Advocacy groups say Biden campaign alone can’t mobilize Latino vote in Arizona




Judah Montenegro (left) poses for a photo with his sisters Esly (center) and Maasai (right) outside of an auditorium in Grand Canyon University where Vice President Mike Pence held a roundtable to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

As two polls from August point to Joe Biden lagging with the Latino voters in Arizona, groups working to turn out people to the polls said it’s clear that his campaign alone can’t energize the 1.2 million eligible Latinos voters in the state. 

While Biden focuses on advertising and hosting virtual events, the Trump camp has a strong presence in Arizona and visible campaign stops.

Liz Salazar, a policy advisor with UnidosUS, which is among the largest Latino advocacy groups in the country, said the Biden campaign has been late to reach out to Latinos in the state. 

“The Trump campaign, although they did pull out advertising, they are here all the time,” Salazar said. “The Trump campaign feels loud in Arizona, and the Biden campaign doesn’t feel as loud.”

Historic turnout of Latinos voters in 2018 is largely understood to be a key factor in helping elect U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and solidify Arizona’s status as a competitive, purple state. Until Sinema’s election, it had been three decades since a Democrat was elected from Arizona to the U.S. Senate.

“The power of the Latino vote could change the politics in this state,” Salazar said. “The Democratic Party needs to understand that no minority is a foregone conclusion to always vote for Democrats.” 

An August poll of Democrat and Democrat-leaning voters in 10 states, including Arizona, showed that 40% of Latinos haven’t been contacted by the Biden campaign. 

According to the Biden campaign, its staff and volunteers are making daily Spanish language phone calls to voters. And Arizona is part of a $280 million advertising buy on turning out voters for Biden in November that includes television and digital ads in English and Spanish.

In August, the Biden campaign made staff hires that included Latinos with ties to groups that serve immigrant communities. Larry Sándigo, who works for Democratic Congressman Stanton’s office, was brought on as Arizona’s Latino vote director for Biden. He previously worked for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation to migrant children, teens and adults who are typically in government custody or held at immigration detention facilities. 

Fernando Quiroz, the chairman of Arizona Interagency Farmworkers Coalition that services immigrants and farm working families, serves as the campaign’s deputy political director. 

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. 

A recent poll of Latino Decisions found that “while Joe Biden is winning Latinos 2-1, he is underperforming with Latinos relative to (Hillary) 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 and Latinos.

Trump hits messaging on economy, faith

Daniel Garza, who leads the libertarian LIBRE Initiative, a Latino outreach group that is part of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, said the contrasts between the Trump and Biden campaigns isn’t just about how different the candidates are.

Biden, on one hand, “has been kind of boring,” Garza said. 

“(In the Trump campaign) I’m seeing a lot of excitement, events where there are large crowds, doing outreach. There is a lot of energy there,” he said. “I see a lot of outreach to the Latino community, because it is fellow Latinos who are mobilizing them. His messaging is better because it is being advanced by Latinos themselves.”

The Trump campaign has focused on touting economic markers that point to a more prosperous Latino community prior to the pandemic: growing home ownership rates, a historic low unemployment rate, and continued decline in poverty rates. Those were true before the pandemic halted the economy.  A Pew Research analysis shows the economic recession has hit Latinos especially hard

During the Sept. 14 roundtable with Trump, which gathered hundreds in a rally setting and wasn’t attended by just Latinos, the president listened to the immigration and business success stories of 11 people. 

The roundtable featured members of the national Latinos for Trump coalition — Pam Kirby, vice chair of the Arizona GOP, and Sergio Arellano, school board member; state Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, one of the two only Latino Republiblican state legislators; Corporation Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson, a former president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Arte Moreno, owner of the Anaheim Angels; veteran Moses Sanchez, who ran for Phoenix mayor in 2018; business owners Gloria Badilla and Jorge Rivas of Tucson, and Martha Llamas of Gilbert; and Monica Yelin from the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

Gov. Doug Ducey has also been stumping for Trump, appearing in at least three Trump campaign events last week. 

“There couldn’t be a better way to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month,” Ducey told Trump at the Sept. 14 event in Phoenix.

That event was the first of a full week where Trump and his surrogates courted Latino voters in Arizona. The other events included a visit from Ivanka Trump on Sept. 15 and two events with Vice President Mike Pence. Second lady Karen Pence visited Arizona on Sept. 17 to speak with military families.

LIBRE organized an event hosted by Garza with Pence to mark Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 18 that featured a panel of Latino community members who touched on topics about the economy, school choice and faith. Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration also spoke on the panel with Pence, which featured Ducey, business owner Jeannette Mendez, Dr. Mary Manriquez, who has an OB/GYN practice, Pastor Emilio de la Cruz of Avondale, and Cesar Zamora, a parent and school choice advocate.  

Judah Montenegro, a Glendale resident who works as an engineer for Grand Canyon University and attended the event with his two sisters, Esly and Maasai, attended that event, which was attended by guests selected by LIBRE. Montenegro said it was meaningful that Pence visited Phoenix to sit down with community members and listen to them. 

“I appreciate our leadership, especially that of the vice president, to come and sit and talk to us on an individual level,” Montenegro said. “For them not to push their agenda on us.” 

Groups fill in gaps to get Latinos out to vote

Nationally, Latinos are estimated to, for the first time, be the largest nonwhite voting group. The surge in eligible voters is driven largely by young Latinos turning 18. 

Lexy Reyelts is a Tucson resident who works with NextGen Arizona, a group focused on registering young people to vote and advocates for Democrats to keep and increase their ranks in Congress.  

NextGen Arizona has a goal of registering 30,000 young voters. It also has strategies to reach young voters where other campaigns lack, like targeting users of dating apps and talking in virtual college and university spaces.

“Whatever the Biden campaign has lacked, we’ve come in,” Reyelts, who identifies as Chicana, said. 

NextGen Arizona also has an $440,000 advertising campaign targeting young Latino voters, according to Kristi Johnson, spokesperson for NextGen Arizona. 

Other groups are engaging Latinos in Spanish.

Luis Avila is the founder of Aquí Se Vota! (Here we vote!), a group launched in August to get Latino communities registered to vote and engaged in the election. Its team has contacted over 100,000 people via text messages and through phone calls, according to a press release from the group. They have also reached over 200,000 people through biweekly live-streamed chats.

Avila said the Biden campaign has failed in telling the vice president’s story to Latino voters. He also thinks either Biden or Harris need to visit Arizona and its campaign needs to have a larger physical presence here.

“The Biden campaign by itself won’t be able to get the job done,” Avila said. “Biden is not that exciting of a figure for people to come out. … If anything is going to happen in our state, it is for our community to win. This is for us to win, it’s for the Biden campaign not to mess up, but it is for us to win. I hope that the Biden campaign does more to tell his story.”

That was a similar sentiment expressed during a Biden campaign event on Sept. 16 to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month focused on Latinas. It was titled, “Comadres con Biden.” “Comadres” is Spanish for a group of close women friends. 

The event featured long-time local community leaders state Rep. Raquel Terán, who prior to being in elected office worked for years with Mi Familia Vota, a group that drives civic engagement in Spanish-speaking communities; Alejandra Gómez, co-executive director of Living United for Change Arizona;  Coconino County Treasurer Sarah Benata; and Carmen Heredia, CEO of Valle del Sol. 

Gómez said that voting for Biden is more than just about the candidate, but about betting on a future that will allow for the progressive moments that have built up in Arizona by leaders of color to continue growing. 

“For me a vote this year, yes it is about a vote for Biden, Biden is the change we need in this administration,” she said. “But the change starts with us, a vote for Biden is a vote for me, a vote for you. It’s us taking agency back. But it doesn’t stop after November. We are just as engaged, if not more, in a Biden administration.”

Terán made a similar pitch. She said Biden and Harris will help end what she sees as an administration that hurts immigrants and communities of color and stalls on issues such as climate change, reproductive rights, and racial inequities.

“The minimum thing that we are going to do is get Joe Biden elected. For the last (decade) … all of us have been building this Arizona that is now a battleground state for higher expectations for our families, for immigrant families to be free to come out of the shadows, for children to have the best education possible,” she said. “We are going to get past this administration, we are going to get (Biden) elected. I am voting for him because I have high expectations for our community, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to help us get there.”

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.