With less than a year to go until the general election, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton isn’t wasting any time courting a small but influential group of voters: Latinas.
At Clinton’s headquarters on the eleventh floor of a high-rise in downtown Brooklyn on Monday, a small group of Latina supporters worked the phones.
Their mission: invite Latinas in Colorado, a key swing state with a rising Hispanic population, to the former secretary of state’s speech at a Colorado High School on Tuesday.
What’s essentially a small effort with the temporary goal of filling a high school with supportive Latina voters is part of a larger strategy by the campaign. It hopes to woo a growing demographic that the Clinton campaign feels it can not only decisively win over in the primary and general elections, but will also help Clinton clinch key swing states in the general.
Last weekend, the campaign held a multi-day strategy session aimed laying the groundwork for projects to increase turnout among Latina voters, which the campaign believes will identify with Clinton’s platform.
With more than 50 Latina supporters from across the US, the campaign set out teaching women how to tap into their communities and networks to reach and encourage other Latinas to show up for primaries and caucuses as well as the general election.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Clinton already has 22 paid staffers on the ground in Nevada. Many of the staffers have been working since April to pledge to support Clinton at the state’s primary caucus next year.
The campaign is already working with an impressive — and growing — roster of high-profile local campaign surrogates. The list includes former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, brothers Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who briefly hit the phones herself at Monday’s phone bank in Brooklyn.
“I’ve been very amazed, particularly yesterday at the retreat, at the level of engagement that this campaign is doing bilingually, bi-culturally, really speaking to the issues that matter to us,” Mark-Viverito said.
Part of Clinton’s early planning likely has to do with the enormous sway that Latinos are projected to carry over the outcome of the 2016 election.
According to the Center for American Progress, Latinos will account for 13% of all eligible voters, with higher percentages in swing states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado.
Latino voters overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama’s 2012 bid, voting for him over Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a 71-27 margin. The voting bloc helped carry him to victory in several key states.
Republicans — who have increasingly found themselves in a heated debate over immigration reform — face an even steeper challenge in 2016. The Center for American Progress says that the eventual candidate needs to win 47% of Latinos’ support to win the general election, higher than even former President George W. Bush’s 44% level in 2004.
And though immigration remains the most important issue to Latino voters, the Clinton campaign hopes that her positions on a wide range of national issues will resonate with Latinas, as well.
Lorella Praeli, the campaign’s director of Hispanic media, said that at the retreat over the weekend, many Latina supporters talked about Clinton’s gun control and substance-abuse plans.
“Immigration is close and dear to so many people, but … a lot of people were talking about her gun plan,” Praeli told Business Insider. “It’s something that people don’t generally expect.”
Neither of Clinton’s Democratic opponents have scaled their operations to match Clinton’s voter outreach.
As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has gained popularity with voters in early states dominated by white voters, he’s attempted to expand outreach to Latino voters.
As The Washington Post has reported notes, he’s begun airing ads on Spanish-language radio stations in key early states. He has come out against privately-run immigrant detention centres. And he has hired key staffers dedicated to tailoring his message of economic populism for Latino voters.
Meanwhile, though he’s struggled to gain traction in polls, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has made a serious play for Latino voters. He hasn’t been afraid to knock Clinton and Sanders on the issue, while touting the immigration measures he took while serving as governor.
The O’Malley campaign says he has had more appearances on national Spanish-language channels than both Sanders and Clinton combined. And he sat for several interviews with Iowa’s sole Spanish-language newspaper.
His immigration reform plan also got a hat tip from influential Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who tweeted that O’Malley’s plan is the “most inclusive” released by any candidate thus far.
“When you have someone like Jorge Ramos, who is obviously a very big leader in the community, saying that the governor has the most progressive, inclusive immigration plan out there, that matters” Gabriela Domenzain, O’Malley’s director of public engagement, told Business Insider.
Latinos “are recognising, because of the hard work we’ve made to reach out to them both on the ground and in the press, that this is someone who is actions and not words, and has been there for the community,” she said.
Though Clinton’s campaign still towers over both Sanders and O’Malley among Latinos in early polls, the former secretary of state has not gone without missteps.
Clinton caught heat for suggesting that deporting some refugees fleeing violence in Central America would “send a message” to other families. Weeks later, Clinton raised eyebrows over her use of the phrase “illegal immigrant,” a term that many Latinos find offensive. She said Tuesday that was a “poor choice of words.”
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the primary, many Democrats think Trump’s controversial rhetoric about immigration will motivate Latinos to pay more attention than in past elections.
Praeli, Clinton’s director of Hispanic media, told Business Insider that many voters and activists with whom the campaign has spoken in Colorado and Nevada flagged Trump’s provocative statements.
“That comes up a lot,” Praeli said. “People are saying it is our responsibility to make sure that we secure the nomination and that we elect her.”
“You can tell that [Latinas] are following the news, and you can tell that they’re angry, and they don’t stand by the comments that others candidates are making.”
“There’s a coalescing and coming together,” Mark-Viverito told Business Insider after making calls to Latinas in Colorado. “And that’s why I want to be vocal and visible out there, because it’s a prime opportunity to understand how powerful we are, because we are going to be the deciding vote in the next election.”
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