Democrats across the country are looking to improve their standing with minority voters after the party underperformed with some groups in November’s general election.
The party lost a number of races up and down the ballot in Florida, Texas and California, where a sizable portion of voters from Asian and Latino communities voted for Republicans.
As Democrats busy themselves with the 2020 postmortem to understand how they can better their strategy heading into the midterm elections, party operatives say more time needs to be spent in individual communities with an emphasis on direct outreach to persuadable and hard-to-reach voters.
“Not one single voting bloc in this country is monolithic, especially the more consequential voting blocs, and that includes voters of color,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, who played a role in the effort to galvanize the Black vote in Georgia in last month’s Senate runoffs. “We’ve got to get back to the basics when it comes to critical, fast-growing constituencies in this country.”
In California, Republicans flipped four congressional seats in the 21st, 25th, 39th and 48th districts. All four of the districts were flipped after Democrats won them in the 2018 “blue wave.” Yet President BidenJoe BidenWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE defeated former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE at the top of the ticket in all four districts.
Democrats say down-ballot Republicans were able to appeal to voters in these districts by emphasizing issues that mattered in their individual communities.
“It is really important to be investing and getting your message out in specific outlets, and there are so many different communities and languages spoken and nuances,” said Tyler Law, a California-based Democratic strategist and former communications director for Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting Paris Hilton to visit Capitol Hill to advocate for bill on children's treatment centers MORE (D-Calif.).
First-term Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) employed this strategy in her bid to unseat former Rep. Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (D-Calif.) in the 39th District. Kim, who is Korean American, targeted Asian and Pacific Islander communities by putting up advertisements on non-English-language television and radio, as well as launching phone banking drives in Korean and Chinese, as well as English.
“For the folks that emigrated, they receive their news in [their] language, and so that means you have a lot of different outlets that you need to speak with and focus on,” Law said.
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), who along with Kim and Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Md.) is one of the first Korean American women to serve in Congress, was able to appeal to Asian and other minority communities in her district through a focus on businesses often owned by minority voters.
Steel was an outspoken opponent of California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomNewsom expands California drought emergency statewide Don't break California's recall by 'fixing' it Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space MORE’s (D) stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, arguing they harmed small businesses. Additionally, Steel and her fellow Republican candidates took a fiscally conservative approach to talking about the economy.
“There can be a backlash within the AAPI and Hispanic communities when there is attacking corporations and talking about raising taxes without describing exactly why,” Law said. “People see them as employers.”
The national GOP, as well as many down-ballot Republicans, employed a strategy of incorporating what it said was the threat of socialism from Democratic candidates, working to trigger older voters who emigrated from countries once associated with communism.
“I say this loosely and I want to be clear about that, but they were sort of the equivalent to Cuban Americans in Florida, meaning they had escaped a communist regime and they were very, very conservative,” said veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, referring to California’s Vietnamese American voters.
Republicans were even more successful in Florida, with its large Latino population, winning races up and down the ballot. Trump won the state’s 29 electoral votes, while flipping five state House seats, a state Senate seat and two congressional seats that were flipped in 2018.
Democrats say Republicans tied coronavirus lockdowns imposed by Democratic officials to the idea of socialism, which drove voters in Cuban American communities toward Trump and the GOP.
"They took that abstract concept [of socialism] and buzzwords, and all of the sudden put a face and feeling to it," said Christian Ulvert, a Florida-based Democratic consultant.
Reps. Carlos Giménez (R-Fla.) and Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), both Cuban Americans representing districts in Miami-Dade County, also incorporated a special focus on the economy and businesses amid the pandemic.
"[Immigrant communities with] stories of planting seeds and seeing something grow is where you saw some real trends reverse for Democrats," Ulvert said. "There are homegrown areas with families saying 'I'm going to plant my seeds here, watch a business grow and turn it over to my family' all of the sudden many of them are imperilled or washed away. That drove them to Republicans."
In Texas, the Latino vote also played a critical role while demonstrating the group is in no way a monolith. Democrats saw opportunities in Texas to win up and down the ballot partly as a result of the growing minority populations, including the Latino population.
But Trump won the state by roughly 6 points and improved his standing among Latino Republicans, particularly with those in southern Texas. Additionally, Republicans fended off a number of Democratic challenges in House districts and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (R-Texas) cruised to reelection.
The Texas Democratic Party attributed its losses in 2020 to its inability to successfully perform widespread voter outreach and registration. The party said this had an impact on its ability to reach Latino voters.
“Our analysis shows that Latino voters, despite some worrying trends, did not abandon Democrats,” a postmortem report from the party released on Monday said.
“Latino Republicans turned out at a higher rate than Latino Democrats. Although the Rio Grande Valley supported President Trump more than in prior cycles, the pattern did not apply to the majority of Latino voters in Texas,” the report continued, adding that the party needed to improve how it connects with Latino Texans in and out of the Rio Grande Valley.
Strategists agree that in addition to not treating minority voters as a monolith, Democrats should not assume they are automatically a part of their liberal base.
“I think too many people, when they picture in their head the moderate voter, [they] only think of white voters, and predominately white males,” Law said. “That actually does us a very big disservice.”
Law and Seawright said that Democrats should focus on quality-of-life issues, like health care and the economy, which helped propel them to victory in 2018.
“We have to maximize on what we know works,” Seawright said. “Quality of life issues — that works for us.”
“When I say get back to the basics, that means talking to them, not talking at them,” he said. “Asking before we act, so not just showing up and saying, ‘This is important to you,’ but asking them, ‘What is important to you?’ ”