Opinion | Joe Biden’s Secret Untapped Weapon


In less than four years, the Trump administration has done great damage to the Latino community. And yet, though Donald Trump is widely disliked by Latino voters, he won 28 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, and he is still the choice of nearly 20 percent — enough support to make a difference in a close election. You’d think that Latino voters would rally behind Joe Biden, but he has struggled to connect with them.

By some estimates, nearly 60 percent of eligible Latino voters in battleground states, who tend to view Mr. Trump unfavorably, will sit out the 2020 election. Rallying these mostly young voters will be vital to capturing the White House.

As a senior adviser for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, I led the historic $15 million Latino outreach program that secured victories in Nevada and California, and helped us compete hard everywhere Latinos could hear our message.

To many, Senator Sanders, an older, white man from Vermont, can seem like an unlikely hero for the Latino community. But, as the son of an immigrant, Tío Bernie was relatable to these voters. He was the first Democratic presidential candidate to establish a presence in the Latino community and engage with its members. It’s not an impossible feat to repeat; Mr. Biden can take a page out of our playbook.

Mr. Biden has begun to ramp up investment in communications to Latinos, but he has to go further. That includes expanding the universe of Latino voters he’s talking to and engaging with them across different platforms. The Sanders 2020 campaign worked to reach all the Latinos that were eligible to vote in Nevada ahead of the caucus — including the over 100,000 newly registered as well as those with no history of voting.

We integrated Latino organizers into our staff and reached out to Latino voters early and often. We visited them at their homes and work sites. We connected with them via phone, bilingual radio ads and mailers. We organized community-based events like soccer tournaments where we’d register voters and host caucus trainings. Our strategy worked — Senator Sanders won 73 percent of Nevada’s Latino vote. He also won big in California and Colorado.

If Mr. Biden takes a conventional approach and talks to the same little sliver of Latinos in Arizona who everyone talks to, he could be in trouble. But if he taps into the culture of activism in Arizona that registered 138,000 Latinos since Mr. Trump was elected, helped oust Joe Arpaio and is working to ensure Mr. Trump is next, Mr. Biden can reshape the electoral map and win.

Right now, the Biden campaign is spending $800,000 a week on traditional Spanish-language television ads. But in the age of Covid-19, the old way of campaigning has been thrown out the window, and more can be done through a multilayered strategy. This includes swapping terrestrial for digital radio, advertising in the Spanish-language newspapers abuelas read and sending bilingual mailers that explain his plan to rebuild an economy in tatters.

Luz Chaparro Hernandez, a bilingual elementary-school teacher and union member, is part of the Democratic convention this week, as well as Aldo Martinez, a 26-year-old DACA recipient and paramedic from Fort Myers, Fla., who is braving the horrors of the coronavirus head on. The next step for the campaign is to invest in telling stories like these on every platform Latinos engage with, from Pandora and YouTube to Telemundo and El Nuevo Herald.

I’ve been part of focus groups with Latino voters who bring up the 2016-era problem that Democrats still haven’t cracked: an anti-Trump message is useful — after all, he is a disaster for Latinos — but Latinos don’t know what a Biden administration would mean for their families. We need to tell them how Mr. Biden’s recently announced Latino agenda would inject their small businesses with capital, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and eliminate the minimum tipped wage, which would disproportionately benefit Latino workers.

Mr. Biden has one more secret weapon to unlocking the Latino vote: Senator Kamala Harris, a multicultural daughter of immigrants who embodies the American dream. Senator Harris — a public servant raised by a single mother, an advocate for immigrant children separated from their parents and Latino small businesses devastated by the pandemic shutdown — can bridge the gap between Mr. Biden and the Latino community. A recent poll found that 52 percent of Latino voters in key battleground states said the selection of Ms. Harris as his running mate would make them more likely to vote for Mr. Biden.

If Mr. Biden uses the Sanders multilayered approach to connect with Latinos, maybe he will also become a tío who we can be proud of. If he manages to reach and mobilize them, these voters could ultimately be the ones who send Mr. Trump packing.

Chuck Rocha (@ChuckRocha), the founder and president of Solidarity Strategies and a former senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, is the author of the book “Tío Bernie: The Inside Story of How Bernie Sanders Brought Latinos Into the Political Revolution.”





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