1) Sean Sullivan, “Latino groups warn that Biden’s sluggish outreach to their voters could hurt in November,” Washington Post, September 13, 2020 (10:18 p.m. EDT).
2) Nicole Narea, “The Latino vote is not being taken seriously”: Longtime Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha sounds an alarm; A former senior campaign adviser for Bernie Sanders explains why Joe Biden seems to be underperforming among Latinos, VOX, September 9, 2020, 8:50am EDT
Sometimes it seems that Joe Biden has gone out of his way to antagonize the Latino vote.
This could be because no one person is in firm control of the campaign. Whatever the causes, if he does not fix the problem he may lose enough of the Latino vote to lose the election.
Prominence given to African-Americans and relative neglect of Latinos
One factor may be that he has given the impression that he cares deeply about the African-American vote, but in comparison doesn’t care very much about the votes of Americans of Hispanic origin. He is familiar with African-American voters. James Clyburn and black voters in South Carolina are responsible for his winning the Democratic nomination.
The identity politics that have worked so well with his African-American supporters don’t seem to work so well with the diverse Latino communities he must win over if he is going to succeed in November. In Florida, he must appeal both to Cuban-Americans, many of whom (especially those who are older) are quite conservative, and to Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and immigrants from Central and South America (as well as Haitians).
It is difficult to understand what the Biden campaign was thinking when they failed to give prominent positions to outstanding Hispanic Americans at the Democratic National Convention. It was insulting that they only gave one minute to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of their rising stars. If Biden had wanted to stress that the Democratic Party has a big tent, he could have honored her achievement and popularity by giving her at least five minutes to talk. Other Latinos could have been given more prominent speaking slots.
Unfortunately, the impression given was that Democrats care deeply about–and celebrate–African-Americans, but Latinos, well, not so much.
A second factor, touched upon above, appears to be that Biden has not yet learned how to speak to Latinos. They certainly don’t want to be referred to as “LatinX” instead of Latinos. LatinX is a label which must grate, particularly on older voters, as the imposition of a term describing them dictated by the LGBTQ component of the party.
Third, Biden has failed to make two of his potenrially strongest arguments in appealing to the Latino community. The first is the contrast between his position and that of Donald Trump on health care. Biden is in favor of strengthening the ACA (Obamacare), while Trump is challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare–and its protections for pre-existing conditions–in federal court. Trump, if he wins, has no alternative to Obamacare in place.
In effect, Trump is campaigning to take away health care from millions of voters, including very significant numbers of Latino voters and their children. Why Biden hasn’t called Trump out on the contradiction between what he says in his campaign (that he will protect pre-existing conditions) and his position in federal court is anyone’s guess, and points to a lack of nimbleness in the campaign.
This issue is obviously also of importance far beyond the Latino community.
Federal stimulus benefits for the unemployed
The second major issue of importance to Latino voters which Biden has failed to stress is federal financial assistance to the unemployed and others who have been brutally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Latinos include a large percentage of low wage-earners and unemployed. The failure to pass legislation to provide continued federal stimulus payments to the unemployed has had a huge impact on many Latino families. Biden has failed to make this a salient campaign issue in his battle with Donald Trump.
Certainly his reassurance to individuals earning less than $400,000 a year that he would not raise their taxes must have sounded obscene to Latino workers trying to survive on very low-income jobs, or no jobs at all. Biden could make this a big campaign issue, but hasn’t.
He could push for the House to insist on some stimulus relief in exchange for House support of a continuing resolution to raise the debt limit and avoid a shut-down of the government The Democrats, relying too strongly on polls as they did in 2016, seem to be afraid of a fight with the Republicans to secure essential support for Latino and other unemployed workers who are up against the wall.
Biden’s life and family and religious values
Third, Biden’s life exemplifies the strong family values and religious values that are so important to Latino voters. He should continue to draw attention to his exemplary religious and family values. The difference with Trump is obvious, and need not be belabored.
Need for positive focus on values and what Biden will do if elected
One final point is that Biden, while continuing to criticize Trump, should now place greater emphasis on what he is for, and what he will do, if elected president. He should talk about honesty and truth, and why they are important. He should talk about obstruction of justice, and explain in simple terms readily understood by less-educated or less-informed voters, why it is really important. These are arguments which Latino voters will understand, and appreciate.
Needed: A focus on major themes
Democrats tend to think and talk in complicated ways. Biden needs to boil his message down to a short list of major themes, to win over Latinos and everyone else. One potential list:
1. Health care;
2. Covid-19 crisis management, and 200,000 to 400,000 deaths;
3. Economic support for working families and unemployed during the pandemic;
4. Russian influence over Donald Trump and his administration;
5. Science and climate change.
6. Abuse of power, obstruction of justice; and
7. Decency and family values.
Winning the daily news cycle
Biden needs to conduct a much more active campaign, and turn Kamala Harris loose to do the same. She has been a vastly underused resource. They need to conduct a national campaign, in many states, and not just a campaign in swing states. To date, they appear lethargic in comparison to Trump, who is always making news. They need to move beyond their rational-analytical mindset, and connect with voters on a deep emotional level.
Too often Biden just laughs at some ridiculous issue raised by Trump, as if he were in an audience of his supporters, instead of explaining in simple and straightforward terms, with a straight and earnest face, why the issue should not be taken seriously. We have all heard, “Come on, man,” one time too many.
Biden and Harris must find a way to gain prominence, for themselves and for their arguments, in the daily news cycle.
Winning the Latino vote
In conclusion, Latinos have reasons to feel neglected and just not bother to vote in November. Whether Biden will be able to correct for his mistakes, using strong arguments he has not yet stressed or made salient, and mobilize Latino voters to actually vote is the key question.
The election may depend on the answer to this question.
The Trenchant Observer