By Dr. Ricardo Romo
August is proving to be a momenmental month for Latinos in the 2020 presidential election. In a highly orchestrated virtual convention, the Biden-Harris team laid out a promising platform that addressed many of the concerns of Latino families. In the same week, new polls showed impressive Biden voter support in the majority of battleground states and in states where Latinos live in sizable numbers.
At the convention, Latinos heard three former American presidents endorse Joe Biden. The endorsement by Barack Obama was especially significant. His warning that the relelection of Trump could well bring about the end of our American Democracy resonated with many.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama had a similar brilliant message, with a different emphasis. I was especially moved by her words reminding us: “This is who we still are: compassionate, resilient, decent people whose fortunes are bound up with one another. And it is well past time for our leaders to once again reflect our truth.”
In August we saw the release of several polls that showed Biden favored in key battleground states such as Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsalvania. In several battleground states Latinos represent more than a quarter of the eligible voters and can have an impact in election outcomes. In Florida, for instance, Biden leads in seven of the eight polls, with one poll even. In Arizona, Biden leads in six of eight polls. In New Mexico, Latinos can help to put Biden in a strong position with all three polls showing him in the lead.
A recent poll by Latino Decisions showed that Latinos favored Biden 66 percent to 21 percent. Suzanne Gamboa, Carmen Sesin, and Nicole Acevedo reported for NBC News that there “are a record 32 million Latinos who are eligible to vote–more than 13 percent of the electorate.” They noted that while 66 percent of Latinos voted for Clinton in 2016, nearly one third did not go to the polls, an estimated 12.7 million potential voters. Covid-19 will prevent much of the traditional campaign door-to-door contact with voters, but other ways to engage must be activated.
In August the release of several polls showed a shift in a number of states that Trump easily won in 2016. Notable among those states is Texas, where Democrats have not won in a presidential race for 40 years. For the past decade, Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and head of HUD under Obama, led the effort to make Texas purple, if not blue by 2024. He is now being helped by the very able Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Rep. Veronica Escobar [El Paso], and Rep. Victoria Neave [Dallas].
Lydia Camarillo, head of the Southwest Voter Registration Project in San Antonio, told James Barragan of the Dallas Morning News that the Biden campaign will have to be more active among Latino voters. According to a Somos/Unidos US August Poll, 64 percent of Latino voters in Texas said they had not been contacted by either party or a civic group about voting in this year’s elections.
The Somos/Unidos poll showed Biden leading among Latino voters, but not by much. Camarillo noted that “most of the Latino vote is–I don’t know if it’s up for grabs but when you have 13% that’s undecided, that’s clearly an opportunity.” [Interview with James Barragan]
Biden has a strong chance to improve Latino turnout in the 2020 election for several reasons. Latinos understand that the Trump Administration mismanaged the Covid-19 response and as a consequence, millions were inflected and thousands died. Latinos have followed the news that Covid-19 has been especially devastating to people of color. Trump has failed to demonstrate any compassion or empathy for Covid-19 victims or for those who have lost their jobs due to the economic consequences of the pandemic. The massive failure in leadership by Trump is apparent and highly disturbing to Latinos.
These are not normal times. The death toll, now at 176,000, keeps rising. More than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs, but millions go to work everyday as essential workers in the service and health industries.
Party leaders need to find ways to get Latino leaders, such as former heads of HUD, Henry Cisneros andJulian Castro, and former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on the evening broadcast news. On the important questions of immgration, for instance, Latinos need to hear the ideas of congressional leaders such as Congressman Joaquin Castro, Nevada United States Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Lujan.
Only three Latino speakers spoke for more than two minutes at the DNC convention, perhaps a missed opportunity for Latino viewpoints. In one of the more moving accounts of the entire convention, a young Latina spoke eloquently about Trump’s responsibility for the death of her father, a Trump supporter, from Covid-19.
The days ahead will not be easy for Democrats. Those running for political office can expect the Republican opposition to try everything, including voter suppression, cheating, lying, and stealing to win reelection. These are not normal times. The sharp rise in pandemic deaths, astonishing job losses, and a sense of hopelessness call for massive national responses from the federal government and from Latinos. The stakes are high and leaders on both political sides owe the American people a fair election.
Latinos are now the largest minority in America and enjoy the status as the largest majority in several states. Their political clout increases annually, and national leaders are growing aware of their real and potential influence on issues such as the economy, access to health insurance, higher wages for the lowest paid workers, better public schools, and equal justice in the courts. A strong democracy will allow Latinos access to the decision-making process. Latino communities are counting on leaders who share their democratic values and principles.