by Melanie Zanona · October 11, 2018
Democrats have a major edge when it comes to support among female voters, but they have struggled to lock down another key voting bloc: Latinos.
While midterm voter turnout among Hispanics has historically been lower than among other demographic groups, many on the left have been hoping that President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies and heated rhetoric will lead to a surge of energized Latinos at the polls in favor of Democrats on Election Day.
But with less than four weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, there are signs that Democrats have room for improvement with Hispanic voters.
“There are a lot of potential voters out there that are still really up for grabs on both sides,” said Adrian Pantoja, a politics professor at Pitzer College in California and a senior analyst at the polling firm Latino Decisions. “While the sentiment and anger is favoring the Democratic Party, they can either capitalize, or they can, as in past years, wait until the 11th hour and squander it.”
Latinos are positioned to help decide key races in California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, where Democrats need to notch victories in order to take back the House and Senate. And while female voters on the left are extremely fired up, it’s unclear whether women alone are enough to power a blue wave in November.
That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched an unprecedented effort last year to galvanize the Hispanic electorate that has included targeted ads in Spanish and deploying at least one Latino field staffer in more than two dozen districts.
In Southern California, where there is a competitive race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R), 21.2 percent of the primary voters were Latino, compared to 13.6 percent in the midterm primary for 2014.
Democrats are hoping to harness the outrage in the Hispanic community over Trump’s immigration policies, which have called for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending deportation protections for so-called Dreamers who came to the country illegally as children and separating migrant families who were detained at the border.
The majority of Hispanics are unhappy with Trump, with 65 percent of registered voters who identified as Hispanic holding an unfavorable view of the president’s job performance, according to an Oct. 7 poll conducted by Morning Consult.
But Democrats need that displeasure to translate into high turnout at the polls, and running on an anti-Trump platform alone is not enough, according to Democratic strategists, who say the top three issues for Latino voters are wages, immigration and health-care costs.
“There cannot be an expectation that people are going to vote on the outrage period,” said Jose Parra, head of the consulting firm Prospero Latino. “You need to give voters something to vote for, not just against. You can’t have the attitude that Hispanics are going to vote for us just because the alternative is horrible.”
“Because there is an alternative: It’s called staying home,” he added.
In a July research memo from the House Majority PAC, a group focused on helping Democrats win House seats, 53 percent of registered Hispanic voters said they were “certain” they will cast a ballot in November, which raised some alarm bells in the party, though the figure has climbed since then.
One potential hurdle for Democrats is that voter registration needs to catch up with the changing demographics in places like Florida and Texas, requiring sustained on-the-ground mobilization efforts. But fewer than half of Latinos — 45 percent — said they have been contacted by a campaign or political party this election cycle, according to the most recent weekly poll from Latino Decisions.
“There are high levels of enthusiasm among voters, higher than usual. The key for the Democratic Party, or any party, is mobilization,” Pantoja said. “But the levels of contact are not terribly high.”
The most recent Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 58 percent of Hispanics are “very motivated” to vote in the midterm elections.
But even if Latinos do show up to the polls in droves, strategists warn that it’s not a guarantee they will uniformly vote for Democrats.
One of the marquee Senate races this election cycle is unfolding in Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) has unexpectedly emerged as a viable challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz (R). O’Rourke is more appealing to Hispanic voters by a nearly 10-point margin, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month.
But in a potentially troubling sign for Democrats looking to turn Texas blue, the GOP flipped a state Senate seat in a majority-Hispanic district during a special election last month.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a top Democratic target this cycle, also appears to be in a fairly strong position less than a month out from the midterm elections.
And in the governor’s race, Hispanics favor Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott over Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez 49 percent to 45 percent, according to the Quinnipiac survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
“For a long time, the Democratic party has taken Hispanic voters for granted,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP strategist who worked on last month’s special election.
“I think there is a chance that Democrats are going to underperform with Hispanics” in November, he said. “The question for the Hispanic vote is: Do they vote on immigration or the economy?”
Twenty-nine percent of Hispanic voters say passing immigration reform should be a top priority for Congress, and 32 percent said the economy is a top issue for them at the polls, according to Morning Consult polling.
Meanwhile, vulnerable Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has struggled with Latino voters in South Florida as he tries to fend off Gov. Rick Scott (R) in the state’s Senate race. And in the race for Royce’s seat in Southern California, Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros has been trailing GOP opponent Young Kim in recent polls.
Mackowiak said Latinos share some views with conservatives when it comes to issues like abortion.
“On social issues, they agree with the Trump administration,” he said. “Hispanics are disproportionately pro-life.”
Still, strategists said Democrats have a far better opportunity than Republicans to make huge gains with Latino voters in the final weeks leading up to the elections.
“The terrain is plowed, the ground is ready and primed, but you still need to seed it and grow the plant,” Parra said. “There still needs to be an effort made.”
The Hill · by Melanie Zanona · October 11, 2018