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Hispanic grass-roots groups warn 2020 Dems not to overlook them
Latino community grass-roots organizations are concerned that Democratic presidential candidates will overlook them, leading to a missed opportunity to mobilize what is expected to be the country's largest voting minority in 2020.
A new report by the Latino Vote Project, a coalition of progressive pro-immigration groups, argue that community organizers are best equipped to reach Latino constituencies through outreach efforts like phone calls or canvassing than traditional Democratic campaign consultants who may have little in common with Hispanic voters.
Hispanic voters are set to become the country's largest voting minority in 2020, with 32 million projected to vote in the presidential election, according to the report.
That could make them a critical constituency at a time when President Trump remains deeply unpopular among key segments of the Latino population.
"While some early and sustained investments in outreach and mobilization of Latino voters paid off for Democrats in 2018, late and insufficient investments made it so that the impact of the Latino vote did not reach its full potential in 2018, which is a caution for 2020," said Pili Tobar, deputy director of America's Voice, one of the groups behind the report.
The groups argue in the report that failure to tap grassroots organizations like Florida Immigrant Coalition or provide them with enough funding led to missed opportunities.
The Latino Vote Project's analysis found that without Hispanic voters in 2018 in four states - Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Florida - Republicans would have won "by landslide margins."
Those four states are likely to feature heavily in the 2020 presidential election.
The report notes that Democratic campaigns have traditionally relied on their existing infrastructure to target Latino voters including through translations of their English-language message, usually in a Mexican dialect, produced in-house by consultants.
Though campaigns steered some money to grass-roots organizations such as Poder in Action, the funding, which ranged from $450,000 to nearly $6 million per group, fell short of the targeted amount.
The failure to more fully use the grass-roots groups led to missed opportunities, according to the report.
"The Latino voting population has long been considered a sleeping giant in American politics. This report leaves no doubt that the giant has awoken. Latinos were key to wins in 2018, and success in 2020 hinges on proactively engaging this critical voting bloc," said Sergio Gonzales, deputy director of Immigration Hub, another of the groups behind the report.
Though Democrats took over the House in 2018, they suffered bad losses in some states including Florida, which elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP Senator Rick Scott by razor-thin margins.
Florida is a key state to winning presidential elections, with statewide races regularly coming down to the wire.
Rep. Darren Soto (D), the first Floridian of Puerto Rican descent elected to Congress, said hiring local experts is crucial to winning elections in the state.
"There's definitely a central message, but there are also individual appeals that have to happen for folks to turn out," said Soto.
To make the right appeal in the right language and tone, Soto said, it's crucial for campaigns to hire experts who understand the nuances between Hispanic audiences.
"Perhaps talking about liberty and freedom in Venezuela; hurricane relief [or status issues] in Puerto Rico; talking about combatting socialism for Colombians or Venezuelans," said Soto, adding that "talking about the free enterprise system and economic development" works with the Cuban community.
Soto, who said he hasn't endorsed anybody in the 2020 race, said that candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro were "three standouts who are making investments early in the right people."
Hispanic Democrats have generally also praised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for its role in wielding local talent to retake a House majority in 2018.
Soto said he was "proud" of Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and former DCCC former Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) "for engaging a lot of consultants and firms early."
But Chuck Rocha, president of campaign consulting firm Solidarity Strategies, said the hiring of culturally competent consultants by Democratic campaigns is still the exception and not the rule.
"The bulk of the money" is spent instead on super PACs and party committees, said Rocha, who was hired by Sanders to work both on Hispanic and general strategy and messaging.
The groups in the Latino Vote report urged Democratic candidates to use them, especially as Trump's rhetoric on immigration has made him unpopular among key Hispanic voters.
But worries remain that will end up not happening.
"Every presidential cycle the Latino vote, as always, is an afterthought and is the first thing to be cut out of most budgets," said Rocha.