Latinos key in Democratic battle for California delegates

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Less than two weeks before California’s Democratic primary, Latino voters are poised to play a key role in the contest.

California’s Latino population is the largest in the nation. The state has close to 7 million Hispanic eligible voters — about half of the state’s Hispanic residents. Los Angeles alone has nearly 10 percent of the nation’s Latino population.

Hillary Clinton appears to have the edge over Bernie Sanders with California’s Hispanic voters.

Polls show 49 percent of Latinos prefer the former secretary of State, compared to 42 percent who back the senator from Vermont.

But Sanders is spending $1.5 million on a television ad running in Los Angeles and several other cities in the state, and is telling his supporters the primary race isn’t over yet.

“You have the power to choose a new direction for the Democratic Party, to break the back of a corrupt system of campaign finance that keeps a rigged economy in place,” Sanders says in the 30-second spot. “California, it’s a long way to Washington, but you can send them a message they can’t ignore.”

Clinton has a big delegate lead over Sanders and is unlikely to lose the nomination unless superdelegates, the hundreds of party officials with votes at the convention, switch their loyalties from her.

Sanders, however, argues that a big win in California could swing momentum to his side. And Clinton’s campaign is digging in, knowing that a loss in the Golden State would hurt perceptions about her campaign.

Both candidates have added several campaign stops in the state, with Sanders holding a rally Wednesday in the southern California city of Cathedral City, where 59 percent of its residents are Latino, while Clinton will be further north in Salinas, nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the World” and where 75 percent of the population is Latino. 

The Clinton campaign is airing a 30-second spot in Spanish targeting Latino voters that will run in Los Angeles and other cities starting on Friday, and mentions an endorsement by civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.

“I am a diehard Clinton supporter. I have wanted her to win since 2008,” says Kathryn Ramírez, a teacher and school board member. “She’s very qualified and she really cares about moving us forward,” says Ramírez, adding that her “entire family” is comprised of Clinton supporters.

“The only person who will be disappointed when Clinton wins will be my daughter Emily because she wants to be the country’s first female president.”

While older Latinos show higher approvals for Clinton, younger Latinos tend to favor Sanders.

“I am definitely a Sanders supporter,” says Tomás Mier, a first-time voter and recent high school graduate heading to the University of Southern California in the fall. “I like his position on immigration. He has a plan for immigration reform,” says Mier, the son of Mexican immigrants. “And he’s talking about raising the minimum wage. I feel like he’s rooting for us (young people). I don’t have any experience voting before, but I feel that this election has been like no other election before. We are very enthusiastic about voting.” 

Mier adds, however, that he’s not one of the “Bernie or Bust” supporters, and would back Clinton should she ultimately win the nomination. 

“This is about making sure that Donald Trump doesn’t become president,” he says. “We can’t have someone like him. I fear that my family will be separated if he becomes president.

“I’m still hoping for Bernie Sanders and I’m voting for him,” says Berniz House, a native of Peru who works for an arts council in northern California. “Sanders has talked a lot about inequality and about helping the community,” adding that nonetheless she would support a Clinton nomination if that turns out to be the case. “Both (Sanders and Clinton) would be good for the Latino community.”

Phil Tabera, a professor of Mexican American Studies at San Jose State University, says he is still undecided. “I’m leaning toward Sanders because I sympathize with what he’s trying to do, but I’m not sure it would work, especially if there is a Republican House and Senate. I do understand things have to change, but Hillary Clinton knows the system. I’m real torn between the two,” adding that he will likely make up his mind when he attends upcoming rallies for both candidates. “I’ll have a chance to then hear them out beyond the sound bites.”  

The presidential race isn’t the only contest grabbing headlines in the state.

If polls turn out to be correct, voters are poised to make history with an all-Democratic race for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, leads the pack of 34 contenders in the June 7 primary, followed by ten-term Democratic congresswoman Loretta Sánchez, potentially the first Latina senator in history. 

Others from both parties — including the three leading Republicans — trail behind. 

California voters in 2010 approved an initiative that allows only the top two primary vote-getters to advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, and that could mean no Republican contender for the first time in state history. Additionally, Republican turnout is expected to be lower now that Donald Trump is running unopposed as the presumptive GOP nominee.  

Patricia Guadalupe is a contributing writer for LATINO magazine.

Tags Barbara Boxer Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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