Posted on March 3, 2020

The Latino Vote: The ‘Sleeping Giant’ Awakens

Jennifer Medina and Manny Fernandez, New York Times, March 3, 2020

Latino voters are poised to pick the Democratic nominee.

Long overlooked by the political establishment and dismissed as a sleeping giant of a demographic that didn’t vote as reliably as it could, millions of Latinos are expected to go to the polls on Tuesday in key states like Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and, most significantly, in Texas and California.

One analysis estimates that roughly one-third of the 643 delegates up for grabs in those two states will be determined by Latino voters.

Latinos are expected to make up the largest nonwhite ethnic voting bloc in 2020. Around the country, Latino Democrats are seeking the candidate who is best poised to take on President Trump, who many believe has placed a target on their own backs with his anti-immigrant rhetoric. These voters, far from a monolith but united on some key issues, will cast their ballots in Texas exactly seven months after the deadliest anti-Latino attack in modern American history took place in El Paso.


Polls have consistently shown that Latino voters in Texas and California list health care, economic inequality and immigration as their top issues. But the upcoming primaries are likely to show the splits and contradictions among the group. Interviews with dozens of Latino voters in El Paso and Los Angeles in recent days show that though Senator Bernie Sanders has built up a loyal base among Latinos, particularly younger and working-class voters, there are many lifelong Democrats who are still searching for a moderate alternative.


Democratic candidates have made more of an effort in recent weeks to court Latino voters, recognizing the decisive role they could play on Super Tuesday. No other candidate has put more effort into courting Latinos than Mr. Sanders, who has made it clear that he is counting on Latinos as a kind of firewall on Tuesday, nationally and particularly in California. So far, recent surveys seem to reflect that effort: Mr. Sanders has a significant lead among Latino voters in both Texas and California, ahead of his rivals by double digits.


Seeming to recognize the need for more of an effort targeting the Latino community, Joseph R. Biden Jr. held rallies in Texas leading up to Super Tuesday, and touted the endorsement of Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso. And on Saturday, four former Latino cabinet secretaries from the Clinton and Obama administrations published a letter in La Opinion, Los Angeles’ largest Spanish-language newspaper, urging their “Latino brothers and sisters” to vote for Mr. Biden, arguing that they “know Joe” and that he is “running to restore the American dream.”

In East Los Angeles Monday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren called Latinas “the unsung heroes of the American story,” in an lengthy speech about the janitor strikes of the 1990s, which amassed significantly more power for both unions and Latinos in Southern California.

Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has poured in a record-breaking amount of money into Spanish-language advertising in California and Texas. Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign has focused particularly on finding local endorsements from heavily Latino regions and featuring those leaders in “Ganamos Con Mike” advertisements.

Like Mr. Sanders’s campaign, Mr. Bloomberg has opened field offices in heavily Latino regions that have long been ignored in presidential elections, such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire in California. The campaign has also sent millions of campaign mailers to Hispanic voters in both states.


In some ways, California Latinos began their steady march to political power after Proposition 187, an anti-immigrant ballot initiative approved by voters in 1994. Dozens of current Latino elected officials in the state became engaged in activism during the protests against the measure, which was eventually struck down by the courts. And many in California believe that Texas Latinos are in the midst of a similar political transformation.


Perhaps no one exemplified the split of Latino Democratic voters in Texas heading into Super Tuesday better than the Balcazar family.

Last Wednesday, Miguel Balcazar, 66, a retired middle-school history teacher, walked slowly to an early voting site at a recreation center in the city’s Mission Valley neighborhood. {snip} He used a cane because of his knee problems as his wife, Lucinda, 65, a retired special-education teacher’s assistant, walked alongside him, just as slowly. They’ve been married for 41 years.

They were making their way cautiously to vote, but they were eager for political revolution. When they got back to their car wearing “I voted” stickers, both said they had supported Mr. Sanders.

“I feel strongly that he’s more radical than anything else,” Mr. Balcazar said of Mr. Sanders.

Their three sons were not with them, but their parents know exactly how they will vote. One of their sons plans on voting for Mr. Sanders, one is undecided and the other will vote for Mr. Trump, a sign of the Hispanic Republican support for the president that exists in a conservative state like Texas.

“I can’t change his mind,” Mr. Balcazar said, shaking his head and adding with a chuckle, “He says, ‘Dad, I’m going to put the sign up on top of your roof, because you can’t get up there anymore.’”