Exclusive: Lincoln Project's New Ads Target Latino Voters in Critical 2020 States

The Lincoln Project, the group of former Republican campaign veterans who have made it their mission to defeat President Donald Trump, much to his chagrin, are continuing their pivot to targeting Latino voters in the critical states of Florida, Arizona, and Texas, Newsweek has learned exclusively.

The new bilingual, six-figure ad buy on television and digital is aimed at Puerto Ricans in Florida and Latino voters in Arizona and Texas, and represents the first salvo in micro-targeting Hispanics who the group feels has reason to dislike Trump's leadership and rhetoric on issues that matter to them.

The Florida ad, obtained by Newsweek, invokes the 3.5 million U.S. citizens who live on the island, and how they were devastated by Hurricane Maria and subsequent earthquakes, causing many of them to flee to Florida. The ad goes on to say Trump's response was to question the mounting death toll that reached into the thousands, casting his statement "as lies and disrespect."

The ad brings together George W. Bush veterans from his 2000 campaign, when exit polls showed he received a sizable 35 percent of the Latino vote, including Lincoln Project co-founder Mike Madrid, consultant Cesar Martinez, and legendary ad man Lionel Sosa, who helped Ronald Reagan and Bush garner larger than expected support from Hispanics.

Sosa, who in 2016 said he was leaving the Republican Party because of Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton, has come out of retirement to oppose Trump again, backed by the well-financed Lincoln Project because he said the next four years would be worse than his first term.

"Trump also asked if there was a way to sell Puerto Rico," Sosa told Newsweek in disbelief. "The obvious answer is he doesn't doesn't feel they contribute to this country and doesn't have respect for the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico."

Fernand Amandi, a Florida pollster who worked with the Obama campaign in 2008, said The Lincoln Project is arguably doing the best television ad work of anybody that's working on the 2020 cycle, which should excite Democrats.

"They get it and they get Florida," he told Newsweek. "They understand that Florida is won on the margins and usually those margins are provided by the Hispanic vote. Could a Lincoln Project spot targeting Puerto Ricans shift the results 1 to 2 percent and have that be the difference in a closely contested state like Florida? It very well could."

Puerto Ricans represent about one-third of Latino voters in Florida, which also includes Cuban voters that voted at higher rates in 2018, and vote Republican in larger numbers, spotlighting why a focus on increasing the margins among Puerto Ricans makes sense for Trump opponents.

Trump on Twitter in May called The Lincoln Project a group of "RINO Republicans" who got "badly beaten" by him in 2016.

"This is the swamp—yet again—trying to take down the duly elected President of the United States," Trump campaign communications director Erin Perrine told Newsweek. "President Trump is the leader of a united Republican Party where he has earned 94 percent of Republican votes during the primaries – something any former president of any party could only dream of."

The Arizona and Texas ads focus on coronavirus mismanagement by the president and the issue of evictions, which could be problematic for Latino voters who have been disproportionately affected by the virus in terms of health and economic issues, and may have issues voting if they don't have a current address.

"The ads are a reminder to Latinos that we didn't have to be here," Madrid said of White House response to the pandemic. He likened The Lincoln Project to pirates lighting fires to disrupt Trump's reelection, and said the group's analytics allow it to be nimble as they create ads, making changes within 24 to 48 hours based on findings from focus groups, and tweaks they want for an ad, like adding a Mexican-American accent in a state like Arizona.

The Lincoln Project pivot to engaging Latino voters will continue with new ads in new markets, the group told Newsweek, and comes on the heels of partnering with well-known Chicano cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz who recently drew a cartoon of Trump holding a rally for MAGA-hat wearing coronavirus in states where the virus was surging like Texas, Florida, and Arizona.

Martinez, who was making final tweaks to the Puerto Rico ads in the hours before its release, said the changes were informed by what he learned from focus groups with Puerto Ricans in Florida. He said that the disasters that hit the island were compounded by Trump's response, creating an "open wound" for participants. One controversial image—Trump visiting a church after the hurricane and lightly tossing paper towels to members of the crowd—was unforgettable to those in the focus group.

"Throwing the paper towels is embedded in them, the disrespect," he said. Puerto Ricans who were shown the ads in English remarked that they were happy mainland Americans could see them too to understand how Puerto Ricans feel.

"When we see this it hurts, but it makes me want to cast my vote because the stakes are too high not to participate," Martinez recalled a focus group participant saying.

Everyone had something to say, Martinez recalls, with everyone taking turns chiming in.

trump paper towel
An electronic billboard advertisement paid for by the Florida Democratic Party reading "Never Forget" and showing US President Donald Trump throwing a roll of paper towels is seen along the Florida Turnpike in Kissimmee, Florida, on January 16, 2020. It shows US President Donald Trump throwing a roll of paper towels to a crowd awaiting aid in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in October of 2017. Some 3,000 people were killed in the natural disaster and many Puerto Rican citizens relocated to central Florida afterward. The billboard ads, in both Spanish and English, are aimed at Latino and Hispanic voters in Florida, which are a significant portion of the state's population. Gregg Newton / AFP/Getty