Exclusive: Biden Campaign Spent $125 Million on Latino Voters, Who Helped Him Win Arizona

Joe Biden has been elected president of the United States, vanquishing Donald Trump after a workman-like, ultimately successful performance with Latino voters, despite perpetual fears from Democrats of insufficient outreach throughout the course of the race.

Biden matched Hillary Clinton's numbers from four years ago with 66 percent support from Latinos, compared to Trump's 32 percent, but was strong in parts of the Southwest, where Hispanic voters helped power Biden's election-changing Arizona win.

Altogether, the Biden campaign told Newsweek it spent $125 million on its Latino voter program, the first time it has shared tightly held budget figures on the shape of its outreach. The number includes Spanish-language TV, radio and digital, as well as operations, staff and bilingual direct mail, which was led by Adrian Saenz, an adviser to the campaign. But it also includes English-language TV and digital tailored toward Hispanics that the campaign stressed was a key part of its efforts.

Latinos, who disproportionately lost jobs and faced financial hardship, as well as a higher rate of infections and deaths, also made their presence felt in states that Biden won by tight margins where Latinos are a smaller slice of the electorate, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Biden campaign told Newsweek they launched an aggressive, micro-targeted Latino program based on the fact that the community is diverse and always held the potential to tip the vote in their favor in states like those in the Midwest where the population is small but significant.

"We knew the Latino vote not only warranted a historic investment, but that investment had to focus on building a culturally competent program in both English and Spanish that reached voters where they are on the issues that mattered most to them and their families," deputy campaign manager Julie Rodriguez, who quarterbacked the team of senior Latino staff, told Newsweek.

Andrea Mercado, the executive director of New Florida Majority, a group that worked to mobilize Latino and Black voters in Florida, where Biden lost, recalled speaking to one Latino voter in Palm Beach, Florida, just days before Election Day, who summed up the feelings of so many the group engaged in the final weeks.

"No nos quiere"—"he doesn't care about us," the immigrant worker said of Trump. "We will have a new president in January," the voter continued, adding "si dios quiere," or "God willing."

Democrats and activists said Trump made his bed: He chose division over uniting the country and viewed Latinos and immigrants as a source of problems, rather than as an asset to strengthen the nation.

They also offered numbers to explain why Latinos repudiated the incumbent president. More than 40,000 Latinos dead from the pandemic, as well as a recent report that 545 migrant children still are without parents because of the Trump administration's family separation policy.

Powered by record-setting fundraising of more than $1.2 billion this year, including a dizzying $750 million in the final two months, the Biden campaign was able to ramp up its investment in pockets of diverse Latino communities across the country, particularly after the Democratic National Convention.

The Latino program also included massive polls of Latino voters nationally, and in battleground states, of thousands of voters, as Newsweek first reported, which allowed the campaign to tailor and target its outreach to different slices of the larger voting bloc.

The polling data was then fed to state Latino directors to fine tune messaging outreach and mobilization for young Latinos, men, immigrants, and different ethnic groups. Senior advisor Jorge Neri coordinated a weekly meeting with Latino state directors to assess their outreach and what they needed to do their job better.

Biden's Arizona win—the first by a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1996—not only reshaped the electoral map, but was the first state that showed Trump 2020 would be different than four years ago, after the Associated Press called it early.

Biden can thank Latino voters, who supported him 63 percent to 33 percent, for helping to orchestrate his win.

"We're talking about Arizona and demographic change the way we were talking about Nevada," Matt Barreto, a pollster for the Biden campaign, told Newsweek. In the final days, for example, Larry Sandigo, the Latino director in Arizona closed with Lowridin' with Biden GOTV events in Phoenix and Tucson, featuring Latino men on their lowriders with Biden signs.

"The only reason we're having a discussion about Arizona is because of the growth of the Latino vote," Barreto said, adding that Latinos gave Biden a net margin of 288,000 votes in the state. "We're now fighting battles for Americans' votes—increasingly young and diverse votes—in the Sun Belt."

Janet Murguia, the president of UnidosUS, one of the oldest Latino civil rights organizations in the country, was on the ground in Arizona in the days leading up to November 3. She said the story coming out of Arizona and other key states is the "political empowerment" of the Latino community, citing the anti-immigrant SB1070 law that passed a decade ago, and the work to turn the tide and the state blue since, by advocates and Democrats.

"It's a story that reflects a remarkable transformation from the demonization and profiling of Latinos and immigrants 10 years ago," she said.

Kristin Urquiza, whose father supported Trump before feeling betrayed by pandemic mismanagement before his death, agreed that Arizona Latinos have risen after the legacy of SB1070, and said the state represents a frontier to the future and a case study for other states.

But looking to her own family, she knows there is more work to do. Urquiza has four cousins in their 20s, three who have college degrees, but all four are unemployed. She expects Biden to keep his promises and change that reality for many in the Latino community after they propelled him to victory.

"Our mutual goal should be how do we build back better for all Americans, and in particular, Latinos," she said.

biden latino
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden poses with supporters after speaking at the East Las Vegas Community Center about the effects of Covid-19 on Latinos, October 9, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Even before Biden announced his run, senior adviser Cristobal Alex sat down with him and Dr. Jill Biden to discuss Latino strategy and the complexity of the community. Alex also created a spreadsheet with the names of 200 top operatives to hire, among them Laura Jiménez, who as Latino engagement director drove ethnicity and heritage targeting for groups within the Latino community like Colombianos con Biden, and shepherded the countless Zooms with surrogates and grassroots groups.

After the primary, Alex worked on outreach to progressives and forged partnerships with respected immigrant-led Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin and CASA in Action in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, where the count continued days after election night, Latino voters also provided critical votes to pad Biden's slim margin in the state. Hispanics gave Biden 69 percent to 27 percent support, with the campaign estimating a 116,000 vote margin out of 290,000 votes cast by Latinos.

Targeted outreach in the state included "Hamilton" star Lin-Manuel Miranda hosting a phone bank on the final weekend when Puerto Ricans from the island called Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania to get out the vote, and a Latino voter rally with Senator Kamala Harris in Lehigh Valley.

In Wisconsin, Nathaly Arriola who helped advise on paid media in the states booked ads on La GranD, a regional Mexican music radio station in Milwaukee, and La Movida, the only Spanish-language radio station in Madison. There, Biden received 60 percent support from Latinos, compared to Trump's 35 percent.

But in the highest density majority Latino precincts in Milwaukee, Latino support was 77.4 percent for Biden, according to a precinct analysis by UCLA Latino Politics & Policy Initiative (LPPI).

Still, there were disappointments within the vast, national Latino vote for the campaign.

In Florida, Trump was very competitive in heavily Cuban-American, Miami-Dade County and Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton's Hispanic support in the state by a steep 10 points, while Trump improved an impressive 12 points. In Texas, 4 in 10 Latinos voted for Trump, according to exit polls, helping put the surprising battleground state out of reach for Democrats.

Given those results, veteran Democrats told Newsweek the Latino budget was impressive but perhaps could have been more effective if deployed earlier in the cycle.

Vanessa Cardenas, a former Biden aide who resigned during the primary over concerns with the direction of Latino outreach, said the campaign led a "remarkable" turnaround in the last few months with Latinos due to investments and hiring.

But she said outside groups, such as those embedded in cities across America, did special work that showed creativity and love. One such group was Mi Familia Vota, she said, that held an event for voters they had helped get citizenship, as they marched to the polls together.

"It's long-standing work, not magic," she said. "But that gives me hope. Latinos have been building to this moment, they've been put through the fire by Trump. And these groups have been walking side by side with the community."

It's long-standing work, not magic. But that gives me hope. Latinos have been building to this moment, they've been put through the fire by Trump. And these groups have been walking side by side with the community.
Vanessa Cardenas, former Biden aide

Felice Gorordo, co-chair of Catholics for Biden and a member of the campaign's national finance committee, said the work to engage Latinos has just begun.

"We have to continue to build out infrastructure and use that to help push and advocate for policies the community so badly demands," (such as pandemic relief) he said. "If we don't follow through on our promises, then people get disillusioned."

Murguia is no stranger to excoriating presidents, as she did repeatedly with Trump. But she also was the first major Latina leader to call Obama the "deporter-in-chief" when advocates slammed his deportation policies. She said she has a message for Biden.

"I would just tell him he needs to focus on keeping his promises, in particular, to the Latino community," she said. "In addition to addressing COVID and strengthening economy, he needs to keep his promise to address immigration reform, and make sure it's reflected in his 100-day agenda."

While she said she's not interested in a job in the administration, she said Biden will have to make real strides with Latino inclusion and representation to truly allow the community to turn the page from Trump.

"It will be just as important to follow up on his commitment to change the tone and rhetoric coming from the top and make his administration look like America," she added. "There's no better way to do it than representation in his administration, cabinet and agencies."

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