Republicans are actively courting Hispanic voters in key competitive House districts, hoping to peel away voters from Democrats repeating their historical pattern of investing little and late in reaching out to Latinos.
The GOP’s approach is a danger to Democrats, as Hispanic voters are likely to play a key role in at least a dozen districts in the November midterm elections.
“It couldn’t be a starker contrast between Republicans and Democrats as we engage and do outreach to minority voters, and specifically the Hispanic community,” said Danielle Alvarez, communications director for the GOP.
Hispanic Democrats in Congress outnumber Republicans 4 to 1, but the Republican Party has recruited a new generation of Hispanic candidates at breakneck speed, most notably in Texas, but also in states like Oregon and Virginia.
The National Republican Congressional Committee says it has recruited a total of 102 Hispanic candidates in this cycle.
Excitement about making inroads in the Hispanic community led Reps. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) to launch the Hispanic Leadership Trust PAC in May, aimed at growing the number of Hispanic members in the House.
“Step one is bringing back everybody that is Hispanic conservative Republican,” Gonzales said.
The GOP this week seized on a flub by Jill Biden comparing the Hispanic community to breakfast tacos, which the first lady has since apologized for, to help fuel Republicans’ argument that Democrats are not in touch with Hispanic voters.
Alvarez called the comment “disrespectful” and argued that it is “a window into how Democrats view Hispanics.” The Republican National Committee (RNC) started selling shirts that read “Not your breakfast taco.”
Historically, most heavily Hispanic districts have had a deep Democratic lean, with the exception of districts with proportionately high Cuban American populations, which tend to lean Republican.
But recent polling is buoying Republicans who see a chance to make real inroads with Hispanics amid national frustration over high gas prices and inflation.
A New York Times-Siena College poll this month found that only 41 percent of Hispanics said they intended to vote for Democrats in the upcoming midterms, while 38 percent said they preferred GOP candidates.
Statisticians warn that polling of Hispanic voters is particularly difficult, and national polls that use likely voter models have historically missed the mark.
The Pew Research Center’s latest numbers, from March, on Hispanic voter intent show 50 percent of Hispanics intended to vote for a Democratic candidate, while only 28 percent intended to vote for a Republican. Pew is due to release a new survey including weighted Hispanic voter intent ahead of the midterms.
Most observers agree that high Hispanic turnout is likely to favor Democrats and low turnout Republicans, a reflection that a broad majority of Hispanics are still more likely to vote Democratic.
Nonetheless, the favorable polls are putting a spark into the GOP effort.
“We never left the ground, and we’ve always been engaging and having these conversations with Hispanic communities and diverse communities across the country,” said Alvarez.
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) acknowledged “some inroads” by the GOP when it comes to attracting Latino voters, but quickly added that the trend has been “way overstated.”
“Everyone has always looked at Latinos as this sort of singular group and not diverse. The truth of the matter is we’re as diverse as anybody else — may even more so,” said Vargas, who represents a huge swath of the border between California and Mexico.
“People say, ‘Look, there’s all these Latinos voting Republican.’ And I say, ‘They always have.’ I mean, because of social issues they always have,” he said. “It’s not a big change, people are just noticing it now.”
Republicans argue they started their 2022 outreach early by opening community centers where staff work to build relationships with Hispanic communities, recruit and train volunteers, register voters and turn them out to vote.
The GOP Latino community centers have opened in places where Hispanics traditionally yield political power like Texas and Florida, but also in places where growing Hispanic communities are shifting election results, like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Out of 30 RNC community centers targeting minority communities, 12 are Hispanic community centers.
The centralized GOP outreach stands in contrast to a Democratic machinery that’s built a broad network of grassroots organizations and a solid power base in the 36-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus, but has struggled to inculcate an “early and often” Hispanic outreach mantra in its upper echelons, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the House Majority PAC.
The expanding GOP outreach, led by Hispanic Republicans, is eroding an image Democrats had cultivated of having a virtual monopoly on Hispanic representation.
In the five Texan districts along the U.S.-Mexico border, all 10 major party House candidates are Hispanics with ties to local communities.
A similar phenomenon is happening in Florida’s three southernmost districts, where all three Republican incumbents are Hispanic, as are the leading candidates in the Democratic primaries.
Vargas allowed that the situation in Texas might be different, because of polls showing a number of Hispanic Democratic voters have recently jumped parties to support the GOP. But in Vargas’s mind, that switch is just an indication that Texas Democrats haven’t done enough outreach to Latino voters in the state.
“Outreach is a big deal, absolutely,” he said. “The party has to do a much better job, and they haven’t.”
Vargas said that Democrats in Texas are assuming Hispanic voters will vote Democratic.
“I mean, they’re taking them for granted. We certainly don’t in California,” Vargas said.
The GOP’s Hispanic outreach is aided by candidates who tend to follow party orthodoxy with more discipline than their Democratic counterparts.
Alvarez said that “the extremism of the Democrats woke leftist movement” contributes to Hispanic voters moving toward the GOP, noting use of the term “Latinx” and mentioning education on gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools.
“We’re actually more conservative than the average voter on these issues,” said Alvarez.
New candidates like Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas), who won a special election to represent a formerly Democratic Rio Grande Valley district earlier this year, have hit the ground running on party messaging, using Twitter to lash out against Democrats and paint an image of an inevitable GOP wave among Latinos.
“It’s really important to have not only the right message but the right candidates to deliver the message,” Alvarez said.
Reporting from The Hill.