that Arizona’s economic success relies on the success of the Latino community, too,” Burgan said an a written statement.

Several Latinos and Latinas with Arizona ties were tapped to help capture the Latino vote during the Democratic National Convention, among them: Phoenix native Kristin Urquiza, who blamed her father’s death from COVID-19 on Trump’s handling of the pandemic; Gilbert resident Steve Gomez, who shared fears his son born with a heart defect will lose health care protections if Trump is reelected; and Marisol Garcia, a Phoenix social studies teacher who led the Arizona roll call vote.

CLOSE RACE: After conventions, Trump and Biden are poised for Arizona slugfest

The Biden campaign is spending “significant resources” on TV and digital ads in English and Spanish to win over Latinos, Burgan said.

Urquiza is featured in ads by Nuestro Pac, a group dedicated to galvanizing Latino voters, and a similar ad posted on the Biden/Harris campaign’s YouTube channel.

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life,” Urquiza says in the Biden/Harris campaign ad.

Award-winning Phoenix chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, owner of the Barrio Cafe and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva restaurants, is featured in another new Biden/Harris ad. In it, she speaks in English and Spanish about her struggle to keep her restaurant open while battling a terminal illness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the business goes under, we all go with it. And for what, so Donald Trump can bail out million dollar companies? Y eso está afectando a todos,” Salcido Esparza says in the ad.

Other Spanish-language ads emphasize Biden’s understanding of immigration policy in contrast with Trump’s “awful immigration policy” and highlight Biden’s plan to raise the minimum wage and invest in small businesses, Burgan said.

The Biden campaign recently announced the creation of a Latino Leadership Council that includes several prominent Arizona Latinos, among them U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego, state House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez of Yuma, and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

Biden’s campaign recently unveiled an agenda aimed at helping “the Latino community to thrive,” Burgan said.

“Joe’s plan will invest in Latino’s economic mobility, work to end racial health disparities, expand access to high-quality education, combat hate crimes and gun violence and secure our value as a nation of immigrants,” Burgan said. “Those policies are a reflection of Joe’s values. And we’ve seen those values at play every day in this campaign.”

After slow start, Biden effort picking up

But others see indications that Biden still has catching up to do.

While delivering yard signs recently to Latino voters in a largely Latino neighborhood on the south side of Phoenix, political organizer Tony Valdovinos noticed he didn’t see any signs for Biden. The only yard signs he saw were signs for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren leftover from the Arizona Democratic primary in March.

The lack of signs shows how far behind the Biden campaign is in reaching out to Latino voters, he said.

“I believe they (the Biden campaign) are extremely late. I mean ballots drop here in October,” said Valdovinos, founder of La Machine, a political organization that focuses on getting out the vote for Latino candidates, mainly through grassroots campaigns. “I think people want a change, but I don’t think the campaign has done enough, or any, true mobilization efforts here in the city of Phoenix, at least.”

In recent years, grassroots groups campaigns have focused on door-to-door efforts aimed at getting more Latinos to vote, especially so-called “low-propensity voters,” voters who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered or don’t vote regularly.

But grassroots canvassing efforts have been largely scrapped this year amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

That means the Biden campaign will need to find other ways to connect with Latino voters, such as phone calls or text messages. Valdovinos said he hasn’t seen that happening either.

“I think that there’s an energy that can be really, really riled up, and there’s still time. But as a Latino myself, I don’t see that the Biden campaign is doing a good enough job out here because there’s just absolutely no mobilization or outreach that we’re seeing,” Valdovinos said. “I mean, we see more about Trump than we see about Biden on all of our social networks.”

Chuck Rocha, a Democratic political strategist who was a senior advisor to the Sanders campaign, said that after a slow start, he has seen the Biden campaign’s outreach to Latino voters pick up.

Rocha runs Nuestro PAC, which is producing ads aimed at getting Latinos out to vote for Biden and other Democratic candidates.

He said Biden’s campaign has borrowed from the Sanders playbook, including hiring more Latino senior staff and spending money on Spanish-language TV ads to connect with Latino voters.

Until recently, the Trump campaign had been outspending the Biden campaign on Spanish-language TV ads, Rocha said.

“So he started out slow, and he’s always under-performed with Latino voters,” Rocha said. “But here recently, he started following more of the Bernie Sanders model.”



Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.

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Creosote Partners

Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.