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In 2020, the electorate in the United States has reached a new record: this upcoming presidential election will be the first in which Latinos comprise the largest racial or ethnic minority voting bloc, with an estimated 32 million Latinos eligible to cast a ballot on Election Day.
With such significant numbers, the Latino vote has the power to sway elections up and down the ballot – but Democrats can’t take our votes for granted. Instead, they need to take the time to invest in Latino communities in order to claim victory in November.
Conventional political wisdom has largely dismissed Latinos as a “low propensity” voting bloc. But we have proven over the last few years that when Democratic candidates put in the work, Latinos turn out in record number to vote for them.
In Virginia, for example, Latino voters played a decisive role in handing the 2013 gubernatorial election to Democrat Terry McAuliffe over former Virginia congressman and attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a far-right conservative. McAuliffe earned about 59,000 votes from Latino voters in Virginia that year –– and he claimed victory by a razor-thin margin of about 56,000 votes.
By all accounts, the race would have gone to Cuccinelli without those key Latino voters. But the support didn’t happen automatically – it happened because McAuliffe and his supporters, including myself as part of People For the American Way’s Latinos Vote! program, went all in against Cuccinelli. Through a combination of in-person outreach Spanish language television and radio ads and strategic partnerships with other groups, we spread the word about Cuccinelli’s racist anti-immigrant rhetoric among Latino voters – and the results speak for themselves.
Four years later, when McAuliffe’s tenure as governor was up, Latino voters again showed up in record numbers to vote against Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, who echoed Donald Trump’s racist fearmongering to demonize immigrants, Latinos and people of color. Once again, we made sure Latino voters knew about these attacks through Spanish-language TV ads. After prioritizing and engaging Latino communities, about seven in 10 Latino voters in Virginia cast their ballots for Democrat Ralph Northam.
Democrats’ investment in Latino education and outreach paid off yet again in the 2019 Virginia election, when Latino and women voters helped end Republicans’ legislative stronghold and Democrats captured full control of the state legislature for the first time in 26 years. Just two months after the state flipped from red to blue, Virginia lawmakers ratified the Equal Rights Amendment – an achievement in which women voters played a key role, and one that was long overdue, especially for Latina women given the drastic income inequality that Latinas experience.
And it’s not just Virginia. In battleground states across the country, we see that when Democrats reach out to Latino voters, we show up at the ballot box to support them. In Wisconsin, Democratic political organizers and Latino advocacy groups like Voces de la Frontera have spent many years exposing Republicans’ anti-Latino political agendas and engaging and organizing Latino voters to support Democratic candidates. In turn, Latino voters are flexing their political power in favor of Democratic candidates, including Gov. Tony Evers, who edged out Scott Walker in 2018 by fewer than 30,000 votes. Latinos who voted in that election totaled 84,000, and it’s clear that it was the Latino vote that gave Evers his margin of victory.
In fact, the 2018 midterm election proved the power of the Latino vote on a national level. In states with significant Latino populations, like California, Arizona and Florida, the Latino vote played a key role in flipping nine U.S. House districts from Republican to Democratic, resulting in Democrats’ capture of the House.
But Virginia and Wisconsin show us that even in states with modest Latino populations, the Latino vote can play an equally critical role. And with mere weeks until the most significant presidential election in our lifetimes, Democratic candidates need to do everything in their power to earn our support.
After four years of Trump and his cronies’ racism and hostility, Latinos are more motivated than ever to defeat Trump and end his regime of racist hate for good. But we need to know what – and who – we’re fighting for.
Between the toxic rhetoric and the challenges our community is experiencing, we need to feel like our votes, and our voices, are valued. In addition to trying to earn our votes, Democratic candidates, organizations, and institutions need to give us a vision to embrace that addresses the issues we care about. Show us you’re listening – and we can and will carry you over the finish line.
Sí se puede!