Biden scrambles to shore up Latino support. Is it too late?

A few months after taking office, President Biden invited a group of high-profile Latino leaders to the White House. As they sat around the table, the President was surprisingly serious. He even went so far as to admit that two people familiar with the conversation acknowledge that his five decades in politics made him far more familiar with the African American community and its major issues than Latinos and their concerns.

Nearly a year and a half later, Biden and the Democrats have delivered on a series of policy promises of great importance to Latinos. But some Latino activists worry that voters don’t know everything that has been done, and others worry that the blinkered perspective that Biden has privately acknowledged has limited Latino representation in his government.

“I think there’s a blind spot in the White House and the Oval Office,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who pointed to a shortage of Latinos in key executive branch positions. “It is clear that the President himself has no sympathy for the Latino community.”

With Hispanic Heritage Month underway and the midterm elections in seven weeks, Biden and his aides have embarked on a robust public relations effort to ensure this crucial block of voters appreciate the sum total of Democrat achievements.

Last Thursday, the administration’s director of Hispanic media conducted the daily briefing in Spanish. That evening, Biden spoke at the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute dinner in Washington.

On Friday, the main outside group supporting Biden’s agenda launched Build Back Together, a six-figure ad campaign targeting Latinos in three battleground states.

The government’s recent effort to bring Latinos to justice could have started earlier, several activists said.

“Failure to communicate, or intentionally communicate with Latin American voters, could have a very profound impact on the outcome of these midterm elections,” said Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, a Washington-based Hispanic advocacy group. “We were not ignored. I just don’t think they’ve tweaked the Latino vote like they could.”

Latino voters strongly support Democrats’ policy priorities: let Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices (91%), cancel student debt (74%) and protect abortion rights (77%), according to a weekly tracking poll by the National Assn . officials elected and appointed by Latino.

But Biden’s approval rating among Latinos is just 58%, a number that could be higher with more direct outreach to Latino voters. More than half of the Latinos surveyed – 51% – said they had not been contacted by any political party, campaign or other organization.

Sending out $1,400 in pandemic relief checks to working families, canceling up to $20,000 in student loan debt and passing the first gun safety reform in 30 years after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas earlier this year are “stunning political achievements,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic adviser and adviser on Latino outreach to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “The problem is that Latino voters don’t know about it. They don’t see ads that talk about the litany of accomplishments this White House has delivered for the Latino community.”

If Latinos don’t know about Biden’s political agenda, it’s not necessarily because Democrats aren’t trying. Mayra Macías, Build Back Together’s chief strategy officer, said the group has spent more than $35 million on advertising targeting Latinos since the organization’s inception last year.

“We’ve been doing paid advertising with the Latino community since day one,” she said in an interview. “Now there are more profits to sell.”

Several of those victories — the Inflation Reduction Act, which expands access to health care and lowers prescription drug costs, and Biden’s debt cancellation on student loans — were enacted in August. “We need more time to release all this information,” Macías said. “But we have this incredible opportunity with all the legislation that’s just been passed.”

Recent events have also broadened Latino support for some Democratic priorities.

The shooting in Uvalde in May, when 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed when a gunman wielding an assault rifle stormed their classroom, shook more Latinos. And the Supreme Court’s removal of federal protections for abortion in June has prompted many more Latinos to protect reproductive choice.

In last week’s National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials tracking polls, abortion rights were a top 3 issue for 28% of respondents — a huge jump from 2018 when just 4% named it as such. The same poll showed that 77% of Latinos now support a ban on assault weapons.

Only one issue was a higher priority for Latinos: the rising cost of living and inflation, which 48% of respondents named as a top three concern. Although gas prices have fallen in recent months after skyrocketing following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Democrats know their wallet troubles remain a potential drain on them.

“One of the first things that comes out of people’s lips when I speak to them in the district is gas prices,” MP Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) said. “If gas prices weren’t where they are, people would be talking more about what we’ve been doing.”

In those calls, Cardenas said he’s trying to focus voters on all of the things Democrats have been doing to help working families, as well as last year’s bipartisan infrastructure overhaul.

“Biden has a lot to brag about. But what people don’t know is that over 50% of construction workers are Latino,” he said. “This infrastructure bill is a tremendous boost for millions of Latino homes.”

Despite what Biden has achieved in two years, many Latino activists believe the administration has missed opportunities to solidify support and halt a slow but significant rise in Latino support for Republicans.

According to the tracking poll, more than 50% prefer a generic Democrat, but 35% of Latinos prefer a Republican candidate, a notable increase from midterms 2018 when that number was 22%. A Siena College/New York Times poll of Latinos this week echoed those findings, detailing how the GOP has gained a foothold with Latinos, particularly on economic issues and in the South.

“We’ve had trouble with Latinos for a long time. Support has gone down, down, down,” said Joshua Ulibarri, a Democratic pollster who focuses on Latinos. “Biden’s not to blame, but it’s up to him to stop the bleeding.”

Ulibarri wasn’t the only one to list marijuana legalization as a way to bolster support in Latino communities, where individuals are being disproportionately arrested and imprisoned for drug crimes. But the most common area of ​​frustration among Latino activists and political activists has been that too few Latinos have been appointed to positions in the White House and in the executive and judiciary.

Although Biden has appointed four historic Latinos to his cabinet, no Latinos have been appointed as assistant attorneys general at the Justice Department, no Latinos have been appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which deals with discrimination in the workplace, and no Latino leadership in the Occupational Safety and Health administration.

“Appointments send a message,” said Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and former adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “This goes far beyond the concept of progress. We’ve actually seen some regression compared to the Obama administration.”

Saenz and his organization have urged Biden to nominate more Latinos for the Bundesbank.

The most senior Latino working in the West Wing is Julie Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In June, she was named assistant to the president, partly in response to pressure from outside groups frustrated that Biden didn’t have Latinos in the role.

In an interview, she dismissed criticism that Latinos were underrepresented in the administration. “The representation is broader and deeper than I’ve ever seen in my governing experience,” said Rodriguez, adding that Biden’s policy of prioritizing diversity isn’t just about meeting a staffing quota. “No matter who you are, you have a clear mandate from the President to make sure all agencies and our policies are fair.”

After proposing immigration reform legislation on his first day in office, the symbolic fulfillment of a campaign promise, Biden has taken his legislative agenda in other directions. Even as migrants overwhelmed the southern border, drawing daily criticism from Republicans, the White House was reluctant to get involved, determined to focus elsewhere.

“Biden personally promised me that he will make it in the first 100 days,” said Héctor Sánchez Barba, chief executive of Mi Familia Vota. “But it’s always the same story. And it’s unacceptable.”

But whatever frustrations exist, they are weighed against the alternative of a Republican Party increasingly dominated by xenophobia and demagogy. As Democrats begin their final messaging blitz ahead of the Nov. 8 election, they are presenting their own accomplishments in contrast to the Republicans, portraying the GOP as extreme and working to make the election a bipartisan choice and vision shape. no referendum on Biden and Democrats in Congress.

The controversial move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with clear ambitions to challenge Biden in 2024, presented Democrats with an opportunity. Intending to force Democrats to reckon with the impact of rampant migration, DeSantis used taxpayer money to fly Venezuelan asylum-seekers to liberal enclaves like Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, DC, where dozens of migrants gathered outside Vice President Kamala’s official residence on Thursday Harris were deposited.

“We, as an administration, continue to really do something for Latino families,” said Rodriguez, the assistant to the president. “And what we’re seeing in terms of the political tricks that are coming out right now from people on the other side who are using taxpayer dollars to exploit migrants fleeing communism – there just couldn’t be a clearer contrast in terms of who for the community fights and who has the best interest of the community in mind.” Biden scrambles to shore up Latino support. Is it too late?

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