AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
As the midterms race closer, Republicans appear to be continuing to gain traction with Latino voters, a key constituency in winning control of Congress in 2022. While Democrats initially denied that such a demographic shift was even taking place, they are now in a desperate scramble to salvage their support among Hispanics.
Perhaps the clearest indicator of Democrats’ struggles with Hispanics has been President Joe Biden’s performance with the group. Though Biden won Hispanics 59%-38% in 2020, that represented a net 17-point decline from Hillary Clinton’s 66%-28% margin in 2016. Moreover, Biden’s approval rating with Hispanics is now hovering below 30%, one of his most dismal ratings among any demographic.
A number of polls over the past several months have also found Democrats only slightly ahead of Republicans in terms of support among Hispanic Americans, a dramatic shift after decades of Democratic candidates reliably earning anywhere from 60-80% of the Latino vote. Though Republicans aren’t likely to win a majority of the Hispanic vote in 2022 or even 2024, narrowing the gap to within a few points over just a few years is a drastic change given that such shifts often take decades to occur.
One big reason for Republican gains among Latino voters has been the rise of strong Latino candidates in dozens of races throughout the country. In a Texas border district earlier this year, Republican Mayra Flores, a Mexican immigrant, shocked the political world by flipping a U.S. House District that had been held by a Democrat for more than 100 years. In Virginia, Yesli Vega, the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, is another potential rising star within the party. Many of these candidates have powerful personal stories of overcoming adversity, and their message of preserving economic opportunity and traditional family values for future generations has resonated with voters of all backgrounds.
Republicans are also increasingly talking to Latino voters about issues that matter most to them – in particular, the economy. Hispanic Americans consistently rank inflation as their top issue heading into November, an ominous sign for Democrats.
Crime has also continued to be a major concern for Latinos, particularly in the wake of the BLM and Antifa riots of 2020. Latino communities and businesses were some of the hardest hit by the wave of violence that swept through dozens of U.S. cities two summers ago. Some were explicitly threatened by BLM activists. In June 2020, for example, a group of more than 20 businesses in Louisville, Kentucky, many of them Latino-owned, were sent a series of demands ordering them to “employ at least 23 percent black staff, buy at least 23 percent of their inventory from black retailers, or make a recurring donation of 1.5 percent of their net sales to a local black charity,” lest they be targeted by rioters. One Cuban immigrant and small business owner named Fernando Martinez who spoke out against the intimidation tactic made signs stating, “We left Cuba because of socialism. Be careful what you wish for.”
A key test of Republicans’ newfound strength with Latino voters will be in Nevada, where the seat of incumbent Democrat Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto – ironically the only Hispanic woman in the Senate – is a top GOP target. Latinos comprise nearly 20% of the Nevada electorate, or just above the national average of 19%. Cortez-Masto will likely need to win the Hispanic vote by around a 2-1 margin to stave off Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. While Cortez-Masto currently holds a 3-4 point lead in polling, a wave of disaffected Latinos could hand the race – and perhaps control of the Senate – to Republicans this fall.
Clearly concerned about a decline in support among Hispanic voters, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last month announced a six-figure outreach effort aimed at shoring up the Latino vote in November. The campaign, “our Lucha” or “our struggle,” is built around a series of YouTube videos that will “unpack a variety of topics that matter to our communities.”
However, the content of the outreach effort appears only to underscore further why Democrats are losing support with Hispanic voters. The actual videos released by the caucus come across as dismissive and demeaning, labeling conservative-minded Hispanics as “crazy.” One video asks, “Do you have a superstition-loving Abuela or a crazy tio who’s always saying crazy things about stuff he heard en la radio? So do we. So, let’s talk about it.” The videos and other Democratic outreach efforts to Latino voters also routinely use the “Latinx” label, something which a majority of Hispanic Americans have repeatedly said is out of touch and offensive.
Regardless of the outcome in November, Republicans’ standing with Latino voters looks stronger than it has in decades. By some estimates, if the GOP is even moderately successful in 2022, the number of Latino House Republicans will increase by 50%. This complicates not only Democrat attempts to hold onto this vital minority group, but also their efforts to dismiss their opponents as militant racists. As Republicans diversify, statistically speaking, Democrats are becoming whiter, more “elite,” and less connected to the American people than ever before.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.