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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 BidenKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video 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 ClintonShelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Cruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts MORE nor Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump and Obama: The odd couple who broke 'extended deterrence' for the Indo-Pacific The US is ripe for climate-friendly diets Obama says he once broke a classmate's nose for calling him a racial slur 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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 SandersKlain says Harris would not overrule parliamentarian on minimum wage increase Romney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers 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 CastroMore than 200 Obama officials sign letter supporting Biden's stimulus plan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: McEachin signals interest in Biden administration environment role | Haaland, eyed for Interior, stresses need for Native American representation | Haaland backers ask Udall to step aside in bid for Interior post Julian Castro announces relaunch of 'Adios Trump!' shirts to raise money for young immigrants 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 GrishamNew Mexico fines two megachurches K each over packed Christmas Eve services CHC urges Biden to choose Latinos to head Education Department, SBA: report Hispanic Caucus ramps up Cabinet pressure campaign 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.