Biden and Harris to campaign in Florida amid concerns about Latino support

Stephen Loiaconi is a digital reporter covering Politics for Sinclair Broadcast Group

Wednesday, September 9th 2020

WASHINGTON (SBG) — Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to board a plane at New Castle Airport in New Castle, Del., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, en route to campaign events in Michigan. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to hold an advantage over President Donald Trump in many national and battleground state polls, but one trend is emerging that Democrats and experts say should be troubling for his campaign: Biden is consistently falling behind 2016 nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton’s performance with Latino voters.

Polls show Biden leading Trump with Hispanic voters nationally, but his edge is narrowing in key swing states. Recent surveys in Florida put Trump ahead among Hispanics there, including one that found him beating Biden in traditionally-Democratic Miami-Dade County, which he lost by 30 points in 2016.

A poll of Florida Hispanics by Democratic firm Equis Research indicated Biden is leading Trump there in the demographic by 16 points, but that is far less than the 27-point advantage Clinton had in exit polls in 2016 when she lost the state to Trump. Trump’s support has grown among Cuban Americans and Latino men, in particular.

Another Democratic group, Unite the Country PAC, released a Florida poll that had Biden leading Trump by 5 points statewide but losing by nearly 20 points among Cuban Hispanics. Pollsters concluded Biden would need to maintain his support from non-Cuban Hispanics and college-educated white voters to make up for that deficit.

A recent Quinnipiac University national survey found Biden ahead of Trump by 20 points with Hispanics, but that is still just over half the size of Clinton’s average lead in 2016 polls. An Emerson College poll conducted after both parties’ nominating conventions showed Trump drawing support from 37% of Hispanics, up 10 points from his 2016 numbers.

According to the Pew Research Center, 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote this fall, making them the largest racial or ethnic minority in the electorate. Two-thirds of that population is concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Arizona.

“The takeaway for me is, don’t take the Latino vote for granted. Don’t presume it’s locked up because it’s not,” Adrian Pantoja, a professor of political studies and Chicano studies at Pitzer College and a senior analyst for polling firm Latino Decisions, said of the latest data.

Some Biden allies have dismissed the public polls as undersampling Hispanics, but the campaign is still stepping up its outreach efforts. The campaign announced Wednesday Biden would visit Florida next week, and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, is set to appear in Miami Thursday.

Democratic National Committee communications director Xochitl Hinojosa insisted on Fox News Monday that the party is not taking Latino voters for granted.

“You see, especially in a place like Florida, where we have expanded our team," Hinojosa said. "One thing that is significant is when the Biden [campaign] made their general election buy, they invested in not only Spanish-language media, but a lot of Latinos also watch TV in English.”

According to Chuck Rocha, who led Sen. Bernie Sanders’ successful Latino outreach during the 2020 Democratic primaries, the Biden campaign and its allies might still be underinvesting in appealing to Hispanic communities. In an interview with Vox, he warned President Trump had a head start defining Biden in Spanish-language media, and swaying even a small percentage of Latino voters away from Democrats could make a difference in a close election.

“We’ve known all along that Latino men were a soft spot,” Rocha said. “They just weren’t as convinced about Joe Biden. Some of this ‘law and order’ stuff, about having safe streets for your kids and your family, works with Latino men.”

A Hispanic-led super PAC campaign, “It’s Time for 46,” launched Tuesday with the goal of mobilizing millennials and Generation Z voters to remove President Trump from office. The campaign is targeting Trump’s record on the coronavirus, the economy, policing, immigration, and the environment.

Until recently, President Trump’s campaign was far outspending Biden in Spanish-language media and deploying more resources to contact voters on the ground. Aides remain confident the president can substantially outperform his 2016 numbers in November.

“In addition to Biden’s bad policies, his culturally incompetent campaign continues to alienate Hispanics by imposing an unpopular ethnic label on our communities, peddling victimhood, and extreme positions on abortion and other issues—all of which run afoul of Hispanic culture and values,” the Trump campaign said in a statement Tuesday.

Experts who study Latino politics are unsurprised by Biden’s struggles. The Obama administration’s record on immigration and deportation remains a liability on the left, while Republican warnings of socialism likely resonate with right-leaning Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans.

“The Trump administration has been pretty solid in terms of associating the Democrats with socialists,” said Melissa Michelson, dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Menlo College, pointing to Latino speakers at the Republican National Convention who pressed that message.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Convention faced criticism from activists for not spotlighting enough Latino voices. That perceived snub could be hurting Biden, Pantoja suggested, but there are plenty of prominent Latino politicians and celebrities the campaign could deploy to rectify it.

“It basically means Joe Biden has to double down, be more attentive, and be more aggressive in courting the Latino vote,” he said.

Biden and Harris sat down for interviews with Spanish-language television stations last week, and the campaign has brought in several experts on outreach to Puerto Ricans and Latinos. According to Michelson, the focus on Spanish media and hiring of specialists could help Biden regain ground with the community.

“The key is for Latinos to feel like the campaign is reaching out to them, that it’s saying we are interested in earning the support of Latino voters,” she said.

The selection of Harris as Biden’s running mate appears to have bolstered his standing with voters of color. A poll conducted last month by the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information indicated an 11-point bump in support for the Democratic ticket among African Americans and a 15-point boost among Latinos after the announcement.

A Latino Decisions survey conducted in mid-August found growing discontent with President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as Latino communities faced disproportionate impact from the outbreak. That survey showed Biden ahead of Trump by double-digits among Latinos in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, Latino voters are connecting the crisis back to President Trump,” said Latino Decisions co-founder Gary Segura in a statement. “Latinos now clearly blame Trump's delays and mismanagement for making the crisis worse and this is going to have a big effect at the ballot box this November.”

That frustration with Trump’s coronavirus response could provide an opening for Biden. He pounced Wednesday on news that Trump told journalist Bob Woodward he deliberately downplayed the threat of the outbreak in the spring.

“For any campaign, you need to develop an effective message and an effective messenger,” Pantoja said. “That’s what Joe Biden needs to figure out. What is his message to Latinos? The message can’t simply be, ‘I’m not Trump.’”

Reaching those who currently support Trump could prove challenging, though. Michelson said many Republican-leaning Latinos get their information from pro-Trump media outlets and likely have a very positive perception of his presidency as a result.

“It’s really difficult for the Biden campaign to break through to those folks,” she said.

Biden’s losses with Latinos have so far been balanced by gains over Clinton’s numbers with suburban white voters, giving him a wider lead nationally than she had at this point in 2016. However, in Latino-heavy states that could decide the election like Florida and Arizona, the cost of bleeding off even a fraction of that support could be high.

“This is all a battle at the margins,” Michelson said.