By all political logic, Democrats ought to find it easy to attract an outpouring of Hispanic votes. After all, from the day Donald Trump trashed Mexicans in his 2015 Trump Tower announcement speech to his administration’s multiple anti-immigration policies, the Republican president has conducted a virtual war on America’s largest minority.
Trump and the House GOP have repeatedly blocked broad-ranging immigration reform and efforts to protect 800,000 DACA Dreamers brought here illegally as children. And his administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigrants has separated hundreds of children from their parents.
But there are signs the blue wave that is buoying Democratic hopes this fall is not reaching Hispanic voters, at least so far. In Hispanic heavy Florida and Texas, polls show some Democratic candidates under-performing anticipated levels of support.
Some of it stems from insufficient outreach to Hispanic voters, but there are also unique factors in some key races.
The degree of Hispanic support could be especially crucial in four races that are key to Democratic hopes of regaining the Senate: Florida, where Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking re-election; and Arizona, Nevada and Texas, where Democrats hope to capture GOP-held seats.
Democrats received a dramatic warning signal last month in south Texas when a Republican won a special election in a heavily Hispanic state Senate district. Among the post mortems was Democratic concern about their difficulty in motivating potentially favorable voters.
That may be a pattern elsewhere, too. “There doesn’t seem to be the level of interest that some might have expected,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of global migration and demography research at the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. But he added it might hamper both parties, citing a September survey for the National Association of Latino and Elected Officials (NALEO) showing nearly 60 percent of Hispanics reported no contact from either party.
Lagging Hispanic turnout is hardly new. In 2016, census figures show, the Hispanic turnout was 47.6 percent of eligible voters, behind whites (61.4 percent), blacks (59.6 percent) and Asian-Americans (49.3 percent).
And it could especially be a problem in Texas, where Democrats have long predicted the growing Hispanic population would be crucial in ending the three-decade Republican domination of the state’s politics.
In 2016, the network exit poll showed Hillary Clinton defeating Trump among Hispanics, 61-34. Latino Decisions, an independent polling firm, put her margin at a far larger 80-16. But Hispanic turnout barely surpassed 40 percent of eligible voters, more than 20 points lower than white turnout.
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This year’s polls show Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke lagging behind that. A Mason-Dixon poll for Telemundo Spanish language television stations in early September showed him leading by just 54-31, while other surveys show a narrower lead.
O’Rourke, an Anglo with a Hispanic nickname, is hampered by the fact that Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, is one of the nation’s highest profile Hispanics. And though the Democratic nominee for governor, Lupe Valdez, is Hispanic, she is regarded as a weak candidate who only marginally leads Gov. Greg Abbott among Hispanics and trails among all voters.
In Texas’ sprawling majority Hispanic 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and overlaps that state Senate district the GOP flipped, a poll showed Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones trailing Republican Rep. Will Hurd, an African-American who opposes Trump’s plan for an anti-immigrant wall and favors legal status for the Dreamers.
In Florida, Republican Senate candidate Rick Scott, the state’s current governor, has sought to separate himself from Trump, making multiple visits to Puerto Rico and criticizing the administration’s handling of last year’s hurricane damage there. Polls have shown him making inroads among the state’s growing number of Puerto Ricans, usually pro-Democratic. But Nelson this week got the endorsement of the island’s Democratic governor.
In a majority Hispanic Miami-area congressional district now represented by retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Democrats nominated Donna Shalala, the 77-year-old former Cabinet member and University of Miami president who doesn’t speak Spanish. Polls show she is struggling against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, 56, a Cuban-American former television newswoman.
In Arizona, Democrats nominated a Hispanic educator, David Garcia, for governor, but he is trailing incumbent Republican Doug Ducey.
In California, Hispanics have strongly supported Democrats, but encountered difficulty in winning the top positions. Democrats have two Hispanics on their state ticket, but former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lost his bid for governor and, in the all-Democratic Senate runoff, Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Leon trails veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Democrats do control 11 of the 12 Hispanic majority districts. But their hopes of winning the remaining one, which Clinton carried in 2016 and leans Democratic, may have been damaged when they nominated a non-Hispanic to challenge GOP incumbent David Valadao.
Overall, Democrats will likely win most Hispanic votes again this year. The question is whether enough will vote to make the difference.