Democrats target Florida Hispanics in 2020

Democrats are looking to make inroads with Florida Latinos as President Trump prepares to launch an aggressive effort to court the state’s fastest-growing voter bloc.

Eager to avoid a repeat of 2018, when two Trump allies edged out Democrats in the state’s Senate and gubernatorial contests, Democrats are wading into Florida’s Hispanic communities earlier this time around, mobilizing dozens of organizers in the Sunshine State and fine tuning Spanish-language outreach.

{mosads}And on Friday, more than half a dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ (NALEO) annual conference in Miami, where they pitched themselves to Latino leaders in voter-heavy South Florida.

“For us, we have to seize opportunities like the one that several of our candidates did today,” said Christian Ulvert, a Democratic consultant who ran Spanish-language media for Andrew Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

“Part of it is, as a Democratic party, we can’t just be there in the fall every two years,” he added. “We need to be there everyday, 365 days a year.”

Speaking to Latino leaders and voters in Miami, eight presidential hopefuls weighed in broadly on immigration reform and the Trump administration’s proposal to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census, a controversial move that many Democrats have argued would lead to inaccurate population counts by deterring certain people, especially many Latinos, from responding.

But the conversations also went far beyond the issue of immigration, touching on health care, the economy and gun violence.

“It is policies like not just immigration reform,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “It is making sure that we’ve got an increase in the minimum wage. It is making sure that we’ve got childcare available to people, that we have paid family leave, that we do something to make people understand that we need workers right now in our fields and in our hospitals and starting small businesses.”

Among the other candidates at the conference on Friday: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

For Democrats, the outreach efforts in Florida come with a sense of urgency.

Even as Democrats scored a slew of wins nationally in the 2108 midterms, Florida’s longtime senator and elder statesman, Bill Nelson, was ousted by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the state’s former Republican governor. And Gillum, the Democratic former mayor of Tallahassee, ultimately fell to Republican Ron DeSantis in the gubernatorial race.

While both Nelson and Gillum won more than half of the Latino vote – about 54 percent each, according to exit polls – their margins fell short of other past candidates running statewide in Florida. Hillary Clinton, for instance, won about 62 percent of Florida’s Latino vote in 2016. Former President Barack Obama won 60 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Scott took 45 percent of the Latino vote, outperforming Trump among those core voters by 10 points. DeSantis nearly tied Scott’s margin, winning 44 percent.

For Democrats, losses in Florida in 2018 prompted months of soul searching, as party leaders sought to identify where they had fallen short with Hispanic voters.

“We’re well aware that we lacked in Hispanic outreach in 2018 and we’re looking to improve that heavily,” Steve Simeonidis, the chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, said. “We’re well aware of the gains we need to make, which is why we’re starting early.”

Heading into 2020, Trump is poised to make Florida a central part of his campaign.

He launched his reelection bid at a rally in Orlando on Tuesday, and his campaign is planning to use the state as a testing ground for a national Hispanic outreach program. Vice President Pence is set to travel to Miami on Tuesday to launch that initiative, dubbed “Latinos for Trump.”

Republicans acknowledge that Trump is unlikely to win the Hispanic vote overall in Florida, a state he won in 2016 by little more than 1 point. But in a state where roughly one in six voters is Latino, even a marginal swing in Trump’s direction could have major repercussions for Democrats.

“The Trump campaign is not making any secret of what their strategy is – making Florida the end-all be-all for them,” Ulvert, the former Gillum adviser, said. “And they’re also making very clear that Hispanic voters are their path.”

{mossecondads}Last month, the Florida Democratic Party launched a Spanish-language radio show in Miami, with hopes of eventually expanding the program into Latino-heavy Orlando and Tampa.

At the same time, the Democratic National Committee has already deployed 90 members of its newly minted Organizing Corps to Florida, including more than 20 people in Miami-Dade County alone, many of whom are bilingual.

And next week, 20 of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates will flock to Miami for the first of the party’s primary debates.

The NALEO conference on Friday gave several Democratic presidential hopefuls not only a chance to introduce themselves to Latino voters and leaders, Ulvert said, but to scoop up valuable airtime on Spanish-language media, a particularly valuable tool in a state where television appearances often resonate more than small town hall events.

Among the top-tier Democratic candidates absent from the NALEO forum were Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Vice President Joe Biden, the primary contest’s early frontrunner, all of whom were scheduled to travel to South Carolina for House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C) “World Famous Fish Fry” on Friday.

Also absent from the stage on Friday: Trump.

“For those that didn’t show up today, it’s a missed opportunity,” Ulvert said. “Not just to speak to a respected organization, but a missed opportunity to get the earned media that comes with it.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Nelson Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Eric Swalwell Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Hickenlooper Pete Buttigieg Ron DeSantis

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