Goya fury underscores Biden need to attract Latino support

The boycott against Goya Foods, the iconic food brand found in most Latino households, has brought a new meaning to the phrase “kitchen table issues.”

Goya CEO Robert Unanue, whose great grandfather founded the company as a Spanish immigrant in 1936, praised President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE last Thursday at a White House event, saying the U.S. is “truly blessed” to have a leader like him. 

The comments immediately sparked a backlash among Latino leaders, including former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' 'Squad' member Rashida Tlaib faces strong primary challenger MORE (D-N.Y.), who called for a boycott of the brand.

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Latino social media influencers began sharing their recipes for seasoning blends the company sells and posted images with alternative brands for products like canned beans. 

Unanue is a longtime supporter of Republican candidates, donating $3,000 to the Republican National Committee in August 2019, and another $3,000 the same month through WinRed, a Republican fundraising platform.

Unanue has also financially supported the presidential campaigns of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2016 and Sen. Mitt Romeny (R-Utah) in 2012. 

But his televised enthusiastic support for Trump struck more of a nerve with millions of Latinos.

“Goya is such an entrenched part of our culture and because there's so much rampant hate for Donald Trump it was just like spitting in somebody's space when the CEO [of Goya] shows up at the White House and says good things about a man who's still putting babies and mothers in cages at the border,” said Chuck Rocha, a former adviser for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Trump Spanish-language ad equates progressives, socialists Biden's tax plan may not add up MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

Unanue has doubled-down on his statements and said he is not apologizing, while the Trump White House has leaned in to the controversy.

In recent days, both President Trump and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpDeutsche Bank launches investigation into longtime banker of Trump, Kushner Watchdog group accuses Stephen Miller of violating Hatch Act with Biden comments Ivanka and Kushner earned at least M in outside income last year: financial disclosures MORE have posted social media images of themselves with Goya products.

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The Trump campaign has sought to portray the issue as an effort by the “radical left” to redefine Latino culture. They have teased former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump campaign emails supporters encouraging mask-wearing: 'We have nothing to lose' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, tweeting that “not even croquetas would be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”

Polls show Biden well ahead of Trump in national polls and a number of swing states with less than four months to go before Election Day.

Latino voters are a key demographic in the race in states across the country, especially as Biden considers the effort to expand the map by going after Texas, where Democrats also have their eyes on a number of House seats.

Arizona is another key state, which no Democratic presidential candidate has won since 1996, that the Biden campaign is now making a play for.

Polls have suggested some vulnerability for Biden with Latino voters.

In a July survey by Latino Decisions — a polling group that specializes in gauging Latino voters — 46 percent of Latinos nationwide said they are extremely motivated and enthusiastic about the November election, and 59 percent said they are certain they will vote.

The same survey found 60 percent of Latinos said they'd vote for Biden over Trump. An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll from late June found that 59 percent of Latino voters back Biden over Trump. 

Despite his promised immigration policies and his talk of Mexico sending drugs, crime and “rapists” across the border in his 2015 campaign launch speech, Trump won 28 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, according to exit polls.

That’s on par with the 27 percent that GOP presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia MORE won in 2012.

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump vows challenge to Nevada bill expanding mail-in voting Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Juan Williams: The Trump Show grows tired MORE won 66 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, less than the 71 percent that former President Obama won in 2012, with Biden as his running mate. 

Sanders outperformed Biden among Latino voters in Texas and Arizona, another big swing state with a significant Latino population.

Rocha, who is publishing a book titled “Tio Bernie” detailing the Latino outreach program he pioneered for Sanders, founded Nuestro PAC to rally Latinos behind Biden after Sanders dropped from the race. He said the Goya boycott is an opportunity to engage Latinos. 

“This kind of issue will excite a Latino because people know a lot more about Goya than they know about Joe Biden,” he said. 

Stephanie Valencia, a former Obama campaign adviser and co-founder of EquisLabs, said the Biden campaign could benefit from identifying its candidate’s persona and politics to Latinos.

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If elected, Biden would be the first Catholic president since John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE, who used that connection to court Latinos in 1960.

“There has been a story to be told about Joe Biden that hasn’t been told and communicated very strongly to the Latino community,” Valencia said

“I think that is an area that is kind of underinvested in right now,” she said.

Valencia said the biggest issue Biden faces in November is not whether he will lose voters to Trump but if they will turn out at all. 

“My concern is that Latino support for Trump isn't going to increase over the next four months, it's just whether or not they will stay home,” she said.

She said that Latino voters already face systematic voter suppression, and that they could face more obstacles as states adjust their mail-in voting laws to reduce large crowds in polling locations. 

“And we haven't done the work to educate and engage Latino voters and get them excited about Joe Biden,” she said. “It's going to be too late to do that in October, 100 percent too late to do that.”

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Progressive outside organizers, such as the Latino activist network Mijente and Nuestro PAC, tend to center their messaging on unseating Trump, not necessarily supporting Biden. 

Mijente, which previously endorsed Sanders, is pouring resources into courting Latino voters in North Carolina as part of their “Fuera Trump” campaign. 

Arianna Genis, Mijente’s North Carolina state director, said Latinos she’s spoken to are preoccupied with making it through the pandemic, which has affected them at disproportionate rates. 

The Goya boycott helped bring the politics closer to home and to their pantries.  

“I think those are great opportunities for people to get upset about something, want to do something about it, and then it's an opportunity to connect it to politics,” she said. “It feels more personal, more relatable than I think politics can.”