How Democrats Took Latino Voters for Granted

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S1: On election night, Chuck Rocha was at home in D.C. by himself.

S2: I like spending election night alone and hold it. Why? It’s I’m an emotional creature, if you can’t tell.

S3: And so I found it through doing this for thirty one years and living through the trials and tribulations of losing lots of elections, that trying to keep everything in perspective is kind of controlled chaos on election night.

S1: Even though he was on his own, Chuck still had an audience. He’s got 50000 followers on Twitter. And when he saw the results come in from Florida, he couldn’t help himself. He tweeted, My next book is going to be called I Told You So.

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S3: I just knew that from watching that we were going to have not as many victories as I think everybody thought we were going to have on election night. And my intuition played through 30 years of doing this work came to be what I thought it would be.

S1: Chuck Specialty is advising candidates how they can reach out to Latino voters, the very voters Joe Biden seemed to lose in Miami-Dade County.

S3: I always thought Joe Biden would win. I knew that we would he would have some softness in certain geographical areas with the Latino vote. And that was true. And I knew that white people love Donald Trump, but that we would get enough to get by.

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S1: We had Chuck on the show just a few weeks back, but I wanted to talk to him again to try to figure out what happened here. When we last spoke, he was looking at the numbers, seeing this weakness among Latino voters and basically begging the Democratic operatives to send him money.

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S4: And he says that actually did work. And I will give Joe Biden credit. He invested money. There wasn’t a little late. Yes. Was it a lot? Yes. So there was a lot of money. I remember calling a sister in Florida who runs a statewide Latino organizer. Like clarify two things before I go on TV today so I can say this. You’ve got more money than you’ve ever had to run operation in Florida. She said, yes. And I said, I bet you’ve gotten the bulk of it in the last three weeks. She said, yes, they she had all the money she needed the last two weeks when we could have started all this in six months. But the donors were all hyper focused on white people in Wisconsin, and they should have been. But I’m saying you can with a billion dollars, take it from an old Mexican redneck. That’s enough money to do other things than just go talk to white, persuadable voters.

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S1: Today on the show, Democrats are wringing their hands over what feels like a loss in the Latino community. Chuck Rocha says if you compare states Democrats won to states Democrats lost, you can figure out how to fix it.

S5: I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: All the money that came in during the final weeks of the campaign so organizers could reach out to Latino voters, Chuck got a healthy slice of it for his new PAC. And then, like his friend in Florida, he had another problem, how to spend it.

S4: We got to the last six days. I raised another almost half a million dollars. And instead of instead of going to Florida, where everybody had been talking about Latinos for the last three months and going in there with Bloomberg and Priorities and these other super PACs who kind of had dominated all that space down there, I said Philadelphia. I’m like, it comes down to Pennsylvania. Let’s go buy a bunch more TV and Spanish and a bunch more radio in Spanish and then just dilute every Latino up there and then let’s call them on the phone to remind them to sit in their ballot. So we doubled down in Pennsylvania and I will, to my dying day, say that that was the difference in Joe Buiding when in this election was this. If you look at the eastern side of that state and those blue counties, those are all Latinos and then they’re African-Americans in Philadelphia, but everything north of Philadelphia or all Puerto Rican, some of those counties up there are almost 30 percent Latino now.

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S1: So while there’s been a lot of bellyaching over Latino voters leaving the Democratic Party, Chuck sees what happened here a little differently. He thinks Latino voters really delivered for the president elect. They just might not live in the places you’d expect. That doesn’t negate the fact that something is certainly going on with this slice of the electorate. That was obvious from early on Tuesday night when returns started coming in from Miami-Dade County in Florida.

S4: Yeah, you got to start in Florida because it was the problem, right. We’ve got to address the problem and there’s solutions for it. But first of all, think about Cubans. Cubans live in Miami Dade. That’s where the most of them live. And guess what? Boys and girls, they’re already registered Republicans. They’re going to vote predominantly Republican and that’s who they are. You’re not going to persuade them to be a Democrat.

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S1: But Miami-Dade has been a Democratic stronghold, right?

S4: Sure. But what you had was an uptick in actual voter participation and then you lost some of the margins. So it was a twofer. So you had more Latinos and more Cubans voting and then your percentages weren’t as great as they were saying that Hillary Clinton. Let me give you this statistic from Miami-Dade. If Joe Biden had performed at the same level as Hillary Clinton in Miami-Dade, that means 20 points better. He still loses the state of Florida by one hundred eighty thousand votes because of his underperformance with white people. You can’t lay this all on Latinos. It was just an overall underperformance in that county all the way around. So that’s why we lost two congressional seats there as well. So, look, there are Cubans that are conservative. We need to learn how to deal and have a better conversation with their children and their grandchildren. The good news for Democrats. Hello, Democrats. Are you listening to this is the good part. Get your pencil is that those older conservative Cubans are a hundred years old. They’re 80, 90 and 70. They were born in Cuba, God rest them. And they have they they are very, very loyal. And I give them full credit. But guess what? They’re getting older. And I mean, no disrespect here, but they’re dying off at a higher rate and their children and their grandchildren that were born in America are skewing more and more democratic if we go down and have a conversation with them. That’s how Barack Obama won this demographic by just a couple points for the first time in the history of America in 08. So it can be done. So there’s Cuba.

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S1: Miami Dade, I was reading up on this and looking back at Senator Ben Nelson and when he ran for re-election against the former governor, Rick Scott and Rick Scott just seemed to really communicate with the Cuban community. He had picked a Cuban-American to be his lieutenant governor. He had started learning to speak Spanish when he was governor. And, you know, he had shown up in Cuban areas often. And I wonder if you think that’s a real weakness for the Democratic Party.

S4: It is. And I think that the scenario that you describe is a lot like what Donald Trump did as well, that he highlighted Cubans, he highlighted his relationship with him. I would take you back to the RNC convention when they were no less than three or four Cubans that spoke on stage with very moving immigration and American dream stories. A lot of times Democratic operatives are like, oh, the Cubans are Republicans. What are we going to do? Let them have that little piece of Miami-Dade? But my argument is, let’s have a counter argument. Let’s get on those radio programs and push back and talk about the good things that we’re doing in America around all the different aspects that they care about outside of just Cuba, communism and socialism. And I think that would help when I say show up in the community, because it wasn’t because of lack of spending on Spanish language TV in Miami priorities. And Mike Bloomberg and other loquat consultants made sure that that was done at a really high level. So there was plenty of advertisement, but by the end, everybody had already kind of just kind of tune them out.

S1: Well, let’s talk about South Texas, because I feel like there has been a lot of attention to these border communities that have been traditionally blue, even though the state goes firmly red and how they flipped, especially a place like Zapata County where everyone elected, is Democrat. But Trump won. So I wonder what you see when you look at this community compared to a place like Florida.

S6: Again, you’ve got to peel back a lot of layers of what’s really going on there. First, I need to explain to everybody that in Texas, for the first time in the history of Texas, they did not have straight party voting. And every Mexican in that county is a Democrat for the most part. And so you used to just have to walk in on Election Day and literally just check one box and walk out because that one box, did you vote for every Democrat on the ticket? And so the Republicans did away with that because it was starting to make them lose elections down ballot. So that’s that’s a B. Let’s not get too sidetracked that these counties may be 90 percent Latino, but they are not bastions of liberalism. And very few Latinos actually live in those counties compared to the other counties around the state where all of the Latinos live because they’re rural, because they’re so rural. Yes, sister. Exactly. So the same precinct that we describe, that’s 92 percent Latino in South Oak Cliff and Dallas voted at 75 percent for Joe Biden, even though the same county down south, that’s the same percent of Latinos, as you said, so dramatically underperformed by 30 points compared to Hillary Clinton. Now, this is a great nuance for your listeners. Same state, same demographic, because they’re saying Mexicans are Mexican Americans, but they live eight hours from each other and could not act more differently because one lives in the inner city of Dallas. And, you know, they’re listening to whatever music in Dallas. They’re probably won’t brown hippies. And then down in the valley, they sound like me. And there were cowboy boots like me in a cowboy hat. And they’re pretty conservative. They work for the Border Patrol. They’re, you know, they’re kind of entrenched in that border system down there. They know how to make money down there doing that. I talked to the congressman who represents McAllen and Edinburg who have who I work with, who was like Chuck two weeks before the elections. They were 3000 car trunk parades, caravans that were all Latinos. I knew this was coming.

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S1: Hmm. The other thing that stood out to me was that in the debates, Biden, I guess, slipped up a bit and talked about petroleum in a way that made folks in South Texas think their jobs might be on the line. And it really reminded me of the debate in Pennsylvania about fracking and how Democrats have to find maybe a better way to talk about energy and where they’re taking the country when it comes to climate change.

S6: All of these districts are different district to district. That’s an easy thing to say. But we have a national party and with a group of people and I mean, no disrespect to any of these people. A lot of them are super talented operatives. They went to the best schools there from Harvard and Yale, and they know all the analytical message testing. They love to test ads. They love to tell you how smart they are. But they none of them in the south. Texas A&M spent a lot of time in Little Havana, in Miami and understand what I mean you’re talking about right now. And because you have a national WOAK party who don’t understand that all these districts are really different, even the segmentation of the Latino program should be really, really different. That’s where you lose the nuances and cost us elections. Sometimes the unwritten story of this election is how half of all the congresspeople that will no longer be in Congress who lost on Tuesday night were Latino congressmen that are Democrats. Hmm. What do you think about that? I think that it shows a weakness in the underbelly of the Latino outreach from the party apparatus, I knew because I’ve done this so long that state parties and congressional races and Senate races thought they could rely on the investment that Joe Biden was making into a state and Spanish language TV to lift all boats with a rising tide. And that may have helped in places like Arizona and Nevada, but there was no Joe Biden races or spending in Texas. Right. And so I don’t know of any specific Latino outreach program that any Senate campaign or Democratic campaign actually ran to go talk to Latinos early about why they should be voting for a Democrat, for a congressional office or for a Senate office. And and I did do this research the day after the election because I was so upset was to look to see if there was any Latino campaign managers in any of the Senate races, the governor’s races or the top 30 congressional races. And I didn’t find one single Latino or Latina managing any single race that we ran for governor Senate or in the top 30 of the congressional races or any Latino owned firms doing the top consulting at any level of that work. So we shouldn’t be surprised that that outreach wasn’t done and went down. Probably not that great because there was none of us at the table actually doing it. And that also goes for African-Americans. There were no African-American men or women in any of those positions either.

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S7: More with Chuck Rocha after the break.

S1: There was some good news this cycle for Democrats when it came to the Latino vote. Those bright spots, you could find them in Arizona and Nevada. I feel like what makes those states different is that they have their own separate, not the party organizing infrastructures that are in the community all the time, making connections in Nevada. You know, you have the union working and reaching out to their members all the time in Arizona. You have a lot of young people who have been organizing around issues that are salient to them when it comes especially to immigration. And so you have these robust, non-democratic party elements that then can work in concert with the party when there’s an election.

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S6: That’s that’s the best point we’ve made here today, is that’s what really is different. If you said to me, Chuck, what’s the right way to do this? You sure do. Come on the radio and on these podcast and complain a lot. What’s the good news? That’s like the good news is that I could think of a better example, nowhere that’s better than Arizona. And let me make my point is that there were let’s first start with the candidate. So Joe Biden spends money starting in late July in Arizona in Spanish, and he stays up the entire time. Now, that is great. I would say is actually really good now. Was he there as early as Donald Trump? No, he wasn’t. And did that cost him a little bit? Yes, it did. So Donald Trump was up about four weeks in Arizona earlier in the summer in June. So that did hurt. But God bless him. He got there and he got there and he stayed there. So that’s good. That’s the first thing you want as your candidate to make an investment. And he did. He had a great state director, a Latina, another representative of the community. Good. Check that box. The second piece is you need a robust independent expenditure spending as well. So Chuck Roach in York, we spent three million dollars in Arizona and we started four weeks before Biden did. So now you have an E running in language communication along with the candidate. So that’s step two. And then the third is the local organizers on the ground connecting it directly to the community. To your point, there’s a group in Arizona called Lucja who I’ve been working with for years. They were fully funded. They knocked on doors. They were at the supermarkets. They work in the community to your point year round, helping people apply for driver’s license, helping them with health care, helping them with immigration papers, and they just transfer that over to political organizing when that’s timed to come so they don’t leave. So you had the air support and then you had the ground support, but you didn’t have that like that culturally competent all the time in all of the states. That’s why Arizona was so good.

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S1: I got to ask you about something, though. You say it’s really money that makes all the difference. But one of the things that stands out to me about this election cycle is all the money that rolled in for these local races like Jamie Harrison. And it didn’t seem to move the needle. So is that something different? Like what? Am I not getting it all moved late?

S6: Like the key to those races is getting in there and going up early and doing it in the right way. Whether you have an air support and infrastructure on the ground with people from the ground, like all of that late surge of money coming into Jamie’s races was just like all the others. It was just more TV, more digital, more mail. And, you know, at a certain point that stuff your mailbox is just full. You’re not tuned in anymore. Like you get so much less effect. That money is up. 10 million dollars spent in July is so much more powerful than 10 million spent in October. It’s probably not worth a million dollars by that time in October because people are already just tuned out. They don’t care. And with early voting, half of them have already voted, for God sakes. So it just don’t go as far that early investment and year round organizing is really, really the key on top of doing it culturally competent, where you have not just a white, persuadable program, but you have a bilingual communication program. You have something very targeted to the African-American community that’s not doing it in the last four weeks, but for the last four months.

S1: Hmm. You know, one lesson that some folks are taking away from the last little bit is that the Democrats have had this idea for a while that if we just turn out the vote, you know, get people in the in the polling places, we’re going to win. We just need people to show up. And it seems like a lot of people did show up this cycle, but plenty of them voted Republican. And I wonder what you think about that, about whether it’s time to put that idea aside or whether there’s some nuance we’re not getting.

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S6: I would agree with that.

S2: And I would say that this election shows us that not just more turnout means that Democrats win. That has been the analogy to your point, going back to when I was a little boy, when I had still had hair, that is just like a long time ago thinking that. But we’ve proved that wrong. And the biggest difference is these young people write a lot of young people showed up. Did a lot of young people show up to vote for Donald Trump? No, but young people aren’t tied to this party. All these young people are registering as no party preference and all of these states. That’s why we have to start even young black people, young brown people, young Asian people, they need to be part of a larger, persuadable universe of people. We now segment out the voter file at such astronomical rates around data that you’re lose, leaving out huge swaths of people who normally don’t ever get talked to. I mean, that was the big difference in what new Estrapade did when I said I went to Pennsylvania and spent a bunch of money at the end. I was also targeting newly registered Latinos with mail, infrequent Latinos with me. I want to go talk to people nobody else was talking to who weren’t getting. A deluge of information talking about points of pride and standing up for our community and letting our voice be heard. I think those are the key indicators. But the bottom line is there’s a whole new bunch of persuasion that needs to happen in this next election cycle. Yeah, I mean, what does that look like? It starts with doing things immediately to start a narrative that the Democrats are with us. And I think that Joe Biden is in a particular good place to start that. And it starts with reinstating DACA, reinstating TPS, closing these private prisons with these children and their mothers are held at the border, reuniting the mothers in starting a narrative about that and then really getting into an economic populism message around rebuilding and rebuilding better and showing how he’s going to get us out of this catastrophe, which he will, you know, take him time. But creating that narrative that helps somebody like me the next cycle, start talking to Latinos and other folks about what he’s done for us and what he’s done to make their lives better. That’s the key to winning these races, is having receipts. This says Joe Biden did this, this and this. And that’s how we’ve proven he stands with us. So we have to now vote for these Democrats in these congressional races. You couple that with having more Latinos in positions of power in the party infrastructure, from consulting to managers to just the thought leaders, then I think that’s the recipe for how you do it differently.

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S1: Chuck Archer, I always love talking to you. Thanks for coming on. It’s my pleasure. Thank you. Chuck Rocha is a former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders and the head of Nuestro PAC. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Jason de Leon, Mary Wilson, Elena Schwartz and Danielle Hewitt, Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt. Make sure we get everything done. Frannie Kelley is helping to make sure getting it all done is possible right now. And I’m Mary Harris. You can track me down on Twitter over at Mary’s desk and you can find me back in this field tomorrow.