GOP eyes Youngkin performance with Latinos ahead of 2022

Photo illustration of Glenn Youngkin on a white/pink/red background with blue accents
Clara Longo de Freitas/Greg Nash

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin’s campaign is seeking to attract Latino and Hispanic voters ahead of the upcoming election, providing both a test case and a look ahead of the GOP’s strategy with the critical voting bloc ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. 

Youngkin has zeroed in on issues that Republicans say play well with Latino and Hispanic voters: education, the economy and combating crime.

“Latinos and Hispanics want good-paying jobs, safer communities and want to be involved in their children’s education,” Youngkin’s rapid response director, Christian Martinez, told The Hill. 

“Glenn is receiving strong support across various Latino and Hispanic communities because his Day One plan will make Virginia the best state to live, work and raise a family, making it easier for Latinos and Hispanics to achieve the American Dream,” he continued. 

The Latino and Hispanic voting bloc is crucial in many states, and Democrats acknowledge the extent to which they underperformed with those voters is partially to blame for their 2020 defeats in Texas and Florida, where Republicans flipped two House seats. National Republicans say the issues Youngkin is focusing on helped make gains for the party last year, and the GOP is looking to use the same messaging in 2022 — and eyeing how well it works in Virginia.

“Those are the three biggest issues that are not just going to affect Virginia’s gubernatorial race, but it’s what’s drawing Hispanics to the Republican Party, to our values, to our agenda,” said Republican National Committee communications director Danielle Alvarez.

National Republicans have also leaned heavily into attempting to tie Democratic candidates to the socialism that exists in some Central and South American countries like Venezuela and Cuba, pointing to progressives in the party like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other members of “the squad.”

“I feel like I am living in the same situation, it’s like deja vu,” said Astrid Gamez, a Northern Virginia resident who hails from Venezuela and volunteers for Youngkin’s campaign.

Gamez noted that hit her “very hard” when then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) visited Cuba in 2016 in an effort to build a trade relationship between the island nation and the commonwealth as U.S.-Cuban relations were thawing during the Obama administration. 

“We don’t need Cuba here,” Gamez said. “We don’t need the government of Cuba to be involved with us.” 

The GOP criticism of McAuliffe’s trip to the country matches with Republican criticism of former President Obama’s visit to Cuba that same year.

While McAuliffe does not hail from the progressive wing of the party, his Republican critics say the squad’s rhetoric on socialism gives them enough material to tie him to the more liberal wing of the party.

“Candidates like McAuliffe are going to have the same problems that candidates down in South Florida had,” said one GOP strategist. “Ultimately, you are on the hook for your party’s loudest messengers. And that goes on both sides.”

Latinos make up the 16th largest population in the commonwealth, according to the Virginia Latino Advisory Board’s 2019-2020 annual report. Additionally, the report found that the population is concentrated in Northern Virginia, the Tidewater region and the greater Richmond area. All three of these areas lean Democratic, but Republicans say that if they can peel off enough votes from swing constituencies like Latinos and Hispanics, the election could turn in their favor.

“When I’m looking at a state that’s traditionally blue and every vote is going to matter for Republicans to be able to flip the state, the Hispanic population can make a difference,” said a national Republican operative. “Any population can make a difference.”

An Emerson College conducted and released earlier this month found Youngkin leading McAuliffe 55 percent to 45 percent with Hispanic voters. But a Monmouth University poll released late last month showed McAuliffe had 53 percent support among Latinos, Asians and multiracial voters, while Youngkin was at 23 percent support.

Youngkin’s campaign has touted the endorsement of more than 100 members of Virginia’s Hispanic and Latino communities and has released Spanish language ads.

The Republican hosted a “Latinos for Youngkin Meet and Greet” over the weekend in Manassas, Va., which the campaign said drew a crowd of 150 people. 

“We need a change,” said Carmen Williams, a Peruvian American supporter of Youngkin who resides in Chesterfield County, Va. 

“Youngkin has done a very good job because he goes and reaches out to all of the communities, not just the Latino community, all of the communities,” she said. 

Williams worked on former President George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000 and served on former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) Latino Advisory Board. She told The Hill that Youngkin is appealing to her and other members of the community because of his policy and messaging on the economy, combating crime and education in the commonwealth. 

“There is always the perception that Democrats are the good people for the immigrants,” Williams said. 

Democrats are leaning into that immigration issue as a part of their broader message with Latino and Hispanic voters and taking a page out of McAuliffe’s playbook by tying Youngkin to former President Trump. 

“Latinos remember exactly what Donald Trump did to our communities,” said state Del. Alfonso Lopez (D), who is co-chair of McAuliffe’s Hispanic outreach effort Todos con Terry. “Accusing immigrants of bringing crime and calling us rapists, delaying the aide to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and his administration’s ugly cruelty regarding family separation policies.” 

“There’s one person running for governor in our race who supports our issues, and it’s Terry McAuliffe,” he said. “It’s definitely not Glenn Youngkin, who’s trying to be baby Trump.” 

Nationwide, however, Latino and Hispanic voters’ perceptions of the GOP and the former president are not as cut and dry. Trump handedly won Florida and Texas in last year’s presidential election. Republicans expanded their grip in Florida in state and federal races, while the party was able to fend off a Democratic onslaught up and down the ballot. Much of this, in part, was due to Latino turnout for Republicans in areas like South Florida and Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. 

But Latinos and Hispanics on both sides of the aisle say their constituencies are in no way monolithic and that Virginia is a different beast than Florida or Texas. 

McAuliffe’s campaign has also worked hard to appeal to Latino and Hispanic voters. His campaign has touted the endorsement of more than 50 Latino and Hispanic leaders and organizations in the state. He also has the backing of state Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D) and his party’s lieutenant gubernatorial nominee, state Del. Hala Ayala (D), who would be the first woman of color to serve in the position if elected in November. Ayala and Guzman are the first Latinas to service in the House of Delegates, with Guzman being the first immigrant Latina.

On top of that, the campaign is running Spanish-language radio ads, in partnership with the liberal group People for the American Way, in addition to running Spanish-language audio ads on Pandora. The Democratic National Committee is also working on McAuliffe’s behalf to appeal to Latino and Hispanic voters, announcing last week a five-figure buy on Spanish-language radio stations, in addition to Asian American and Pacific Islander print media. 

“I think we’ve learned a lot from the 2020 election,” said Taikein Cooper, chair of the Prince Edward County, Va., Democratic Party. “One of our shortcomings last year was messaging.” 

“And I think in Virginia this year, we’re on offense,” Cooper continued, citing what said was the success of the Democratic-controlled legislature and governor’s mansion in Virginia. 

“We’re also telling [voters] how we plan to improve their life moving forward: raising the minimum wage, better jobs, more jobs, and then of course investments in education that gives us more access to opportunities and jobs,” he said. 

But Republican enthusiasm across the board in the state is on the rise, meaning Democrats are under more pressure to turn out their vote with two weeks to go.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen on Nov. 2, but I think it is going to be something strong and I think for the first time Latinos are going to march for Republicans, specifically in this case for Youngkin,” Williams said.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barack Obama Donald Trump

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