Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is launching a multimillion-dollar Latino vote campaign after recent polling showed lagging enthusiasm among the group, including evidence that he needed to invest heavily to attract Latino men to help him secure the presidency, Newsweek has learned.
Two sources familiar with the initiative told Newsweek the Biden campaign will spend $55 million on the campaign as part of an effort that includes targeting Hispanic men—a group President Donald Trump's and his allies are already focusing on for the November 2020 election. Biden campaign officials confirmed the program is in the works and did not dispute the size of the program, but declined to give specific numbers before publication because they said they are in a transitional planning period. After publication, the campaign told Newsweek that they are denying the program is for $55 million. They did not offer further comment about the funds.
"We are competing for every vote in the community—men and women—and are in the process of building out and scaling up our efforts to do so," said Isabel Aldunate, deputy director of strategic communications and Hispanic media press secretary.
The plan will focus on states with large Latino populations such as Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas, as well as targeted investments aimed at smaller Latino communities in the midwest states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, where Trump won by razor-thin margins.
The 2020 election marks the first time Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, creating an opportunity for them to influence the nation's presidential election than ever before. Analysis of Hispanic voters and outreach from Democratic groups has often targeted Latinas because they vote at higher rates and run the household, but there is now growing acknowledgment that the hopes and fears of Hispanic men must be considered, as well.
The issue of stronger outreach to Latino men has come into focus for Democrats in recent weeks.
A recent poll from Democratic firm Latino Decisions showed that Biden's support with Latino men was 50 percent, compared with 34 percent for Trump. That number falls short of the 65 percent support Barack Obama received from Hispanic men in 2012 and the 63 percent Hillary Clinton received in 2016. Additional polling by Equis Research, a group started by Obama alumni Stephanie Valencia and Carlos Odio, put a finer point on the trend. According to interviews with 21,370 Latino voters in nine battleground states from July 2019 to December 2019, Equis found that while Latina support continued to tick up for Democrats, the support from Latino men for Trump has remained consistent throughout his presidency, sitting at 32 percent, the same it was in the 2016 election.
For example, Jason Rubinstein, 47, an Ecuadorian-American in Tampa, Florida, who works as a senior portfolio manager for a major bank, said Biden wasn't his first choice but he supports him over Trump because the president uses "hatred to divide the country and belittles minorities and women." Because of those strong feelings, he said he wishes Biden hit Trump harder in the Facebook posts the campaign pays to promote to more people.
"They are not as confrontational as they should be, especially with the handling of the pandemic," he told Newsweek. "We need to start seeing more of what he is for and what he's against. I think the community needs to start seeing that."
And Joacim Hernandez, a 33-year-old director of human resources in McAllen, Texas, who is Mexican-American, said he supported Trump in 2016 and still does now because Biden offers "no real solutions."
"I believe in the president, what he did for economy, and the great job he did in his first three years," Hernandez told Newsweek.
The Trump campaign and its allies recognize where the opportunity exists within the Latino community, as well. America First PAC told Newsweek they never really got traction during Trump's presidency with women of color, including Latinas and black women, but they are "very much" focused on Hispanic men in key states like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. "These are basically red states or leaning-red," America First spokesman Steve Cortes told Newsweek. "If we can chip away at Hispanic men that might be enough."
"For every $1 the Trump campaign spends, I have to spend $5 convincing you that what you heard about Biden isn't true and he's not a bad guy," Las Vegas Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez told Newsweek. "Republicans know that they just have to taint the water a few percentage points to force us to spend money to undo that."
But it's not just outside groups. The Trump campaign told Newsweek its Latinos for Trump effort is active in 20 states and upcoming events include a Cinco de Mayo online chat Tuesday night with Kimberly Guilfoyle and a Latinos for Trump Southwest Call including former New Mexico lieutenant governor John Sanchez on May 7.
Some Democrats, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have privately shared their concerns about the state of the Biden's Latino outreach with the campaign and among themselves, unaware of the details of the coming Latino vote program. The campaign has also sought input as it builds out the program from Democratic campaign veterans with demonstrated success in reaching Latinos, such as Emmy Ruiz, who led Obama's Nevada effort in 2012 and Clinton's 2016 primary wins in Nevada and Colorado.
James Aldrete, a longtime political consultant from Texas who worked on media and messaging to Latinos for the Obama and Clinton campaigns, told Newsweek Democrats know how to reach Latinas: A health care message, including talking about reproductive rights, paid family leave, and childcare, are effective. But a similarly effective message is lacking—and needed—he argued, when it comes to Latino men whose anxieties around job security and wages have only been exacerbated by the current crisis, one that government data and recent polling shows is disproportionately affecting the Hispanic community both in terms of infections, as well as financially.
For Democrats, that means hammering home the message that Trump's handling of the crisis has imperiled the economy and made already shaky jobs and wages even less secure for many Latinos.
Laura Jimenez, who serves as the Biden campaign Latino engagement director, told Newsweek she agrees that a message around economic opportunity and jobs is important to reach Latino men, and noted that all the Hispanics she knows have someone in their immediate family who started a micro-business or runs a small business.
On Monday, Biden took part in a town hall on Zoom with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which featured Representatives Joaquin Castro and Zoe Lofgren of Texas and California, as well as the son of two meatpacking workers who both were infected with the coronavirus. In that setting, at least, Biden did talk jobs and wages, reiterating his support for the Senate Democrats Heroes Fund plan, which calls for an additional $13 an hour to be paid to essential workers, including meatpackers, who he said are among those Latinos disproportionately affected by this crisis, with many having the added fear they could be deported.
While the campaign stresses Latino outreach isn't new for them, pointing to Todos con Biden events they've done on their own and in conjunction with outside group Latino Victory Fund, the campaign's injection of resources will also focus on getting that new message to the community on the platforms they enjoy, including Spanish-language television and digital giants like Facebook, YouTube and Pandora, which permit campaigns to micro-target a community according to age, primary language, and geography.
Vanessa Cardenas, a former senior Biden aide who left the campaign during the primary over reports that she was unhappy with the direction of Latino efforts, said she agreed that when Democrats talk about bread-and-butter issues they are more focused on women, but in regards to Latino men and an economic message, she said, "making a dollar more but not being able to access health care isn't going to help."
She told Newsweek that Latino men are more disconnected from politics than women and said she's a big fan of creating varied messages that speak to different segments of the target audience, in this case, Latino voters, but she has yet to see a cohesive strategy emerge.
Cardenas said she still talks to the campaign and is heartened by the coming Latino vote program, but stressed the urgency of getting it right.
"For our collective benefit, Biden needs to get elected, but they need to move it and quickly. That's what I tell them all the time," she said.
UPDATE: May 6, 1:32 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to add further comment from the Biden campaign.