vision 2020

If Biden Wants to Win in the Sunbelt, He’ll Need Latinos

If Joe Biden has any thought of making a play for Texas, he needs to step up his game with Latino voters. Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

It’s been discussed for some time by political analysts that Democrats have two geographical routes to a victory over Donald Trump in November: through the heartland or through the Sun Belt. The former strategy involves taking back those traditionally Democratic Rust Belt states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) that shockingly (if narrowly) went for Trump in 2016. The fact that all three of these apostate jurisdictions elected Democratic governors in 2018 makes some optimistic about that avenue of opportunity. The latter strategy means a focus on red states that appear to be trending blue (Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) or where Democrats have been highly competitive not that long ago (Florida and perhaps North Carolina).

While much of the media, focused retroactively on 2016, assume it’s all about the heartland, the Biden campaign itself seems to be wary of fighting the last war (which in part is what may have led HRC’s campaign astray) and open to an emphasis on different battlegrounds, as the Daily Beast reports:

Among the 16 states included in the campaign’s calculus for success with 270 electoral votes, officials cited what they described as three new battlegrounds, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, as some of the biggest points of possible expansion in 2020.

“I’m bullish about Arizona,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in an hour-long debrief. “Arizona is a battleground state for the first time.” 

That’s not surprising, since Biden leads Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling averages for Arizona by 4.4 percent. But in choosing strategic targets, Team Biden must keep in mind that some of them depend on doing very well in a demographic group where Uncle Joe’s appeal is less than firmly established: Latinos.

For all his undoubted appeal to African-Americans, Biden pretty regularly lost Latinos to Bernie Sanders (in Arizona, California, Nevada, Illinois, and Texas, though not among the atypical Latinos of Florida). One reason that happened is that Latinos as a group skew young: 61 percent of the population is under 35. Since young voters are another important Biden target for November, young Latinos may be doubly important. But Biden lost under-30 Latinos by at least 3 to 1 in Arizona, 6 to 1 in Texas, and 14 to 1 in California. He’s got some work to do despite the benefit he will derive from the Democratic leanings of the demographic and the enthusiasm many feel for defeating the nativist Trump.

Politico reports, however, a great deal of disgruntlement with Biden and his campaign among Latino activists, some based on identification of Biden with the deportation policies of the Obama administration (from which Biden has distanced himself) but more on the absence of any notable outreach effort:

Cash-strapped coming out of the primary and hemmed in by the coronavirus, its efforts to reach Latino voters have been lackluster, critics in the community say. The fact that Latinos weren’t central to his primary strategy has meant Biden’s campaign has more ground to make up.

“I do not think that the Biden campaign thinks that Latinos are part of their path to victory,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, the former digital organizing director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “If you don’t think Latinos are part of your path to victory, then you do what they’re doing.”

Biden may even be losing ground as November approaches, as a survey last month indicated, per the Los Angeles Times:

A new poll suggests that, in the shadow of the public-health emergency, Latino support for Biden is softening and their interest in the election is waning.

The survey released [April 24] by Latino Decisions, a Democratic firm, found that 59 percent of Latino registered voters supported Biden or were leaning toward him, while 22 percent favored President Trump — a lead for Biden that is narrower than the 67 to 22 percent margin he scored in a mid-February survey by the same firm.

Nor are enthusiasm indicators very positive:

While most Latino voters are opposed to Trump and infuriated by his anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, the new poll provides a warning that it may not translate into the high turnout Democrats need to win in the fall: Just 60 percent of Latinos said they were certain to vote in November, compared with 73 percent in the February survey.

And it’s not like Trump isn’t competing for Latinos despite his hostile policies:

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Biden’s campaign has demonstrated “little or no activity” in the Hispanic community. “The objective isn’t to win the Hispanic vote — [Biden will] do that — but to keep it above 65 percent and to maximize Latino turnout,” Richardson, who is Latino, said. “If we go to 58 or 57 percent with Hispanics, we’re in trouble.”

“The Trump Hispanic effort,” Richardson added, “is much more active.”

This problem reinforces some sentiment in favor of Biden choosing a Latina running mate like New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham or Nevada senator Catherine Cortez Masto.

The bottom line is that all aspects of Biden’s strategy for victory need to work together. If he wants to make a serious move on Sun Belt red states with sizable Latino populations, he must raise his game. Otherwise he might as well just double down on winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and hope nothing goes wrong in the states Hillary Clinton won.

Biden Needs Latinos for Any Raid on Sun Belt Red States