• November 30, 2020

TEXAS VIEW: What Trump’s surprising strength among Latino voters means - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: What Trump’s surprising strength among Latino voters means

THE POINT: There’s significant diversity among Latinos in Texas and winning their votes will be a high priority for both parties.

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Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2020 2:30 am

Throughout the country, Hispanic voters cast more ballots for Donald Trump than anyone expected. Republicans did better in many congressional districts with large numbers of Latinos than imagined, especially in South Florida.

And in Texas, Democrats were taken aback at Trump’s strong performance in the Rio Grande Valley. While Joe Biden won majorities in most, Trump won more votes from the region than in 2016. And he boosted his take in Tarrant County’s predominantly Hispanic areas, Star-Telegram reporter Kristian Hernandez found in an analysis of the vote.

All this has huge implications for the future of Texas politics. Democrats have long hoped (and perhaps assumed) that Texas Hispanics would be the driving force behind an enduring majority, if only they would vote in large numbers. But these voters are up for grabs, and while several factors will determine if the state stays red or swings blue, winning Latino votes will be a high priority for both parties as the fight continues.

The party that comes up with the right pitch will be the one that understands the diversity within the Latino vote. Indeed, it may be time to stop even referring to such a single entity.

The first step is cultural competence, veteran Democratic political operative Chuck Rocha says.

Rocha, a Tyler native, was a top strategist to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, which consistently performed well among Latinos in the Democratic primaries.

For example, he noted, in West Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, a swing district that runs from San Antonio to just outside of El Paso, you can’t reach Latino voters with Spanish-language ads in San Antonio. In small towns, they get information from weekly Spanish newspapers, FM radio and mail.

“The Latinos in Eagle Pass act a lot different than the Latinos on the south side of San Antonio who take the bus to work every day,” said Rocha, whose book, “Tio Bernie,” outlines the Sanders campaign’s success.

The key, according to Rocha, is hiring Latinos who understand how to reach voters and allocate resources accordingly.

“If you put one of us in charge, we’re a lot more apt to make sure things are funded and run … with a culturally competent campaign,” said Rocha, whose Nuestro PAC is raising money to improve Hispanic turnout for Democrats.

The assumption was that Latino voters were immediately turned off by Donald Trump’s harsh words about Mexicans and remained angry about his focus on illegal immigration. And millions no doubt did.

But as with Sanders, the populism that Trump injected into the GOP might have won over some Latinos. Rocha said his polling indicated that many Latino voters, particularly men, are receptive to a candidate who pledges to battle a “rigged system” so that they and their families get a fair shake.

That’s an important note for Republicans. If they’re going to build on Trump’s relative success, they must abandon the hope that just fixing their immigration rhetoric and policies will be enough. Latinos, like all voters, want to hear about policies that will improve their lives.

And because the demographic is so young — the average age of a U.S. Latino is 27, Rocha noted — voters want to hear about education and economic opportunity. Immigration may be a threshold issue for many, but if Trump’s performance proved anything, it’s that it’s not the deciding factor for such voters.

That youth will drive Texas’ future. Rocha pointed to the fact that 69% of Texas schoolchildren are nonwhite, and in the Fort Worth district, the percentage is even higher.

There’s also significant diversity among Latinos, and smart campaigns capitalize on that. Republicans had success targeting Cuban Americans and those of Venezuelan descent in Florida with messages about the dangers of socialism. Within Texas, Mexican Americans in big cities have a much different perspective from those in the Valley.

Rocha says that if Democrats can reach Hispanic voters better, Texas could be blue in four or six years. Republicans now have a map to make serious in-roads.

The battle for the future of Texas is on.

Odessa, TX

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