Democrats are confronting a series of troubling signs regarding their support among Latino voters.
Latinos, whom Democrats have long counted among their core voters, make up a significant portion of the electorate in midterm Senate battleground states and a number of House districts, and Democrats fear a repeat of the rightward shift among many of those voters that took place in 2020.
The latest cause for alarm for the party came last week, when Republican Mayra Flores successfully flipped a House seat in South Texas, a heavily Latino part of the state that Democrats have dominated for more than a century.
Some in the party see that loss in Texas’s 34th District as a symptom of a much larger problem and are warning that Democrats need to work quickly to staunch the erosion of support among Latino voters nationwide.
“The district that we just lost in — you’re banking on winning seven other districts that match that district word for word,” said Chuck Rocha, a former senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who now runs a political action committee, Nuestro PAC, focused on Latino voter outreach.
“They lost the second most Latino district in the country to a crazy woman,” he added. “You can put lipstick on a pig all damn day, but it still smells like a pig.”
Others have brushed off the loss as only a short-term gain for the GOP. They argue that Republicans spent heavily to win the seat, despite the fact that it will be made much more favorable for Democrats in November due to redistricting.
“I’d be careful before I hit the panic button with the South Texas district as the indicator,” one Democratic consultant said. “If they lose the seat in November, then I think there’s reason for panic.”
But there are other omens for Democrats, as well.
Polling out of three battleground states — Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania — commissioned by the Democratic-aligned political group Future Majority identified inflation as the top issue of concern for Latino voters.
That finding could portend trouble for Democrats; inflation is at its highest level in decades, and Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress. Historically, the party in power almost always loses ground in midterm elections, and Democrats are a net five House seats and one Senate seat away from being booted out of the majority.
And while President Biden’s overall approval rating remains higher among Latinos than it does among white voters, an analysis from the data website FiveThirtyEight found it has fallen disproportionately among those Latino voters compared to other groups.
Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to ramp up their Latino outreach, believing that they have a chance to cement their recent gains among those voters.
Their strategy has been broad. The Republican National Committee has opened so-called Hispanic community centers in key states. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending millions on a field program targeting Latino voters in more than half a dozen battleground states. And just last month, House GOP members unveiled a new PAC aimed at growing the ranks of Latino Republicans in the lower chamber.
Fernand Amandi, who served as the top consultant for former President Obama’s Latino outreach during his two presidential campaigns and whose firm conducted the polls for Future Majority, said that the shifts among Latino voters that have taken place since 2020 are “more of a geographic phenomenon” than an across-the-board defection to the GOP.
The Future Majority poll, while carrying bleak news for Democrats on inflation, also revealed some positive news for the party. Biden’s approval ratings among Latinos in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania are still above water, and Democratic senators facing reelection this year in the three states led their Republican rivals in hypothetical match-ups.
“I didn’t see any signs of erosion of Hispanic voters among Democrats. If anything, I saw a consolidation of the base vote,” Amandi said.
For Democrats, the biggest concern may just be that many Latino voters aren’t as reliably Democratic as the party once believed.
“It’s an electorate that is increasingly independent minded,” Amandi said. “Engagement and investment really becomes the main concern for Democrats — not erosion to the Republicans.”
In places where Republicans have made gains among Latino voters in recent years, multiple Democrats blamed lackluster outreach and engagement efforts, accusing some in the party of taking a critical voting bloc for granted.
One Democratic strategist who has worked on Latino outreach said that while there have been attempts to rectify those shortcomings, those efforts have proven uneven across the party.
“I’m kind of split because I’m seeing parties and committees that are taking this very seriously and I’ve seen committees that don’t give a shit,” said the strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the party’s outreach efforts candidly.
In one sign that top Democratic officials have begun to more urgently acknowledge the need to ramp up the party’s Latino outreach, the Democratic National Committee announced the creation of a new program last month, beginning with a seven-figure investment in Spanish-language print and radio ads.
Those ads are targeting several battleground states: Texas, Florida, Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Even with those investments, however, Democrats are still facing “a tough year,” Rocha, the former Sanders adviser, said, acknowledging that GOP outreach to Latino voters combined with a generally unfavorable political environment for Democrats in 2022 could make things harder for the party.
“It’s not easy. It’s going to be tough because of the headwinds,” Rocha said. “Gas is $5 a gallon and people are paying more for everything, so there’s an anxiety out there. Republicans get an easy out by blaming Democrats when unemployment is at an all-time low and Joe Biden has created 8 million jobs. Part of this is just showing up and making the argument.”