Biden still has a Hispanic voter problem, but does it matter?

Biden still has a Hispanic voter problem, but does it matter?
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Against the backdrop of a health pandemic that is on course to take more than 200,000  American lives and protests for racial justice, the presidential election seems to be taking a sharp turn in Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he is 'seriously' considering a capital gains tax cut Why Joe Biden is in trouble Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE’s direction.

Like many Democrats, I live in perpetual fear of another 2016 result and will not allow myself to get comfortable with Biden’s now 9-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight average. But there are several exciting recent milestones. Biden passed the 50 percent rubicon in three recent live interview polls. That’s a feat that neither Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe Juan Williams: Older voters won't forgive Trump for COVID MORE nor Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPandemic preparedness and response under a different president Wall Street Journal: Trump stretched law with executive orders, like Obama Trump's contempt for advice and consent MORE accomplished, let alone five months out from the election. 

Biden is outperforming Clinton in more than a dozen key swing states. He is not only competitive, but ahead in recent polling in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as well as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Virginia. He is running on average 6 points ahead of Clinton in those states.

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The former vice president also is sitting on a historic gender gap. He leads President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE by 26 points amongst women in the latest Quinnipiac poll at 59 percent to Trump’s 33 percent. Clinton only won women by 12 points in 2016. And Biden is sapping Trump’s support with white, non-college educated voters, which has slipped 10 points since spring, from 31 percent to 21 percent.

When it comes to black Americans, Biden garners 82 percent support, down 6 percent from the last Quinnipiac survey. This isn’t yet a worrying trendline, but it is below both Obama’s and Clinton’s performance with black Americans.  

What is worrying, though, is Biden’s margins with Hispanic voters. He is currently at 57 percent support to Trump’s 31 percent, and has lost 9 points since the last survey. Clinton won 66 percent of Hispanic voters and Obama took 67 percent.

If Biden is doing so well, why does he struggle with Hispanic voters? 

This isn’t a new problem. Biden lost Hispanics in the primary to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Trump's personality is as much a problem as his performance Sierra Club endorses Biden for president  MORE (I-Vt.), who vastly outspent Biden with this group. Hispanics will be the largest non-white voting bloc in November, with 32 million eligible to cast a ballot. More than two-thirds of Hispanic voters live in five states, including critical battlegrounds of Florida and Arizona. 

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According to Hispanic voter organizers, this pivotal group is ready to be compelled to go out and vote, but find themselves beset by lack of motivation. Marisa Franco, a co-founder of activist network Mijente, said, “It feels like every four years there’s this clutching of the pearls and head-scratching about why the hell Latinos don’t vote. I don’t think it’s an absence of interest. It’s a hunger for options.”

In the primary, Julian CastroJulian CastroThe Memo: Trump team pounces on Biden gaffes Goya fury underscores Biden need to attract Latino support Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE and Sanders were the only Democrats who amassed any real enthusiasm among Hispanics. And Republicans are out-organizing Democrats. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson argues that “the Trump Hispanic effort is much more active,” flat out, and Trump — pre COVID-19 pandemic — was showing up in important areas for Hispanic support, such as holding a rally in the home of America’s largest Hispanic evangelical congregation, King Jesus International Ministry megachurch outside of Miami. 

Hispanic voters are a more complex profile than other traditionally left-leaning groups. They tend to be more conservative and religious, in many cases. Their attitudes towards immigration also vary, based on their own experiences, and voting decisions are often misunderstood as being exclusively immigration-focused. Biden has not been able to crack this code. 

What’s more, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on Hispanic outreach is serious. They would greatly benefit from in-person, substantive interactions with Biden and top Hispanic surrogates that haven’t been able to happen.

To this point, Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, who worked for Sanders, recently called out Biden for his initial reluctance to distance himself from the controversial immigration policies of the early Obama administration: “You have to spend money, go have a conversation, and tell them why your policies are different from Barack Obama’s.” He added that the Biden campaign hasn’t been spending money on the mail, digital or TV ads in Spanish. Along the same lines, Jess Morales Rocketto, former digital organization director for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, remarked: “I do not think that the Biden campaign thinks that Latinos are part of their path to victory. If you don't think Latinos are part of your path to victory, then you do what they’re doing.”

There are two things that spring to mind that Biden could do to immediately boost his standing with Hispanics. 

According to a Latino Decisions poll, 72 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to turn out in November if Biden chooses a Latina as his running mate, and 67 percent said this would inspire them to support Biden. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamCuomo to serve as National Association of Governors chair Biden: I'll have a running mate picked next week The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Angie Craig says we need an equitable distribution plan for an eventual vaccine that reaches all communities; Moderna vaccine enters phase 3 trial in US today MORE is said to be in final contention for the vice presidential slot and arguably would make a substantive impact on the Hispanic vote come November. 

Courting the Latina vote is the other important action the Biden campaign should take. While they historically have voted at lower rates than women of other ethnic groups, their potential as a mobilizing force is great. They also tend to lean more Democratic. Co-founder and president of EquisLabs, Stephanie Valencia, argues that “the role that Latinas play in our communities and our families, they’re our matriarchs, they’re the glue that holds our families and our communities together.” She adds, “We believe that they [Latinas] will not just turn out to vote themselves, but that they will organize and engage others around them to go and vote as well.”

There is still plenty of time to make up ground with this critical voting bloc, and while Biden’s numbers with other demographics indicate that he has a very good shot at winning the White House with a lower level of Hispanic support, why settle for less? Democrats offer Hispanic voters better policies and leadership. Time for Joe to make the case. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.