Trump is targeting Latino voters. Here’s how Biden seeks to win them back

 (Adam Schultz/Eric Connolly/U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services)
(Adam Schultz/Eric Connolly/U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services)

Henry Cuellar and Veronica Escobar are both Hispanic Democrats who represent districts in Texas that share a border with Mexico. But the similarities end there.

Escobar is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a spokesperson for President Joe Biden’s campaign. She has collaborated with Republican Representative Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida to write the Dignity Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“In Texas I can tell you we are very eager to find solutions that help improve the border,” she says. “But I also know that people want legal pathways.”

Meanwhile, Cuellar is a conservative Democrat who has frequently jousted with progressives. His opposition to abortion rights compelled progressives like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren to support a primary challenger against him in 2020 and 2022. Both times, he beat back a primary challenge.

More recently, he’s pushed for Democrats to become more hawkish on the border. He also launched a task force of Democrats who support border security.

Cuellar opposes a border wall with Mexico as an outdated idea that wouldn’t work in reality. But in 2020, Donald Trump — the main proponent of a border wall — shocked many when he overperformed in the Rio Grande Valley area of Cuellar’s district. Zapata County flipped to the Republicans and Webb County, home of Cuellar’s hometown of Laredo, moved 30 points to the right.

“[Biden] has to show that he's a strong leader and that he's addressing the issues that are important to focus on their border security,” Cuellar says. In particular, he supports Biden using the tools left at his disposal after his recent immigration bill failed.

“He can do an executive order right now,” Cuellar adds, which would allow for an expedited removal of undocumented migrants.

Such opposing approaches toward immigration demonstrated by Escobar and Cuellar showcase the challenges Biden faces as he seeks to win over Latino voters in 2024.

On Tuesday evening, an interview with the president will air on Univision, the most-watched Spanish language network in the United States. It is the continuation of a campaign of outreach which is sorely needed.

A new Axios/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday showed that just 41 per cent of Latinos have a favorable view of Biden. That number is slightly higher than Trump, who has an approval of 32 per cent among Latinos. Nevertheless, the devil is in the detail: Biden’s favorability rating has gone downward, while Trump’s has improved. In June of last year, Biden had a 47 per cent approval rating while Mr Trump came in low at 29 per cent.

Such numbers must be disappointing to the Biden campaign, considering officials have invested early and heavily in Latino outreach during this election cycle. The campaign has recently run ads not only in Spanish but in Spanglish.

“He has spent an unprecedented amount of money, but now [after] three historically early and three historically large sums of ad buys, his numbers have gotten worse,” Mike Madrid, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, tells The Independent.

In 2020, Trump not only improved in South Texas; he also made significant gains in South Florida, particularly Miami-Dade County. Chuck Rocha, who served as a Hispanic outreach adviser to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, tells The Independent that Biden’s campaign and Democratic advocacy groups like Building Back Together have learned some hard lessons — and have been attempting to put what they learned into practice.

“They're starting earlier than I've ever seen any presidential campaign really start doing advertising,” Rocha tells The Independent. “Because it was a wake-up call in 2020. And I think they took that and now they're doing everything they can to communicate the positive message of the president to as many Latinos as they can.”

At the beginning of his re-election campaign, Biden hired Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of farm labor leader César Chávez. In a campaign memo, Chavez Rodruguez launched Latinos con Biden, which she said had “strong roots among Florida’s large Cuban, Venezuelan, and Boricua [Puerto Rican] populations.” She made it clear that Biden would be making a play for Florida, despite the state’s usual Republican leanings.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have also campaigned aggressively in Arizona and Nevada, both swing states with large Hispanic populations and high-profile Senate races this year.

But Madrid warned that Biden’s actions are so far seen mainly as lip service. “The symbolism’s got to stop, they're going to have to meet voters where they're at,” he says. Specifically, he adds, Biden needs to focus on the economy in his messaging.

“They've got to decide whether they're going to listen to the Latino community, or to the orthodoxy of the progressive voices in the Democratic Party, because they are not the same,” Madrid says. “Latinos are the moderate voters in the Democratic Party.”

Cuellar, the more conservative Democrat from Texas, says Biden needs to focus on energy.

“We're producing more oil and gas and alternative energy than any other time — more than Trump did,” he says. “Biden doesn’t want to talk about it. But there's ways that he can target people and give them that message right in South Texas.”

Kevin Marino Cabrera, who served as Trump’s Florida state director during the 2020 election, believes Trump will do even better with Hispanic voters than he did last time.

“He will also be the first Republican presidential candidate since 1988 to win Miami-Dade County,” Carbera, who now serves as a commissioner for the county, tells The Independent. “He will be the first Republican presidential candidate to ever win the Hispanic vote, which will ultimately catapult him to the presidency.”

Trump’s improvement with Latino voters comes despite the fact that he has ratcheted up his language on immigration lately, saying the country is being “poisoned” by migrants and “In some cases, they’re not people.”

But Cabrera says that Latino voters care about immigration as well. “I'm a first-generation American — I’m pro-immigrant, but I'm pro-legal immigrant,” he says.

In 2020, Trump made an aggressive outreach to Hispanic voters. His strategy revolved around attempting to paint Democrats as communists, given the ascent of self-proclaimed socialists like Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“By and large, we [Latinos] come from countries that have failed policies such as the ones that the left is espousing,” Cabrera says. “Whether it be open borders, lack of law and order, defunding the police — all those sorts of things. We're not coming here to have more of the same of what we've seen in our countries.”

Escobar — the progressive Democrat from Texas — says that the Biden campaign recognizes the Latino community in the US is multifaceted.

“I represent a border Latino community, mostly Mexican American, that's very different from New York boroughs, from Miami and from California and Latinos in other parts of the country,” she tells The Independent.

She adds that Republicans don’t actually want to find solutions at the US-Mexico border, because it’s much more convenient for them to have an issue to point to than it is to solve the issue meaningfully for everyone involved.

“We've seen... Republicans are the ones consistently who walk away from those opportunities,” she says, on the topic of immigration bills. “They prefer the issue [to persist]. They don't want a solution.”