Posted on September 23, 2020

‘Despacito’ Isn’t Good Enough, Joe Biden. Latino Voters Are Slipping Away

Jaime Regalado, The Guardian, September 23, 2020

This election, Latinos are poised to be the largest group of non-white eligible voters in the United States, surpassing African Americans for the first time.

The number of Latinos registered and likely to vote has increased in large states such as California and Texas and crucial battleground states such as Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. Latino voters could well make the difference in deciding who becomes president.

The Republican party knows this. Donald Trump is actively courting Latino voters in Florida, Nevada, and even Minnesota – long a bastion of progressive politics but now in play. In contrast, Democrats are dangerously out to lunch. Joe Biden badly needs the support of Latinos in battleground contests, but he’s falling short. For Democrats, this could be disastrous.

From the start of his campaign, Biden has mostly ignored Latino voters. Already enjoying overwhelming African American support, he chose to focus his campaign efforts in battleground states on winning back white working-class voters who had supported Obama but voted for Trump in 2016. Latino communities seemed to be barely an afterthought.

The result is what pundits have taken to calling Biden’s “Latino problem.” This kind of enthusiasm gap can be extremely dangerous to a candidate. Hillary Clinton learned this the hard way in 2016, when significant numbers of disaffected or unmotivated voters simply didn’t vote. Alarm bells should be ringing at Democratic headquarters.

Democratic strategists have said they hope to keep the pro-Trump Latino vote under 30 percent. The Trump campaign, however, is aiming to obtain more than 40 percent of the Latino vote. So far, the Trump campaign seems to have done far more door-to-door politicking to influence Latino voters in key states.

Republicans are, of course, highly focused on conservative Cuban-American voters, particularly in Florida. It’s worth noting, however, that in recent years the long-dominant sway of conservative Cuban-Americans has been balanced in Florida by an influx of Puerto Ricans (primarily Democrats), Dominicans (also primarily Democrats), and naturalized South Americans (a mixture of Republicans and Democrats). The result is a more politically balanced Latino voting community in the Sunshine State. And in the US as a whole, Democrats have a 2-1 advantage over Republicans with registered Latino voters.

If anything, all of this just makes the Biden campaign’s behavior more perplexing, and inexcusable. With the exception of a recent appearance before a large Puerto Rican gathering in Florida – where Biden, in a slightly cringe-inducing attempt at relatability, played the Reggaeton song “Despacito” from his phone speaker – he’s been markedly absent in Latino communities.

During the primaries, Bernie Sanders enjoyed strong enthusiasm from Latino communities across the country. That’s because he sincerely paid attention to their concerns, and, from early on, directed much of his policy positions to addressing those concerns and needs in concrete ways. Most importantly, he showed up.

There’s an unfortunate and long history of politicians taking Latinos for granted. This time the stakes couldn’t be higher. Latinos have suffered from the coronavirus, from job and home loss, and from more than four years of being attacked as a group by Trump. And, as people disproportionately employed in industries on the front lines of Covid – hospitals and the healthcare industry, hospitality and service, agriculture – they have paid a particularly harsh price.

In other words, many Latinos might be enthusiastic at the prospect of a change from Trump. The Biden camp should do everything in its power to reach them.