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Latino groups endorse Biden early in show of unity

Latino groups endorse Biden early in show of unity
© Greg Nash

Major progressive Latino groups are bulking up their political operations and rallying behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive examples of media's sycophancy for Biden on inauguration week Drastic measures for drastic times — caregiver need mobile health apps Boycott sham impeachment MORE faster than they did with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Texas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing MORE.

The surge in Hispanic support is mainly driven by opposition to President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE's policies and rhetoric — as well as four years of changes in how the Democratic Party approaches Hispanic voters.

The endorsements come as Biden is looking to unite the moderate and progressive factions of the Democratic Party after Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBoycott sham impeachment Sunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Sanders: Senate may use budget reconciliation to pass Biden agenda MORE (I-Vt.) left the race earlier this month.

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Latinos are expected to be a critical voting segment in November with many Hispanics opposed to the Trump administration's policies, including on immigration.

"The Trump presidency represents a clear and present danger," said María Teresa Kumar, the president and CEO of Voto Latino, an organization dedicated to registering Hispanic voters.

Voto Latino last week endorsed Biden, breaking with the organization's former policy of not endorsing presidential candidates.

"We have never done a presidential endorsement because we deeply believe that should be in the realm of political parties," said Kumar.

It was a decision driven by what the organization called the Trump administration's attacks against the Hispanic community.

"This is our first presidential endorsement in our history. This is not one we take lightly. It comes at a time when the Trump administration continues to attack the Latinx community," Voto Latino said in a tweet last week.

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And Democratic Party leaders are touting the importance of reaching Latino voters, based in large part on the Hispanic electorate's role in netting Democrats a House majority in 2018.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE Friday headlined a conference call to kick off Latinos con Biden, or Latinos with Biden, a digital campaign spearheaded by Latino Victory Fund, a progressive Hispanic advocacy group that endorsed Biden in February.

Chuck Rocha, the consultant who implemented Sanders's successful Latino vote strategy, said he sees a tangible difference in how party leaders are approaching Hispanic voters, compared to 2016.

"They're saying all the right things. They used to not even say it. Now all that's left is hiring [culturally competent] consultants," said Rocha.

The shift in rhetoric has led to tangible gains, including the Voto Latino endorsement.

Kumar said her organization sent Biden a two-page document of policy positions necessary for an endorsement, and was pleasantly surprised to receive back a 22-page document that expanded on her requests.

"They were really thoughtful," said Kumar.

But the general election campaign is still in its early stages, and what a campaign amid coronavirus shutdowns will look like is anyone's guess.

One thing that's clear is Latino organizations are expecting to be treated — and funded — like core components of the Democratic coalition.

"None of these endorsements matter if nobody puts money behind these organizations," said Rocha.

With presidential campaigns sucking up donor money and fundraising upended by the coronavirus lockdown, there are doubts about how to raise cash to implement campaign strategies.

"That's the outstanding question. You see Latino-led organizations wanting to do more. Whether the donors will react is the giant question," said Orson Aguilar, executive director of UnidosUS Action Fund, the political wing of UnidosUS, the country's largest Hispanic civil rights organization.

UnidosUS Action Fund endorsed Clinton in 2016, and its officials are in the process of deciding when to roll out endorsements for 2020. Anything but a Biden endorsement would be a huge surprise.

"There is concern that Latino organizations could get overlooked," said Aguilar.

"That's why organizations are coalescing and endorsing early, so folks can wave the flag and say, 'we're here and if you invest in us we can help you get the Latino vote,' " he added.

That could strike up tension between the relative newcomers and establishment organizations who have in the past acted as funders and kingmakers.

"The challenge with the Hillary campaign was that they did wholesale politics: They would basically fund the PACs, and then expect the PACs to give money to smaller groups," said Kumar.

"If 2016 taught us anything, it's that wholesale politics do not work," she added.

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The 2016 and 2018 election cycles proved the power of local engagement, a strategy that Sanders and Rocha used to great effect in the early stages of the 2020 primaries

For instance, Kumar said that for Voto Latino, 2018 was an opportunity to create a positive track record for the organization, which has already registered more than 100,000 people in the 2020 cycle, and is aiming for half a million.

That's prompted Voto Latino's expansion on the political side — as opposed to focusing exclusively on registration — as well as Latino Victory's Latinos con Biden initiative and Rocha's foray into the PAC world through Nuestro PAC.

But Trump continues to be a powerful motivator for progressive Hispanics to expand their political clout.

"The motivation is Donald Trump is the most racist president against Latinos we've ever seen in the history of our country," said Rocha.