There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition

There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition
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In just two weeks, Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Senators raise concerns over Facebook's civil rights audit Biden's marijuana plan is out of step with public opinion MORE has jumped to the head of the democratic pack of 2020 presidential hopefuls. The senator from California surrounded her announcement in African American symbolism by declaring she was running for president of the United States from Howard University on the Martin Luther King Holiday, evoking for older voters the memories of New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president in 1972.

As the news of her candidacy broke, political pundits were quick to highlight the importance of black voters for any presidential candidate and especially in a primary race that will no doubt be hotly contested among an expected onslaught of democratic candidates.


As of today, she joins a small group of very diverse candidates, including the first Latino in the pack to announced he is running for president, Julian Castro from Texas. But this group is going to become whiter and whiter over the next year as more of the expected candidates declare their candidacy. 

Before the hoopla of the 2020 election gets out of hand, let us reflect on the lessons learned from the 2018 midterm elections. To the surprise of many, the much-maligned Latino voter came out in droves in 2018. According to Ben Ray Lujan, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Latino voter participation in the 2018 election increased a whopping 174 percent compared to the previous midterm election in 2014. (For the record, African American participation was up 157 percent and Pacific Islanders increased by 218 percent). 

The Democratic party said they invested an “unprecedented” $30 Million engaging Latino and other minority voters last year which resulted in the gain of 40 House seats in the 116th Congress.

“Latino Voters played a pivotal role in taking back the House,” Lujan said in November, 2018. A study released a month later by UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative which further analyzed the midterm election results in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and Texas found that “the push to turn out Latino voters is showing success, although an ongoing effort for a sustained period of time will be needed before Latinos turn out at the same rate as white voters.”

The lesson to be learned, however, comes in their second conclusion of the UCLA report: “There is a good case to be made that had Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson NASA, SpaceX and the private-public partnership that caused the flight of the Crew Dragon Lobbying world MORE, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams done a better job with Latino voters, they would have won. Put differently, Republicans in all three races owed their election to a significant extent to Latino voters.” 

All of these democratic candidates failed to invest time or money in their Latino communities, instead relying heavily on their base. Nelson, the incumbent and an older white moderate Democrat lost his Florida Senate race by 10,000 votes while Gilliam, a young and outspoken black progressive, lost his race for governor by 32,000 votes in a state with over 2.5 million Hispanic registered voters.

In Georgia, where only 5 percent of all registered voters are Hispanic, the UCLA study suggests that Abrams perhaps could have overcome her 54,000 vote deficit had she done more to attract the over 250,000 Latino voters in her state, the vast majority of which live in just three counties near Atlanta.

As we look ahead to the 2020 elections, courting Latino voters as part of a broader coalition will be the key to success for any candidate. While we are yet to punch at our weight, I would argue that Latino voters are the most important voters to get. Why? Because they are real swing voters. Parties and candidates have done such a terrible job reaching out to them in the past that today most Latinos can’t tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

The impact Latino voters will have in the Democratic presidential primaries is further heightened by the fact that California, the state with the largest number of eligible Latino voters, has moved its presidential primary to March 3, joining Texas for the first time in holding their primary on Super Tuesday. 

Latino voters are not a homogeneous political voting bloc. The truth is that the growing Latino population supports both conservative and progressive ideas and the fastest growing segment of Latino voters are independents. 

Candidates like Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and especially Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump defends Roger Stone move: He was target of 'Witch Hunt' Democrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Pharma pricing is a problem, but antitrust isn't the (only) solution MORE (D-Mass.) — and the 20 other white men and women expected to declare their candidacy this year — cannot take Latino voters for granted. They will have to spend time and money telling Latino voters who they are and what they stand for. 

“Latinos showed up to the polls because we talked to them, we listened to them, our candidates connected with their personal stories, we knocked on their doors and we reached out to them online,” said Lujan in 2018. That’s exactly what all these presidential hopefuls need to start doing now in order to win in 2020.

Chiqui Cartagena is the author of “Latino Boom, Catch the Biggest Demographic Wave Since the Baby Boom” and former senior vice president of the Political & Advocacy Group at Univision Communications, Inc.