House Democrats target Latino vote in Texas

House Democrats target Latino vote in Texas
© Greg Nash

House Democrats aiming to flip six House seats in Texas in 2020 have commissioned a study meant to help the party increase the Latino vote.

In a memo obtained by The Hill, consulting firm Latino Decisions outlined a strategy to pursue Hispanic voters who currently don't vote, based on five focus groups conducted in Dallas and Houston.

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In the memo, Latino Decisions officials wrote, "there is significant potential to engage eligible, but non-voting Latinos and change the shape of the electorate. Early qualitative research shows that almost all of these non-voters can be turned into voters."

Hispanic voters nationwide have historically registered at lower rates than those of other demographic groups, leading to lower participation numbers.

In Texas, that trend was partially reversed in the 2018 midterms, when Hispanic participation numbers approached presidential election levels; in some heavily Hispanic counties, participation rose nearly 300 percent over the 2014 midterms.

“Many of us have long been working on turning Texas blue, and I’ve never been more hopeful than I am for 2020, and the Latino community is the tide that will make it happen,” said Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarRep. Veronica Escobar elected to represent freshman class in House leadership Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees House Democrats target Latino vote in Texas MORE (D-Texas).

“The DCCC’s presence on the ground helps bolster the important work of a number of grassroots organizations and leaders who have long been engaging with the Latino community," added Escobar, referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

According to Latino Decisions, there are 403,000 Hispanic residents who are able to vote but are not registered in the eight target districts, and 283,000 registered voters who did not vote in 2018.

The DCCC joined in September with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm, Bold PAC, and the top Democratic leadership super PAC, House Majority PAC (HMP), to commission the study. 

The effort marks a new approach to Texas Latinos by Democrats, spurred by unexpected success in the 2018 cycle and fewer pickup opportunities elsewhere after those midterms.

“If you want to understand what really matters to folks whose support you want to earn, first you have to listen. That’s why the DCCC is joining together with partner organizations and making early strategic investments that will help us better engage Latino communities across the country to inspire them to get involved and vote next year,” said DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi accuses Trump of 'bribery' in Ukraine dealings DCCC adds senior staffers after summer departures DCCC raises more than M in October MORE (D-Ill.).

While Democratic pickups in the state in 2018 were reliant on record Hispanic participation and a backlash to anti-immigrant rhetoric, lower-profile candidates hurt participation in some competitive districts, according to the memo.

"Congressional candidate quality matters. For these voters who are not politically engaged, if voters don’t like either candidate or don’t know enough about either candidate, their default response is to simply continue to not vote," reads the memo.

And Latino Decisions found Hispanic voters are responsive to "kitchen table" issues — particularly health care — but are also receptive to messages on President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE's rhetoric, immigration policy and anti-immigrant violence like the August El Paso shooting, where a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others.

“All roads to keeping our majority in the House and winning back the White House will run through the Latino community. We must give Latinos a reason to vote for us. We can only do that by communicating early and often," said Rep. Sylvia García (D-Texas), who along with Escobar is one of the first two Latinas to represent Texas in the House.

Texas Latinos have remained elusive for Democrats in general elections for a variety of reasons, not least of which has been low spending by a party structure that saw better pickup opportunities elsewhere.

According to the memo, many nonparticipating Latinos also felt "races in Texas would continue to be noncompetitive, but learning how close these districts were in 2018 made them visibly
sit up and take notice."

Local Democrats and grassroots activists have long clamored for long-term party commitments to Texas Latino voters, arguing the potential gains outweigh the costs.

One sticking point has been the expense of relatively long-term investments to take a voter from not registered to fully participating, in contrast to other regions and demographics where a larger proportion of voters register organically.

“Bold PAC was proud to join the DCCC and House Majority PAC to conduct important research to engage the Latino community over a year before the 2020 election,” said Bold PAC Chairman Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). “The early research we conducted together will set us on a clear path to winning the trust and support of the growing Latino community."