A few months after taking office, President Biden invited a group of top Latino leaders to the White House. As they sat around the table, the president was surprisingly serious. He went so far as to acknowledge, two people familiar with the conversation recounted, that his five decades in politics had given him far more familiarity with the African-American community and its major issues than with Latinos and their concerns.
Almost a year and a half later, Biden and the Democrats have fulfilled a series of political promises of great importance to Latinos. But some Latino activists worry that voters aren’t aware of all that has been done, and others worry that the blind perspective Biden privately acknowledged has limited Latino representation in his administration.
“I think there is a blind spot in the White House and in the Oval Office,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who pointed to the lack of Latinos appointed to key roles throughout the executive branch. “It is clear that the president himself does not understand the Latino community.”
With Hispanic Heritage Month underway and the midterm elections seven weeks away, Biden and his advisers have launched a robust outreach effort aimed at ensuring that this crucial voting bloc appreciates the sum of the Democrats’ accomplishments. .
Last Thursday, the administration’s director of Hispanic media opened the daily briefing in Spanish. That night, Biden spoke at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual dinner in Washington.
On Friday, the main outside group supporting Biden’s agenda, Building Back Together, launched a six-figure ad campaign targeting Latinos in three battleground states.
The administration’s latest efforts to court Latinos may have started earlier, several activists said.
“Intentionally not messaging or communicating with Latino voters could have a huge impact on the outcome of this midterm election,” said Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, a Washington-based Hispanic advocacy organization. “We have not been ignored. I just don’t think they’ve optimized the Latino vote the way they could.”
Latino voters strongly support the Democrats’ political priorities: letting Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices (91%), canceling student debt (74%), and protecting abortion rights (77%), according to a weekly follow-up survey by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
But Biden’s approval rating among Latinos is only 58%, a number that could be higher with more direct outreach to Latino voters. More than half of Latinos surveyed in the survey (51%) said they have not yet been contacted by any political party, campaign, or any other organization.
Sending working families $1,400 pandemic relief checks, canceling up to $20,000 of student loan debt, and enacting the first gun safety reforms in 30 years after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, this year are “political successes.” overwhelming,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic Consultant and advisor on Latino outreach to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “The problem is that Latino voters don’t know it. You don’t see ads that talk about the litany of successes this White House has brought to the Latino community.”
If Latinos don’t know about Biden’s political agenda, it’s not necessarily because of a lack of trying by Democrats. Mayra Macías, director of strategy for Building Back Together, said the group has spent more than $35 million on advertising, including ads targeting Latinos, since the organization launched last year.
“We have been doing paid advertising with the Latino community since day one,” he said in an interview. “Now, there are more wins to sell.”
Several of those victories — the Reduce Inflation Act, which expands access to health care and lowers the cost of prescription drugs, and Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness — were signed into law in August. “We need more time to spread all this information,” Macias said. “But we have this incredible opportunity with all the legislation that has been passed recently.”
Recent events have also broadened Latino support for some Democratic priorities.
The Uvalde shooting in May, when 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed when a man armed with an assault rifle stormed into their classroom, galvanized more Latinos around gun safety. And the Supreme Court’s repeal of federal abortion protections in June has energized many more Latinos around reproductive choice protections.
At the National Association last week. From the Tracking Survey of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, abortion rights was one of the top three issues for 28% of respondents, a huge jump from 2018, when only 4% mentioned it as such. The same poll showed that 77% of Latinos now support a ban on assault weapons.
Only one issue was a higher priority for Latinos: the rising cost of living and inflation, which 48% of respondents listed as one of the top three concerns. Although gas prices have fallen in recent months after surging following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Democrats know that pocketbook trouble remains a potential liability for them.
“One of the first things that comes out of people’s mouths when I talk to them in the district is gas prices,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima). “If gas prices weren’t where they were, then people would talk more about what we’ve done.”
In those conversations, Cardenas said he wants to focus voters on everything Democrats have done to help working families, as well as last year’s bipartisan infrastructure reform.
“Biden has a lot to brag about. But something that people don’t realize is that more than 50% of construction workers are Latino,” he said. “That infrastructure bill is a tremendous boost for millions of Latino households.”
Despite all Biden has accomplished in two years, many Latino activists believe the administration has missed opportunities to solidify support and halt a slow but significant uptick in Latino support for Republicans.
According to the tracking poll, more than 50% prefer a generic Democrat, but 35% of Latinos prefer a Republican candidate, a notable increase from the 2018 midterms, when that number was 22%. A University of Siena/New York Times poll of Latinos this week mirrored those results, detailing how the Republican Party has made inroads with Latinos, particularly on economic issues and in the South.
“We have had problems with Latinos for a long time. Support is down, down, down,” said Joshua Ulibarri, a Democratic pollster focused on Latinos. “It’s not Biden’s fault for that, but it’s up to him to stop the bleeding.”
Ulibarri was not the only one to mention marijuana legalization as a way to increase support in Latino communities, where people are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses. But the most common area of frustration among Latino political activists and operatives was that very few Latinos have been appointed to positions in the White House and in the executive and judicial branches.
Although Biden named four historic Latinos to his cabinet, there have been no Latinos appointed as deputy attorneys general at the Justice Department, no Latinos appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that addresses workplace discrimination, and no Latino leadership in Occupational Safety and Health. Management.
“Quotes send a message,” said Saenz, of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a former adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “This goes far beyond the notion of progress. In fact, we’ve seen some regression compared to the Obama administration.”
Sáenz and his organization have asked Biden to nominate more Latinos for the federal seat.
The highest-ranking Latino working in the West Wing is Julie Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In June, she was elevated to the title of assistant to the president, a response in part to pressure from outside groups frustrated that Biden had no Latinos in that position.
In an interview, he responded to criticism that Latinos are underrepresented in the administration. “Representation is broader and deeper than I have ever seen in my experience in government,” Rodríguez said, adding that Biden’s directive to prioritize diversity is not simply about meeting a staffing quota. “No matter who you are, you have a clear mandate from the president to ensure that there is fairness across all agencies and in our policies.”
After proposing an immigration reform bill on his first day in office, the symbolic fulfillment of a campaign promise, Biden has turned his legislative agenda in other directions. Even as immigrants have overwhelmed the southern border, prompting a daily drumbeat of criticism from Republicans, the White House has been reluctant to engage, determined to focus elsewhere.
“Biden personally promised me that he was going to get it done in the first 100 days,” said Héctor Sánchez Barba, executive president of Mi Familia Vota. “But it’s the same story over and over again. And it’s unacceptable.”
But whatever frustrations there are, they will be weighed against the alternative of a Republican Party, increasingly dominated by xenophobia and demagoguery. As the Democrats begin their final messaging blitz in the run-up to the November 8 election, they present their own achievements in contrast to the Republicans, portraying the GOP as extremist and working to frame the election as a choice between two parties and visions. not a referendum on Biden and the Democrats in Congress.
The controversial measure last week by the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with clear aspirations to challenge Biden in 2024, offered the Democrats a chance. Seeking to force Democrats to reckon with the impact of rampant migration, DeSantis used taxpayer dollars to fly Venezuelan asylum seekers to liberal enclaves like Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC, where dozens of migrants they were deposited Thursday in front of Vice President Kamala Harris. ‘Official residence.
“We as an administration continue to really deliver on Latino families,” said Rodriguez, assistant to the president. “And what we’re seeing in terms of the kind of political maneuvering coming from people on the other side right now, using taxpayer dollars to exploit migrants fleeing communism, just couldn’t be a clearer contrast in terms of who is fighting for the community and who has the best interest of the community in mind.”