Hispanic Dems ‘disappointed’ with party’s Latino outreach

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Congressional Hispanic Democrats are questioning the party’s approach to campaigning in Latino communities, as Republicans led by Donald Trump exceed expectations with the demographic.

{mosads}The poor results reveal a rift between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Democratic Party leadership over how to approach Latino voters.

Although Trump has alienated many Latino voters with his strong rhetoric on immigration and comments about Hispanics, his performance in polls has been roughly on par with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. A recent Bloomberg Politics average of polls found Hillary Clinton leads Trump by 38 points among Hispanics. Obama beat Romney by 44.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) chairman of the CHC’s fundraising arm, Bold PAC, said many of the consultants hired by party leadership fail to fully understand the cultural nuances of the communities they’re trying to approach.

“I am disappointed to this day with the Democratic Party, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and I would like to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign hire more consultants who are of the communities,” Cárdenas told The Hill Thursday.

The clash of interests has permeated the CHC itself, where one member, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) is also in the party leadership as House Democratic Caucus Chairman.

The California Senate race between two Democrats, CHC member Rep. Loretta Sánchez and State Attorney General Kamala Harris, has pitted leadership against the CHC. President Obama, Vice President Biden and the state party have endorsed Harris, while all members of the CHC — except for one — have endorsed Sánchez.

“The state party’s decision to endorse Loretta’s opponent in this instance is just despicable,” said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), adding, “I feel the same way about Xavier Becerra’s reluctance to join us in endorsing Loretta.”

Becerra, a relentless campaigner for the Democratic cause up and down-ballot in Latino-heavy districts, can’t run for re-election as Democratic Caucus chairman and will step down in January.

“There’s no Latino in Congress who has given more to Latinos running for Congress and campaigned in more districts across the country to bring out the Latino vote than Chairman Becerra,” said Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for Becerra.

Becerra could not be reached directly for comment.

Becerra’s House leadership options are limited, as both Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Whip Steny Hoyer (Maryland) are expected to remain in their positions. Becerra was rumored to be on the short list to be Clinton’s running mate, and in 2008 turned down a cabinet-level job as U.S. Trade Representative.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s been straddling here for a very long time, and unwilling to take a position, and this is one instance where the first Latino chair of the Democratic Caucus should be endorsing who could be the first Latina from his home state in the United States Senate,” said Vela.

“I don’t know what’s going on in the mind of Xavier that he hasn’t endorsed her,” said Cárdenas. “But what I can tell you is whatever’s going on there it might be a little personal because as far as I can tell Loretta is in good standing as a Democrat.”

Some CHC members are also irked at the national campaign’s reluctance to target Texas. An August vote to assign Bold PAC funds to target Trump’s finance chairman in the state detonated conflict in the usually cohesive caucus. 

Texan members of the caucus petitioned BOLD PAC to assign $50,000 to campaign against Finance Chairman Dennis Nixon, who prospered providing banking services to Hispanics in the state before joining Trump’s campaign.

Becerra opposed the move because the money wouldn’t be directly used to grow the caucus ranks, but ultimately lost the vote 13-4.

Vela said Thursday that Texas would be difficult to win “even with a fully funded effort,” but worth pursuing given the Clinton campaign’s massive war chest and the state’s large Latino population.

“It’s just very frustrating when the campaigns that have all the money, which in this case happens to be the national campaign, doesn’t do anything to help promote the vote,” said Vela.

Texas has 10.4 million Hispanics, the second largest Latino population in the country after California, but only 46 percent of them are currently eligible to vote, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The national campaign is instead targeting smaller Latino populations that could be the tipping point in tightly contested swing states like Iowa.

Despite the tension, CHC members are campaigning aggressively, both to expand the caucus’s ranks and as part of the national campaign.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), the CHC whip and a close ally of Cárdenas, said diversification of the DCCC staff under Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) has helped national Democratic campaigns better appeal to minority voters.

“Culturally relevant and sensitive outreach towards the Latino community has been largely on the congressional side, where I’ve seen some amazing radio advertising, amazing digital advertising, both English and Spanish language that’s aimed at the Latino community,” said Gallego.

Lujan, appointed as the first Hispanic chairman of the DCCC in 2015, is the former chairman of BOLD PAC.

“They’re doing more this cycle than I’ve ever seen them do in Spanish, and I give all the credit to Ben Ray Lujan,” said Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, a Latino-owned political consulting firm.

“I still think that we are woefully shy of allowing and giving opportunities to minority consultants, especially Hispanics,” said Cárdenas. “You have billions of dollars being handed over to businesses who are doing really good important work to get those messages out, and yet Hispanics are participating at less than one percent of that activity, yet we make up 53 million people in this country.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Xavier Becerra
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