Trump campaign aims to win Latino support in Arizona




A supporter of President Donald Trump holds a 'Latinos for Trump' sign at a campaign rally. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

As his campaign has expanded operations in Arizona to reach Latino voters, President Donald Trump held a “Latinos for Trump” panel and rally in Phoenix on Monday where business owners and elected officials spoke about their immigration stories and thanked Trump for his policies around taxes and international trade agreements.

The event, called a “Roundtable Discussion with Latinos for Trump Coalition,” featured a group of 11 speakers as hundreds of supporters watched. Gov. Doug Ducey also joined the roundtable. The audience held “Latinos for Trump” signs and wore Trump-Pence shirts and hats. The event wasn’t attended by just Latinos.

As he walked on stage, Trump immediately noted that, although the event description said it was a roundtable, he felt it looked more like a rally. It is the fourth campaign appearance Trump has made this year in Arizona — a state that he carried by a slight margin in 2016 but is now considered a battleground — and his fifth visit to the state this year. Trump held a rally where thousands gathered in Phoenix in February, was a speaker at an event focusing on the youth vote in June in a Phoenix church, and held a rally in Yuma in August.

On Monday, Trump touted expansion of the economy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that benefited Latinos, said Hispanic Americans have shared values with the Republican Party, and spoke of his support for law enforcement. Trump said in turn that Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, and the Democratic Party will turn the US into “a whole different country” that is “beyond socialism.”

“You are an amazing group of people and I love and I’m taking care of you and I’m never letting you down,” Trump said. “Your community is so important to me. Many Hispanic Americans came here to pursue the American dream. A vote for Republicans this November is a vote for the American dream.”

The roundtable lasted about 90 minutes, and Trump listened to the panelists’ stories, responded to them, and waved at panelists’ families in the crowd when they were recognized by the speakers.

Jorge Rivas, who owns Sammy’s Mexican Grill restaurant in Tucson, said he aligns with Trump on issues of safety, opportunities to succeed, family values and Christian faith. He said the Latino community is excited to support Trump.

“Having a small business and talking to hundreds of thousands of people a week, I know that a lot of people are praying for you,” Rivas said. “I know that many of these people are humble people. I know that God is listening to their prayers, so you are in good hands.”

Trump featured Rivas and his wife, Betty, in a Spanish-language campaign ad in July, and touted the business on Twitter after it was getting backlash for its support for Trump.

Another business owner, Martha Llamas of Gilbert shared her story of entrepreneurship. She said after the father of her child shot her, she had two choices: rely on government assistance or get a job. She worked as a janitor, was promoted, and then started her own company.

“A high school dropout, what else could I do but to clean very well and move up the ladder? That is the real American dream,” Llamas said.

In 2012, she said she felt the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which had different health insurance coverage requirements for employers with 50 or more full-time employees, was chipping away at her American dream. 

“Why is the government telling me what to do? I worked so hard for what I have. Why do they have to get in my business? Why do I have to let people go?” Llamas said. That’s when she became involved in politics, she said.

Llamas then spoke the only words of Spanish said during the event. 

“Gente linda, por favor,” she said, which means, “Beautiful people, please.”

“Let’s protect our country. Let’s protect our American dream,” Llamas said. “We are all American — it doesn’t matter where you come from. This is our safe haven. Please, let’s (elect) President Trump again for the next four years.”

A chant of “Four more years!” then broke out in the crowd.

Sergio Arellano, who has worked with the Arizona Republican Party to do Latino outreach in past election cycles and is also on the national board of Latinos for Trump, also spoke.

“Latinos are missing more of your leadership,” Arellano, who is also a veteran and governing board member of a southern Arizona school district. “Latinos are conservative, they just don’t know it. Ever since you were elected, it’s been easier and easier and easier to recruit Latinos from all over the state.”

Emma Hall, a spokesperson for Trump Victory — a campaign committee funded by the Republican National Committee — said the type of outreach Trump’s campaign is making in Arizona to Latino voters is “unheard of.”

Trump Victory opened three Latinos for Trump offices in the past three months in areas that historically vote Democrat. One office is in South Phoenix, a neighborhood that is 62% Latino. (It’s also Phoenix’s most Black neighborhood, with 17% of the residents there identifying as African-American, according to the 2010 census.) The other Trump Victory offices with a focus on reaching Latino voters are in Tucson and Yuma. The campaign operations have 80 people on staff, and more than 1,100 volunteers, Arellano said.

Some of the featured panelists shared their immigration stories and how they think their achievements embody the American Dream.

The Biden campaign isn’t holding any in-person events, according to its website. 

In a statement, Jessica Mejía, state director of Biden for President, said the campaign has a “huge team working every day to reach the Latino community.”

“We aren’t taking a single vote for granted,” Mejía said. “Not only are we organized and connecting directly with voters, but we also have a strong message that resonates deeply in our community. That’s because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an agenda and a vision for the Latino community — one that invests in economic mobility, protects affordable health care coverage including for those with pre-existing conditions, and expands access to high-quality education.”

A recent poll from Latino Decisions found that “while Joe Biden is winning Latinos 2-1, he is underperforming with Latinos relative to Clinton in June 2016 polling and has opportunities for growth.”

In Arizona, of the 200 Latinos polled, 53% said they have a favorable view of Biden, while 32% said they have a favorable view of Trump. Almost one in three Latinos in Arizona said they will vote for or are leaning toward Trump, 54% said they will vote or are thinking of voting for Biden. Another 16% were undecided. 

The poll also showed the top issues for Latinos: lowering the cost of health care, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, improving wages and income, and stopping discrimination against immigrants/Latinos.

In an emailed statement sent prior to Trump’s visit to Arizona on Monday, Biden said Trump has failed in his response to the pandemic. 

“People from all walks of life are suffering under his failed leadership — from the small business owners trying to keep their doors open and their employees on payroll to the parents who are struggling with a difficult and chaotic start to the school year — and Arizona’s Latinos are bearing a disproportionate burden,” Biden said.

While demographic data for COVID-19 cases is incomplete in Maricopa County, Latinos make up almost half of the coronavirus hospitalization cases, even though one in three county residents identify as Latino

Trump succeeded in donig what he does best at his campaign events: foster enthusiasm among his devotees. 

After the event concluded, Alicia Duke and Clarissa Crosgrove said they felt motivated to talk to their social networks about Trump and canvass for his reelection campaign. They both voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, they said. 

Duke, who identifies as Native American and Latina, is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. She’s registered as a Democrat and was planning to vote for Biden, but after attending the event, she said she’ll give Trump her vote.

“I’m more determined now to get people to change their minds about a lot of things,” Duke, 30, said. “I think we all have to do our own research. We need to educate ourselves.”

Crosgrove said she’s a 7th generation Arizonan and identifies as a Hispanic mix.

“The problem isn’t just the Democrats, it’s the swamp, the deep state,” she said. “I have more zeal now to go door-to-door. To stop the division starts with you and me.”

The Biden campaign committee, officially called Biden for President, has aired several Spanish-language ads in Arizona to reach Latino voters. A recent one criticized Trump’s response to the pandemic. Another ad, called “Decepciones” (Spanish for “disappointments”), shows images and videos of Trump related to immigration and the pandemic and features a song by renowned Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández.

In late August, a Latino Leadership Council to support Biden and Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, launched via virtual meeting, according to Prensa Arizona, a Spanish-language publication. More than 40 city, county and federal elected officials are part of the group. 

On Saturday afternoon, the Biden campaign held a virtual roundtable with Latina business owners featuring Harris. While it was dubbed a “A Conversation with Senator Kamala Harris and Arizona Small Business Owners,” Harris read a prepared introduction and left the virtual gathering. Laura Jiménez, the national engagement director of Biden for President, then facilitated the conversation. It featured Mary Rabago, a Spanish-language radio host and business owner, Vanessa Cazerez, owner of the Legends Event Center in west Phoenix, and Frances Erunez and Sandra Otero Erunez of Los Jarritos Mexican Food restaurant in Tucson.  

Cazarez said that her business shut down due to the pandemic. She said she felt like she and other Latino businesses were left to fend on their own, while others benefited from government assistance. Cazares said she got together with other business owners “to organize and strategize.” She recently reopened her event venue.  

“I feel misrepresented,” Cazarez said. “It’s important for us Latinos to come out and get all our people together to support the Biden-Harris ticket.”

Gilbert Romero, who was a delegate in the past Democratic National Convention, said the Biden campaign should work harder to appeal to Latinos in Arizona, especially those like himself who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary earlier this year.

“I have zero confidence in Joe Biden,” Romero said. “Obviously, I don’t support (Trump) or his policies, but you gotta give it to him, he’s campaigning.”

Romero said he understands that the pandemic has led the Biden campaign to stick to virtual events and keep its outreach to TV, radio and digital advertising, phone banks and text messaging. But he said Biden could reach voters who backed Bernie by adopting bolder policies when it comes to the environment, Medicare and free higher education. 

“You would think we would start making smarter pitches to the Latino community. You can disagree with Bernie Sanders the man, but you can’t disagree with his voters. His voters are democrats, his voters are Latinos, his voters are young people,” Romero said. 

On Monday, two TV interviews with Harris aired with Phoenix-area networks Telemundo Arizona and CBS 5 News/3TV.