Laura Barrón-López and Elena Schneider, Politico, May 14, 2020
Joe Biden won the primary in spite of, not because of, his efforts to turn out Latinos. Two months later, Hispanic leaders are waiting on his campaign to deliver on its promises to do more.
In interviews, more than 20 Latino political operatives, lawmakers, and activists said they don’t see a game plan from Biden to marshal Hispanic voters effectively in the fall. They said there’s little evidence the campaign is devoting the resources or hiring the staff that task will require — all the more crucial during a pandemic, when reaching and mobilizing Latino voters through in-person canvassing is nearly impossible.
The campaign has refused to release statistics on the diversity of its staff — details many of his former opponents shared early in the primary — and a majority of a dozen recent high-level hires were white. And Biden has neither spoken to nor been formally endorsed by one of the highest-profile Latino politicians in the country, Julián Castro, since he won.
Biden had a tense relationship with many Latino groups during the primary, stemming largely from his connection to the Obama administration’s aggressive deportation policy. The former vice president recently acknowledged that that policy was misguided and he has moved toward progressives on immigration.
But the campaign’s disconnect with Latinos appears to be based more on lack of execution than on policy. Cash-strapped coming out of the primary and hemmed in by the coronavirus, its efforts to reach Latino voters have been lackluster, critics in the community say. The fact that Latinos weren’t central to his primary strategy has meant Biden’s campaign has more ground to make up.
“I do not think that the Biden campaign thinks that Latinos are part of their path to victory,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, the former digital organizing director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “If you don’t think Latinos are part of your path to victory, then you do what they’re doing.”
Latinos are on track to be the largest nonwhite voting bloc in November, with 32 million expected to be eligible to vote. Two-thirds of those eligible Latino voters live in just five states, including the potential battlegrounds of Florida, Arizona, and, to a lesser extent, Texas, according to Pew Research. If Biden has any hope of turning out young voters who flocked to his chief rival Bernie Sanders, he’ll need Latinos — 61 percent of the population is under 35.
The campaign has made some moves lately that indicate it’s paying attention. Biden held a town hall last week with the League of United Latin American Citizens decrying conditions at meatpacking plants. “Todos Con Biden,” his Latino organizing arm, holds virtual events roughly twice a month. And Dr. Jill Biden has started hosting weekly calls with a rotating cast of four to five members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Biden’s campaign has demonstrated “little or no activity” in the Hispanic community. “The objective isn’t to win the Hispanic vote — [Biden will] do that — but to keep it above 65 percent and to maximize Latino turnout,” Richardson, who is Latino, said. “If we go to 58 or 57 percent with Hispanics, we’re in trouble.”
“The Trump Hispanic effort,” Richardson added, “is much more active.”
Meanwhile, a recent Newsweek report that the campaign was planning $55 million program targeting Hispanic men angered some Democrats, who said any such initiative should not focus on one gender. The campaign denied the report but said it is planning to roll out a robust outreach program.
Biden’s campaign has picked up its communication with Latino leaders and organizations to a degree, including youth-led activist groups like United We Dream and Make the Road Action. But many representatives said they’re waiting for him to commit to their preferred policies and provide details of a comprehensive plan to engage Latinos of different backgrounds.
Some Democrats worry that Latino and African American men are trending away from the party. One Democratic pollster cited 2018 results in Florida and Georgia, where the share of black and Latino voters who backed Democratic candidates dropped compared with 2016. Others noted that nonwhite voter participation was down in relative terms during the 2020 primaries compared to 2016.