Hispanic Democrats see Sanders’s Latino strategy as road map for Biden

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Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are encouraging former Vice President Joe Biden to take a page from Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) successful Latino outreach strategy

The calls come as Biden has emerged as the leading front-runner of the Democratic Party after decisive wins in the South and the Midwest that have been powered by African Americans, moderates and older voters.

Sanders, however, has shown strong support from Latino voters, as reflected in his wins in the Western states of California and Nevada.

Latinos have credited the support for Sanders to a strategy that has featured comprehensive outreach efforts as well as the appointment of Hispanics to top campaign positions – one that they now hope Biden will emulate.

“Whoever wants to be the next president of the United States, and the next, and the next, and the next, needs to run a campaign that takes into account all of the Americans who have the right to vote and have the right to know what a candidate stands for,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), a Biden supporter who runs the CHC’s campaign arm.

“Bernie Sanders’s campaign was the first campaign at the national level that actually elevated a culturally competent Latino or Latina – in this case a Latino – to be at the head table, helping them make those good decisions for the campaign. And as a result, Bernie Sanders in some states dominated the results when it came to who Latinos supported,” said Cárdenas, referring to Chuck Rocha, a top Sanders adviser.

Rocha, a campaign consultant who’s worked with multiple CHC members, steered the Sanders campaign toward early investment in Latino voters in key states, delivering early wins that initially propelled the Vermont senator to front-runner status.

“Congressman Cárdenas has always demanded our community to have a seat at the table. And that’s why I am so proud to run our operation. I have been running the meeting and not just sitting at the table,” Rocha told The Hill.

Rocha’s strategy, based on longstanding demands from Hispanic leaders, implies moving early to push a culturally competent message to Hispanic voters, many of whom have never been contacted by campaigns.

“We need a well-funded and culturally competent Latino turnout operation to defeat Donald Trump in November. We proved that this work must start well before the normal GOTV (get out the vote) operations of the Democratic Party,” said Rocha. “Latinos will no longer accept being window dressing in these campaigns, and should be in charge of actually running the campaigns.” 

CHC members, both moderate Biden supporters like Cárdenas and progressive Sanders surrogates like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) agree.

“Historically, the Democratic Party and Democratic Party institutions have struggled dramatically and have been very inadequate with Latino outreach and really generating Latino policies and Vice President Biden, he’s relying on a lot of traditional institutions in the party, and he has won them over, to his credit,” said Ocasio-Cortez.

“However, if we are relying on those traditional institutions … it means that you’re kind of continuing the inertia of the strengths and also the deficits, and one of those deficits is the Democratic Party’s Latino outreach,” she added.

Cárdenas, who maintains close contact with the Biden camp, said he’s confident the former vice president’s team is already working to implement a Latino voter strategy similar to Sanders’s.

Biden has allocated new resources to Latino outreach in Florida, Arizona and Illinois, states where the campaign believes the former vice president will be competitive among Latinos, according to a source with knowledge of internal deliberations.

Cárdenas credited Sanders for being the first major presidential candidate to enact the engagement strategy that Hispanic leaders have demanded of the party for years.

“If you don’t communicate with a certain group of voters and you leave them as an afterthought, and then you only invest a small amount of attention toward those voters right before election day, you’re gonna get a low percentage turnout, and you’re gonna get a low percentage of those folks believing in you or your message,” said Cárdenas.

“And what I just said is what every presidential campaign has done before this presidential cycle. And the only presidential campaign who’s actually done that attending to the Latino voter was Bernie Sanders,” he added.

Biden has not been entirely absent in the Latino space.

His top Latino adviser, Cristóbal Alex, was recruited from Latino Victory, a well-respected progressive political advocacy group that’s championed Hispanic representation.

Latino Victory endorsed Biden in February.

The former vice president also won Latino voters in Virginia and South Carolina, denying Sanders an avenue to close the gap in those Southern states.

And Biden has structural advantages in Florida, which heads to the polls Tuesday, given that the former vice president has the support of key Latino segments in a state with the country’s third-largest Hispanic population.

“Biden’s crushing Latino votes in Florida. Look no further than recent polls that came out this morning. Yeah, but of course we’re a more unique situation. We have literally five different Hispanic ethnicities that could swing an election in Florida,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), the state’s first federal legislator of Puerto Rican origin.

“Biden was good in Virginia in some of the East Coast states and the Hispanic turnout. Sanders has great support among Southwestern Hispanics. We’ve seen that throughout, and Biden is trending upward in a big way on the East Coast,” added Soto, who endorsed Biden after Super Tuesday.

And Cárdenas added that Biden lacked the funding early on in the primary to make a play for Hispanics while courting the African American and white suburban voters that propelled him to his current first place in the current Democratic race.

“The Biden campaign didn’t have anywhere near the amount of resources that the Sanders campaign had, but I personally called the Biden campaign immediately after Super Tuesday, and asked and explained to them what they already know and what they need to hear, which is they need to respect and invest in communicating with the Latino voters across America,” said Cárdenas.

“I have no reason to believe that the Biden campaign will not invest in communicating with the Latino community, the Latino voters across America,” added Cárdenas.

— Updated at 7:30 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Darren Soto Donald Trump Joe Biden

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