Tues­day’s pri­maries of­fer chance for Bi­den to reach Latino vot­ers

The Kansas City Star - - News - BY JONATHAN J. COOPER

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.

JOHN LOCHER AP file

A Mari­achi band waits to per­form be­fore a Joe Bi­den cam­paign event in Las Ve­gas on Jan. 11.

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