Hispanic Dems aim to expand footprint beyond traditional Latino districts

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) campaign arm is putting its weight behind Hispanic candidates in districts that haven't historically been represented by Latinos, in an effort to expand the group's congressional footprint.

Bold PAC, the CHC's political wing, is endorsing a few candidates early this cycle, including in places like Oregon and Nebraska.

"We certainly aren't going to limit ourselves to any specific state or district or type of district, when there are strong folks who want to run elsewhere and serve," said Bold PAC Executive Director Victoria McGroary.

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In Oregon, Bold PAC earlier this month endorsed state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D), who's running in the Democratic primary for the state's 6th District, a new seat created after the 2020 census.

The new district will be Oregon's most Hispanic district by population, making it an attractive pickup target for the CHC.

"The percentage in my current district that I represent in the legislature is somewhere around 3 percent Latino. The district that I will represent in Congress [is] 20 percent Latino, and Latinos make up 13 percent of the Oregon population right now," Salinas told The Hill.

But Bold PAC also endorsed Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas (D), who despite running in Omaha, the most diverse part of his state, is running to face a Republican incumbent in a district that's been made slightly less competitive through redistricting.

"The important thing that I like to tell people about this district, Biden won this district by nearly 6 percent. That is the new district after redistricting," said Vargas.

The early, pre-primary endorsements are bets to expand the CHC's membership, which has plateaued over the past few election cycles after rapid expansion over the past decade.

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In addition to the Salinas and Vargas endorsements, Bold PAC has endorsed Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernández (D), who is running to fill retiring Democratic Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickHispanic Dems aim to expand footprint beyond traditional Latino districts Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout MORE's seat, and John Lira, a Marine veteran running against incumbent Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas).

While the Arizona seat has never been held by a CHC member and the Texas seat has been in Republican hands since 2014, they are both districts with large Hispanic populations where CHC members or CHC-endorsed non-Hispanic candidates are competitive year after year.

"While we're of course excited to support really strong candidates in places that historically we have, we're also excited to support them in places like Oregon," said McGroary.

Still, it's not the first time the CHC has looked beyond its traditional boundaries to endorse Hispanic candidates.

In 2020, Democratic Latinos competed in a wide array of districts, including in heavily-Republican Idaho, where activist and former congressional staffer Rudy Soto lost to Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) by nearly 30 percentage points.

In the same cycle, which proved difficult for Democrats in competitive races, Topeka Mayor Michelle de la Isla (D) lost by 5 percentage points to Rep. Jacob LaTurner (R-Kan.), and former Indiana state Rep. Christina Hale (D) lost by a similar margin to Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.).

While 2022 looks to be another difficult year for Democrats, the CHC is looking to solidify its position within the party, and that requires growing its numbers.

The CHC currently has 38 members, four of whom are in the Senate, two non-voting delegates and three who've announced their retirements at the end of this term.

While a healthy stable of Hispanic candidates has cropped up to contest traditionally-Latino seats in places like Texas and California, Bold PAC is investing in primaries to maximize its pickup potential, even if that means jumping into difficult general elections.

"Of these four candidates, three of them have primary opponents. And so we're obviously already early getting involved in supporting candidates that are in contested primaries," said McGroary.

And the glut of candidates in traditionally-Hispanic districts is also a challenge, as it all but guarantees up and coming Hispanic Democrats will cancel each other out in primaries, especially in California, Texas and Florida.

With some exceptions, Bold PAC has traditionally avoided taking sides between non-incumbent Hispanic candidates in primaries, so the group could be waiting on the sidelines until the general election in its most representative districts.

Still, Hispanic Democrats believe Hispanic voter turnout — particularly in newly-redistricted California — could make the difference between historic and manageable losses for House Democrats in 2022.

"There's no doubt the Latino vote will be the most important thing in who controls Congress in 2022 and because of work by Bold PAC, Nuestro PAC and others, we now have a wealth running in marginal seats across America," said Chuck Rocha, a political consultant who started Nuestro PAC, a Democratic super PAC focused on the Latino vote.

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But Democrats are facing a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma as low expectations, low engagement and low fundraising figures feed on each other, aggravating an already-difficult election cycle.

"We're still relying on white consultants to tell brown folks how to get other brown folks to vote for them," said Rocha, who is a Bold PAC contractor. "Nobody's giving because nobody's excited with what they're seeing, not with Latinos but the party across the board."

--Updated at 5:02 p.m.