Democrats fear Biden’s lagging Latino support could cost him

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Democrats are worried that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s lagging support among Latino voters could put him at risk of losing Florida, and even the White House, in November.

Recent polls out of Florida show the former vice president’s support among Latinos trailing Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, fueling concerns that he could lose a pivotal swing state.

“There’s really no good answer here if you’re the Biden campaign,” one Florida Democratic operative said. “At this stage in the campaign, he should not be getting these numbers against the most anti-Hispanic president in history.”

A handful of surveys released in the last week made clear Biden’s challenges in Florida, a swing state that Trump almost certainly needs to win. A Quinnipiac University poll of the state showed him trailing President Trump 43 percent  to 45 percent among Hispanic voters there.

Another survey from the Latino outreach firm Equis Research showed Biden leading Trump among Hispanic voters statewide at 53 percent to 37 percent. While that lead may seem sizable, it falls short of Clinton’s margins in 2016, when she carried 62 percent of the Latino vote in Florida to Trump’s 35 percent.

In Miami-Dade County, the most populous in Florida and one of the most reliable Democratic strongholds in statewide elections, a poll from Bendixen & Amandi International and the Miami Herald showed Biden and Trump virtually tied among Hispanic voters, with Biden garnering 46 percent to Trump’s 47 percent.

“The polls suggest he’s not doing enough,” said Fernand Amandi, whose firm conducted the poll of Miami-Dade voters. “That potentially could be offset by the very fact that, if Biden is able to overperform with white Anglo voters across the state, his erosion with Hispanics might not matter so much. But that’s a very risky bet the Biden campaign is making, if that’s the case.”

The Bendixen & Amandi International poll released this week showed Biden leading Trump 48 percent to 44 percent among non-Hispanic white voters in Miami-Dade County. Among independent voters there, he has an even bigger edge at 51 percent to 33 percent.

Biden has also made gains among seniors, another critical voter bloc in Florida and one that Trump will rely heavily on to hand him a win in November.

The former vice president is virtually guaranteed a win in Miami-Dade County, Amandi said. But if Trump is successful at narrowing Biden’s margin of victory there in November, it could potentially cost him Florida overall.

Biden’s problems aren’t limited to the Sunshine State. A poll conducted in August for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute found Biden ahead of Trump by 10 points among Latino voters in Texas. Clinton carried 61 percent of the Latino vote there to Trump’s 34 percent.

And a poll from Emerson College conducted after the Democratic and Republican national conventions last month found Trump performing nearly 10 points better among Latino voters nationally than he did in 2016, when he captured only about 28 percent of the vote. Biden still notched 60 percent support among Latinos in that poll.

Biden’s campaign has ramped up its Latino outreach efforts in recent months after a relatively late start due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve staffed up in Florida, bringing aboard a slew of Latino political operatives and organizers with experience in the state.

The campaign has also launched a $280 million advertising blitz this month, with a large bulk of that going to Latino outreach in Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Virginia, and is expanding its Spanish-language programming in North Carolina and Minnesota, as well.

But one veteran Democratic strategist in Florida complained that the investments are coming too late.

“For all the lip service they pay Florida and the Hispanic community, they never commit financially until late in the game,” the strategist said. “For some inexplicable reason the Democrats continue to fall in that inefficiency trap.”

Underscoring the urgency in Florida, the Biden campaign announced Wednesday he would travel to the state next week.

Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, is also making a play for Latino voters.

In a call with reporters earlier this month, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, predicted that the president would capture “north of 40 percent with the Hispanic vote nationally.” And the campaign has spent heavily on Spanish-language advertising in Florida in an effort to court Republican-leaning Cuban American voters.

“Donald Trump’s team realizes he has no shot of winning the Latino vote overall across America, but if he can perform well with Cubans in Miami and shave a few points off the non-Cuban vote too, that’s a recipe for him to win the election,” said Chuck Rocha, who led the Latino outreach program for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) 2020 presidential campaign.

But Trump’s political brand is seen as toxic among many Latinos. He campaigned in 2016 on a call to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has repeatedly come under fire for his administration’s immigration policies. His handling of the response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, could also hurt him with Florida voters with Puerto Rican roots. 

Christian Ulvert, a Miami-based Democratic consultant, noted that while Cuban Americans “came home to Republicans after the 2016 election,” Biden has amassed a critical edge among non-Cuban Hispanic voters who make up an increasing share of Florida’s electorate.

“It’s a full Rubik’s Cube in Florida. You can pick up votes across the state, but the bigger point here is that non-Cuban Hispanics in South Florida are there with the vice president,” he said.

Ulvert, who was recently named as a statewide strategic adviser for the Biden campaign, dismissed concerns about the recent polling among Latino voters.

“They’re up on Spanish radio, Spanish TV aggressively and they’re going to continue to do more,” he said. “That’s going to be reflected in the polls in the weeks getting closer to Election Day.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign Hillary Clinton Joe Biden

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