Tuesday’s primaries offer chance for Biden to reach Latino voters
In Joe Biden’s pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, he’s run repeatedly into a wall in the West, where Bernie Sanders’ strength among Latinos propelled his campaign even as he struggled with other groups.
Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Florida offer Biden a chance to show he can make up ground with Latinos, a crucial group of voters he’ll need in his corner to defeat President Donald Trump.
Biden is playing catchup when it comes to engaging Latino voters and is weighed down by anger over the high rate of deportations during the Obama administration, which left scars for many immigrants.
“We need more. And we need commitments as we move into the general,” said Regina Romero, a Democrat who recently took office as Tucson’s first Latina mayor. Biden can win over reluctant
Latinos with a bold and progressive stance on immigration, she said.
“I hope that he doesn’t eat up the lie that he has to be more conservative on the immigration issue,” said Romero, who hasn’t endorsed Biden or Sanders since her favored candidate, Elizabeth Warren, dropped out. “We shouldn’t be afraid of an issue that is so important for Latino voters, water it down and not have policies that Latinos can get excited about.”
Arizona and Florida are likely to be battlegrounds in November. In Arizona, 1 in 3 residents is Latino; in Florida, it’s 1 in 4.
Sanders’ strength with Latinos helped him to an overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses and contributed to his Super Tuesday wins in California and Colorado on a night when Biden built a formidable lead in delegates.
But Biden’s success is a recent phenomenon. His slow start amid a crowded Democratic field left him with a shoestring budget and virtually no campaign infrastructure beyond the early states, which limited his ability to reach out to Latinos on the ground or air Spanish-language television ads. That’s changed now that his burst of success since South Carolina made him the favorite for the nomination and helped fundraising.
“He definitely needs to work it, and he needs to up his game and engage with Latino voters,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the Latino advocacy group formerly known as National Council of La Raza. Tuesday could make for “a big reset” for Biden, she said.
Biden has had to answer for the big spike in deportations during Barack Obama’s presidency, when Biden served as vice president.
Early in his administration, Obama aggressively increased efforts to deport immigrants living in the country illegally. He’d hoped to convince members of Congress and the public that he was serious about border security in order to secure a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would extend legal status to millions of people living in the U.S. without authorization. The reform bill never passed, but the deportations disrupted families, drove fear in immigrant communities and left deep wounds.
Any Democrat’s immigration policies would be superior to Trump’s, but that won’t be enough to excite Latinos, said Tomas Robles, co-director of Living United for Change in Arizona, a Latino organizing group that has endorsed Sanders.
“You cannot depend on people’s hatred or fear of Trump to inspire them to turn out in droves for Vice President Biden,” Robles said.
A Mariachi band waits to perform before a Joe Biden campaign event in Las Vegas on Jan. 11.