Biden is doing everything to reach Latinos. Trump is barely trying

Democrats are starting their Latino outreach early because they know they have a problem.

By Christian Paz, Vox

US President Joe Biden mimics a baby at a Mexican restaurant in the Phoenix area, Arizona. Photo: AP

Joe Biden knows he has a problem with Latino voters. He acknowledged as much during a visit to Arizona last month: “I need you badly,” he said, with a tinge of exasperation, to a room of supporters.

He was visiting a longtime Mexican restaurant, a staple in a working-class corner of downtown Phoenix, as his presidential campaign officially launched its general election effort to woo and win back Latino voters in Arizona and other battleground states. The effort, called “Latinos con Biden-Harris,” is starting off much earlier than the muted version that played out in 2020, long after a bruising and cash-strapped primary campaign had ended and as the coronavirus pandemic spun out of control. This year, it couldn’t be coming at a more necessary time.

Across just about every kind of poll and survey, Biden (and his party) seems to be struggling to hold onto the high levels of support that the second-fastest growing ethnic voting group has historically given Democrats. More Hispanic and Latino voters say they are open to switching parties than before. They are dissatisfied with the state of the economy under Biden’s leadership. Many pine for the pre-pandemic Trump days. And more worrying for Democrats, they view Donald Trump more positively today than they did after the 2020 election.

Still, none of that means that Republicans are actively taking advantage of this moment. For now, the Trump campaign and the GOP don’t seem to have a concrete strategy to make more inroads with these voters. As the Republican National Committee undergoes a major transition with more Trump-aligned leadership, its much-lauded community outreach centers for nonwhite voters stand in limbo. Those centers were celebrated by Republican politicians and strategists ahead of the 2022 midterms for hosting cultural events and establishing a direct presence for the party in minority communities. Many are now closed, though the RNC has backtracked on reported plans to close even more and shut down its minority outreach program.

The recent rollout of the “Latinos con Biden-Harris” effort is a perfect example of these contrasting realities: During the last two weeks, the most the Republican Party, or the Trump campaign, has done in reaching out to Hispanic and Latino voters was to recirculate a fan-created musical jingle that it repackaged as an ad toward the end of the 2020 campaign cycle, and fire off a few social media posts. They made no ad buys, nor did Trump make any campaign stops or public statements directed specifically at these voters.

But will this slow Republican outreach end up mattering? The last two weeks show, in a nutshell, the dueling struggles of Democratic and Republican outreach to Latino voters in 2024. Despite having some momentum on their side, the Republican Party seems unable, or unwilling, to seize the opportunity they have in swing states to lock up support from America’s newest swing voters. Meanwhile, spooked Democrats, on the defensive, are ready to pour in huge amounts of money and dedicate resources early on — but they may be focusing on a message that just doesn’t resonate with the voters most upset with the Biden years.

The Biden-Harris launch in Arizona is a stand-in for their Southwestern and Latino strategy

The launch of the Latinos con Biden-Harris effort was intentional and symbolic. The restaurant Biden visited, El Portal, was opened and is owned by two longtime fixtures in Arizona Hispanic politics, and it has served as the “de facto headquarters” of Phoenix’s Latino and Hispanic Democrats for years. That movement, starting as grassroots pro-immigrant activism through small businesses, has been building gradually over the last two decades. It bore fruit during the Trump era, when moderates, progressives, white, Black, and Latino voters turned out for Democrats.

Arizona is now the quintessential battleground state, and at its core is Maricopa County — the county that has seen some of the biggest gains in population through Phoenix and its expanding, wealthier suburbs. A combination of a rapidly growing young Latino electorate, the Republican Party’s shift to the MAGA right, and more independent- and moderate-minded suburban voters concentrated in Maricopa has made the conservative bastion competitive for Democrats. Since the Trump era of national politics began, Arizona has elected two Democratic senators, a Democratic governor and attorney general, and voted for Biden — after not voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for 20 years.

That history and those trends contextualize the Biden-Harris campaign’s decision to launch their Latino outreach effort in Phoenix before stopping in Nevada, another Latino-heavy swing state, and then making a fundraising visit to Houston, all within the span of a week.

“In both states, we’re building robust campaign infrastructure to meet voters where they are,” the Biden-Harris campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, said in a memo distributed before the campaign stops. “Both Nevada and Arizona represent the diverse coalition of voters who elected Joe Biden president in 2020, including Latino, Black, [Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander], and Native American voters.”

That week of March 18 saw Biden and his campaign’s Latino surrogates spread across local and national television and radio programs, in English- and Spanish-language markets, to pair with the president’s in-person visits. The campaign timed the release of its first Latino-focused digital ad with this launch, and the ad ran in English, Spanish, and Spanglish with voiceovers using different regional accents depending on the battleground.

Later that week, on March 23, the campaign pushed out a second digital ad in Spanish and English in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Florida. Both video shorts are part of a $30 million advertising push this spring that is specifically directed at reaching voters in battleground states, including nonwhite voters.

“This is not parachuting into any community two weeks before the election,” California Sen. Alex Padilla, campaign advisory board member, said in a statement about the release. “We’re starting months and months and months even before the Democratic convention this summer, to get the message out.”

The message in Biden’s visit, his surrogates’ statements, and the ads targeting Latino voters is both an evolution and a retreading of old ground. It plays up the well-worn anti-Republican attacks that have worked for them before: Republicans’ opposition to abortion rights and reproductive freedom, their plans to cut entitlement spending, and Trump’s track record of anti-immigrant or bigoted statements. What’s new is the focus on Biden’s accomplishments: lowering the cost of some prescription drugs, attempting to “ease” student debt, supporting Latino-owned small businesses and Hispanic-serving colleges and universities, and lowering Hispanic unemployment.

Still, that doesn’t mean the message is resonating just yet. Latino views of Biden’s handling of the economy and job performance, as well as overall approval, are still negative, or on par with the views of white voters. While this initial outreach is playing up elements of social issues that have helped Democrats with other voting groups, the state of the economy and the perception of an out-of-control border and immigration crisis continue to be weak spots for Democrats.

And Biden and his allies have yet to develop a coordinated message in response. Biden talked briefly about his vision of economic opportunity in his Phoenix stop, for example, but none of the Latino-focused ads released so far play up those accomplishments. And none of the campaign’s Latino-specific messaging appears to address immigration at the southern border beyond playing up Trump’s previous talk of “an invasion” that is “poisoning the blood of our country.”

So to be a Latino — and most likely a Mexican American — voter in Arizona or the Southwest right now is to feel an early sampling of the saturation the Democrats plan for this year. You’re likely hearing more about a choice between two candidates instead of a referendum on the incumbent, hearing about the threat Trump and Republicans pose to the status quo, and hearing about how the economy is getting better, even if you don’t fully agree. You’re hearing little to nothing about immigration or the southern border from Democrats beyond identity politics. Still, at least you’re hearing from Democrats, whether at the local, state, or national level, who are making early entreaties to you and your community specifically.

The same is not true on the Republican side.

Republicans seem unwilling to make the same kind of early investment

The GOP has a golden opportunity, and many Republicans recognize this: They have a window to win over even more Latino voters than in 2020, and nearly all polling shows they have reason to be optimistic.

Still, a Latino exodus from the Democratic Party is unlikely to happen without active and intentional efforts to win over voters. At least for now, either because of a lack of money, strategy, or will, the Republican Party is doing the bare minimum.

Between 2020 and the 2022 midterms, the best piece of evidence Republicans could use to show that they were serious about winning over more Latino (and other nonwhite) voters was the opening and expansion of community outreach centers in predominantly minority neighborhoods in battleground states. Launched when hype over Latinos “fleeing” the Democratic Party was building, these community centers were framed by Republican leadership as “part of our party’s commitment to building relationships with the Hispanic community,” according to then-RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

“Democrats take Hispanic voters for granted, and we want to earn your vote and build a better future for our children,” she said when the RNC, in conjunction with a US senate campaign, opened an outreach center in Maricopa County — a center meant to be a part of a “permanent, data-driven ground game in Arizona” and a “place to come together, host events and spark conversations with Hispanic Arizonans.”

Less than two years later, that center was shuttered, along with the vast majority of the 20 Hispanic community centers the RNC had opened ahead of the 2022 midterms. Five remain open today, including two that The Messenger had reported were opened in 2023. And these closures seem to be part of a broader retreat by the Republican Party: other centers aimed at reaching Black, Asian, and Native American voters have also been reportedly shut down and their outreach programs ended as new, Trump-aligned leadership purged and laid off staff, including communications staff and those who worked on minority outreach.

The RNC contests those closures, saying it is keeping a number of centers open for its early voting education program and it intends to open more. After the Phoenix center closed, for example, some news reports suggested that the RNC would instead open a new branch in Tucson, another urban area in Arizona with a large Hispanic population and a bedrock of support for Democrats in the state. But the Arizona Republican Party did not reply to requests for comment or clarification on the status of that center, or other centers in the state. Nor did the Trump campaign reply to Vox’s requests for comment on its plans or strategy for Latino voter outreach, instead referring me to the RNC, which provided the following statement attributed to its Hispanic communications director, Jaime Florez.

“Democrats have taken the Hispanic community for granted for far too long, and no amount of money the Biden campaign spends will change the fact that Biden and Harris have been a disaster for our community,” Florez said in the statement. ”Republicans will continue receiving with open arms thousands of Hispanics that are moving to our party, disappointed with Democrats and their policies, and will be fundamental to Republican victories all over the country in 2024.”

This intra-party turmoil and a stretched budget for outreach and campaign infrastructure seem to be at the heart of the Trump-era GOP’s ability to compete for nonwhite voters’ support. The tenuous state of Latino outreach in Arizona, for example, is replicated in Nevada and Wisconsin, two other states where Republicans had talked up their efforts to win over Latino voters.

So far, the extent of the GOP’s Latino outreach while the Democrats rolled out a highly coordinated effort was a recirculated social media clip of a “Latinos por Donald Trump” ad from 2020 and a few tweets about illegal immigration and the border. Trump did boast about his polling among Latino voters during a February visit to Las Vegas, but he still has yet to visit Arizona.

It’s a limited approach, but even at this level of outreach, the abbreviated messages Trump and Republicans are sending may still be compelling. That 2020 ad, for example, was successful when it ran four years ago because it was organically produced — a short jingle written by a Cuban salsa band made up of Trump fans — and because it summarized the key planks of Trump’s 2020 pitch to Latino voters: “la buena vida” (the good life), “la economia” (the economy), and “tu familia” (your family). Coupled with clips and tweets hyping up an “invasion” at the southern border, and Republicans have the barebones of another persuasive pitch.

That’s the extent of the messaging Latino voters in swing states like Arizona are getting from Republicans right now. No Hispanic-specific Trump ads are running on television or radio in Arizona, either in English or Spanish. Trump did not hold any campaign events during the week the Biden-Harris operation rolled through the Southwest, let alone anything directed at these voters. And the former president has held only two campaign rallies since Super Tuesday in Georgia and Ohio, aimed at boosting his preferred candidates in primary races.

Still, the lack of early investment by the party and campaign might not be as big of a deal, since the work to target and fine-tune a pitch to these voters might be better suited to external organizations and super PACS, the Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini told me. “The vast majority of that [Latino shift to the right] is being driven by the environment politically. Right now, both dissatisfaction with Biden and Trump being more of an anti-elitist candidate who has a more natural appeal to working class voters, that is what we’re seeing reflected in the polls right now,” he said. “When it comes to the organization to actually bring that vote out in November, you’re going to see a pretty big ecosystem pop up. We’re no longer in the era of the RNC [doing] everything or the campaign [doing] everything. You have so much outside the formal party apparatus, and I do think you’ll see more efforts on that side to capitalize on those shifts because that’s where the resources are.”

Democrats can’t afford to fall behind, while Republicans seem to be riding on coattails

This early Democratic start with Hispanic and Latino voters contrasts with the sluggish Republican operation — but it also shows just how much Democrats have to fear and have to lose with these voters. Democrats have no choice but to start big and early because of how far they’ve fallen behind their historical levels of Latino support.

The last three presidential cycles have each delivered Democrats consistently smaller margins of support with all kinds of nonwhite voters, but especially with Latinos: During Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, for example, the Democratic advantage over Republicans with these voters was a 39-point difference in vote preference; by 2020, that advantage had shrunk by 16 points.

As Hispanic and Latino Americans become swing voters, the stakes of outreach and persuasion could not be higher for the party that has enjoyed their support for so long.


Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.


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