Hispanics are split in DNC race

Hispanics are split in DNC race
© Greg Nash

Latino Democrats are splitting their vote for Democratic National Committee chair, with 10 days to go until the election.

While former Labor Secretary Tom Perez is a leading contender for the race, many liberal Latinos are backing his main rival, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

“Obviously, as a Latina I’m interested in creating greater opportunities of representation for all people of color,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the New York City Council speaker who is backing Ellison.

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“I do promote Latino candidates, but there should never be the assumption that one automatically supports a Latino candidate,” she added.

Perez has received top-level endorsements, including from former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE — an indication of support from former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTop nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report Prosecutors face legal challenges over obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases Biden makes early gains eroding Trump's environmental legacy MORE.

But Ellison has attracted a large swath of the progressive wing of the party. And some major players are switching sides.

Hilda Solis, Perez’s predecessor as secretary of Labor and a Clinton supporter in last year's campaign, supports Ellison and says he's the right person to bring the progressive and centrist wings of the party together.

“Keith will help to bridge that because I’ve seen him do it,” said Solis.

Still, many Hispanic Clinton allies have stuck to Perez, who himself was a top Clinton surrogate.

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“Tom Perez is a proven and qualified progressive leader who has fought for the rights of communities of color, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and young people throughout his entire career, and we know he is the right person to unify and lead the Democratic Party,” said Cristobal J. Alex, president of the Latino Victory Fund.

The race's hallmark has been inclusiveness, a central theme raised by all candidates, not just Perez and Ellison.

“We’ve got to expand the party at every corner. Whether it’s Latinos (and I have a little experience at that), whether it’s folks who used to be Democrats and are now Republicans or voted for Jill Stein and we’ve got to bring home,” Perez said in an interview with The American Prospect Monday.

But Ellison has garnered endorsements from prominent Hispanics, including Reps. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada Democrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire MORE (D-Ill.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), suggesting no single candidate has the inside track with the group.

Dolores Huerta, a prominent labor activist and civil rights icon who was a staunch Clinton surrogate, has also endorsed Ellison.

Ellison's early entry into the race may have also helped his cause, because he received immediate endorsements before any other big names had jumped in.

“Jumping early is indicative of how much he wants it, which I think is a very, very favorable thing,” said Mark-Viverito.

“Him coming early really is a reflection to me of how much thought he had given it.”

Ellison's pledge to focus on grassroots growth has also struck a nerve with many Hispanics, who feel the community suffers from chronic political underrepresentation. While Hispanics make up 17 percent of the national population, only 7 percent of members of Congress are Hispanic.

“I’m basing [my support] on my experience, and I know Keith as a candidate, as an elected official who has had to raise money,” said Mark-Viverito.

Despite the similarities in Perez and Ellison's proposals, the 2016 election is still present in Democrats' minds.

Asked if there is an establishment candidate in the race, Solis replied, “all I can say is that I really do think that the party has to think very hard in terms of the direction that we go in.”

Despite the drubbing, the 2016 campaign energized Latinos, yielding some of the few promising storylines of the election for Democrats. Wins in Nevada and Colorado, plus increased participation in California and relatively good showings in Arizona and Texas generated grassroots organizations the party is keen to bank on in future elections.

And the growth of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, from 27 to 31 members — now 30 because of former Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Bottom line Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all MORE's (D-Calif.) appointment as state attorney general — spurred Latino political activism.

“I'm proud to have the support of so many Latino leaders across the country,” said Ellison. “I'm an organizer at my very core, and Latinos are some of the best organizers we have. They've organized for better working conditions, higher wages, fighting climate change, immigration reform, and were a key presence at the women's marches across the country.”

But the main uniting factor for Democrats remains opposition to President Trump, with his executive actions on immigration taking center stage for Latinos. 

“We've already seen what a Trump administration intends to do — to sow fear in communities by conducting raids and separating families — and our party won't stand for that,” said Ellison.