Though the Latino vote is up from past midterm levels in key California congressional districts after a significant push from Democrats, it’s still well behind the numbers the Hispanic community could generate.
That means Democrats trying to win Republican-held seats will still need to heavily rely on independent white voters.
Early voting returns show six swing districts will likely see Hispanic turnout comparable to presidential years, highly unusual in a midterm election.
But it could be much higher.
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Democrats have made a strong effort in California’s 10th district, for instance, where Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is struggling to keep his seat. Latino turnout is hovering around 18 percent in early voting though Latinos make up 30 percent of the eligible voter population in that district.
Community organizers say that number would climb if Democrats’ investments in the district were more consistent.
“They can keep throwing money at the problem, but what they need is a long-term strategy,” said Alex Garcia, a Wasco council member in California’s 21st congressional district, where Republican Rep. David Valadao is fighting to defend his seat. “They build up this infrastructure during elections, when they need us, but then they leave.”
Drew Godinich, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats have been building on efforts every election cycle.
“Building on the work done in prior cycles, the DCCC has made a historic investment in registering and turning out Latino voters across California, and will continue to engage these voters in years to come,” Godinich said.
The DCCC has spent $30 million nationwide in targeted efforts to turn out loyal voters, with a significant portion of that dedicated to reaching minority communities.
It has released Spanish get-out-the-vote ads in Sacramento and Los Angeles for the first time. When it started hiring local organizers in February 2017 it included designated constituency organizers in districts with large Hispanic populations.
Targeted California districts include the 10th, where Democrat Josh Harder is challenging Denham; the 25th, where Democrat Katie Hill is challenging Rep. Steve Knight; the 39th, where Democrat Gil Cisneros is facing Republican Young Kim; the 45th, where Democrat Katie Porter is challenging Rep. Mimi Walters; the 48th, where Democrat Harley Rouda is challenging Rep. Dana Rohrabacher; and the 49th, where Democrat Mike Levin is facing Republican Diane Harkey.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won each of the districts in 2016, and Democrats now see them as crucial to winning a House majority Tuesday.
Latinos in those districts in California, notably the 10th and the 25th, say they don’t recall so much canvassing and engagement with Latino voters in previous elections.
Lucia Nunez, a field director for the California Democratic Party in the 10th district, said there’s been an unprecedented effort in the district this year. Organizers have gone to every Latino Catholic Church, flea market and neighborhood.
“This weekend is get out the vote, and we’re having thousands of volunteers come in (including) and at least 350 people who speak Spanish,” Nunez said.
Primary turnout among Latinos this year was significantly higher than past midterm primaries in those districts. Statewide in California, Latino turnout has averaged 11 to 12 percent in the last four midterm primaries, but this year has been 16.5 percent.
Early voting numbers collected by Political Data Inc., an analytics firm in California, suggest Latino turnout will eventually be a percentage point or two higher than the primary on Tuesday in the key districts.
“(The Democratic Party is) doing more than they’ve ever done, but the problem is in previous cycles they’ve done nothing,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the liberal national polling and research firm Latino Decisions. “This outreach is good, but it needs to be consistent.”
Otherwise, Barreto and others said, this outreach can alienate some voters. They feel the Democratic party will turn to them when it needs help, but won’t be there for them when they need help.
Even though there are more Latino candidates on the statewide ballot than in recent history, most of those races are not competitive. Those campaigns generally do better at outreach in Latino communities, Barreto said, but in order to truly motivate significantly more Latino voters the races would need to be more competitive.
Keeping the infrastructure Democrats have built to reach Latino voters, engaging them and consulting with them would bring even higher numbers in the 2020 presidential election. But members of the community have their doubts that’s going to happen.
“I think the same thing is going to happen again,” Garcia said. “The party is going to pack up and leave after the election.”