Energized by universal healthcare and free college tuition, enthusiastic young Latinos favored ‘Tio Bernie’ – and Biden has work to do to convince this crucial voting bloc
Thomas Kennedy remembers spending all day on the phone keeping up with excited new voters wanting to know how “el caucus” worked, ahead of the first Democratic primary contest in Iowa in February.
The most noticeable callers were highly motivated young mothers, part of a huge wave of Hispanic voters, activists and volunteers inspired to get involved in politics for the first time by passion for their candidate.
That candidate was Bernie Sanders. Kennedy, a progressive activist and former Sanders operative, has switched to support Joe Biden, who will next week become the Democratic nominee for president, but worries whether Biden can win over valuable young progressives underwhelmed by his moderate politics.
“Bernie talked directly to people’s material needs,” said Kennedy. The clear populist promises of universal healthcare and cancelling student debt in particular caught fire, Kennedy said.
And expansive outreach and slogans like ‘¡Nuestro Futuro, Nuestra Lucha!’ — Our Future, Our Struggle – clicked with the cohort who nicknamed Sanders “Tío Bernie” (Uncle Bernie).
For the first time, Latinos are poised to be the nation’s largest non-white ethnic voting bloc in the 2020 election, with a large young cohort among the estimated 32 million eligible to vote – a record.
Democrats know that their support is crucial to winning the White House – and potentially both chambers of Congress – but concerns remain over whether Biden can not only persuade young progressives who were energized by Sanders, but mobilize Latinos in decisive numbers at a moment when the coronavirus and economic crises are disproportionately hurting communities of color.
“The Biden campaign must reach young people,” María Teresa Kumar, the president of Voto Latino, a political organization focused on voter engagement. “Because if you’re not reaching young people, you are not reaching the Latino community.”
A survey published last month by Voto Latino and pollster Latino Decisions found that only 60% of Latino voters in six battleground states say they definitely plan to vote, and fewer than half say they are “extremely motivated and enthusiastic” about doing so.
Though the poll was conducted before many of Trump’s recent comments on immigration and the coronavirus, it found enthusiasm for Biden waning, particularly among young Latinos. His support among Latino voters slipped to 60% from 67% in February. By comparison, 73% of Latino voters supported Hillary Clinton at this point in 2016.
“When I worked for Bernie, it wasn’t about electing one person. It was about a movement,” Belén Sisa, a former Sanders press secretary, said. “I don’t feel that from Joe Biden.”
Since the primary, Biden has appeared to move to the left on key policies important to young Latinos. He has embraced a $2tn climate plan, though not the Green New Deal, and pledged an ambitious overhaul of Trump’s immigration orders, and an economic agenda centered on racial equality.
“We’ve moved the needle a bit,” Sisa said.
But, like many progressives, she is frustrated by Biden’s reluctance to embrace Medicare for All, the universal healthcare policy that she says would reduce health disparities for Latinos, who are among the country’s most uninsured. And he has refused to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the agency carrying out hardline Trump anti-immigration policies at the US-Mexico border and in raids in US cities.
Sisa also said Sanders’ campaign invested more, much earlier, to cultivate Latino voters.
Chuck Rocha, the architect of Sanders’ ambitious Latino outreach strategy, is now applying some of the tactics used to win Hispanics voters in primary contests from Iowa to California, to help Biden beat Trump in November.
After Biden won the primary, Rocha founded Nuestro Pac, a Democratic Super Pac that will target Latino voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
“Part of our work is spreading the message that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden agree 75% to 80% of the time,” Rocha said.
The Biden campaign recently made other high-profile hires including Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of civil rights hero Cesar Chavez, and Matt Barreto, the founder of Latino Decisions, a top Democratic polling firm. The campaign has also hired Republican strategist Ana Navarro.
Biden’s platform aimed at Hispanic voters – “Todos con Biden” – focuses on healthcare, education and reversing Trump’s anti-immigration agenda. Biden has promised to reinstate the Daca program of rights and protections for undocumented young people, and send a bill to Congress “on day one” that would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
He has also pledged a 100-day moratorium on deportations.
During the primary campaign, Biden was repeatedly confronted by immigration activists who demanded contrition for the more than 3 million deportations carried out while he was vice-president.
“You should vote for Trump,” Biden told one critic. Weeks later, he was obliged to apologize for the “pain” caused by the policies.
Earlier this week, prominent Latino politicians, activists and organizations applauded the selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, represents California, which has the largest population of Hispanic voters in the nation.
Domingo Garcia, president of Lulac, the oldest Hispanic organization in the US, said: “She [Harris] knows what Dreamers are facing, the impact Covid-19 is having on black and brown communities, and the contributions immigrants are making to the economy of the United States.”
— mike casca (@cascamike) August 16, 2020
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