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 TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away 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-CortezThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Ocasio-Cortez, Bush criticize lack of diversity among negotiators on latest infrastructure deal Fetterman slams Sinema over infrastructure: 'Democrats need to vote like Democrats' 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 SandersDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Briahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' 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 TrumpIvanka TrumpKushner launching investment firm in move away from politics: report Washington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Jill Biden takes starring role at difficult Olympics 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 BidenFirst lady leaves Walter Reed after foot procedure Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News 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 RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE won in 2012.

Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote 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.”