If there was ever a cycle when Republican candidates needed help with their outreach to Latino voters, this is it.
Family separation of Latin American migrants at the southern border, stepped up ICE enforcement raids, and the ending of protections for DACA recipients are just three overall unpopular Trump administration policies that have touched U.S. Hispanic communities.
While these issues aren’t the only ones Latino voters care about, they’re part of the reason why 70 percent of the voting bloc say they’re more motivated to cast a ballot this cycle than the last midterm.
So are GOP candidates responding by investing in Latino voter outreach programs, Spanish-language marketing, or survey research? For the most part, no, say consultants who offer those services.
Texas-based consultant Brendan Steinhauser has been making the pitch for GOP candidates to invest in Latino outreach since 2014 when he served as Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign manager.
Espousing a long-term approach, Steinhauser believes that Latino outreach programs can pay dividends around the margins in a close race. Now, he said, it’s a pitch that’s falling on deaf ears.
“Candidates are a little more hesitant [in 2018]," said Steinhauser. "They don’t know what to do or what to say with this audience. That’s making it a little more difficult.”
Steinhauser said he’s been on the losing side of an argument that’s boiled down to: “Why should we focus on anything but turnout?”
“That’s the majority opinion,” he said. “Am I just getting them out to vote and they’re going to vote for the Democrat?”
Practitioners in that camp can easily point to survey research to back it up. For instance, a recent series of focus groups and a national survey of registered Latino voters conducted on behalf of CHC Bold PAC, Priorities USA and House Majority PAC, had Democrats leading Republicans 67-to -22 percent in a generic ballot.
Jason Cabel Roe, a California-based Republican consultant, has found himself similarly stymied in the argument for investing in Latino outreach. But he keeps making the pitch: “Republicans need to do more.”
Roe agreed with Steinhauser’s assessment that the national environment is fueling GOP candidates’ reticence to engage. “I think is a mistake,” he said of focusing on turnout instead.
“In my experience, Democrats have taken advantage of our absence and defined us. If we engaged more, we’d find a lot of room to grow our vote share.”
In some races, those votes could prove crucial. A recent study found 25 House districts where Latino voters could sway the result in November.
In fact, while Latino turnout normally drops off during a midterm — to the tune of 11-21 percent — they’re more likely to vote if contacted by a campaign, starting with voter registeration.
This could bolster consultants’ argument for a last-minute push. To wit, less than half of respondents in the Latino Decisions focus groups and poll said they were certain to vote against Republicans in November.
Now, that research did show Democrats ahead in the generic ballot, but these aren’t reliable votes. “Only 53 percent overall said they are certain they will cast a ballot in November,” the research memo states.
Clearly, there’s room for error on the Democratic side. Jose Aristimuño of NOW Strategies recently told C&E that Democrats often make two mistakes: messaging to Latino voters strictly about immigration and assuming the voting bloc is monolithic.
“I’ve been one of those holding the mic and saying, ‘Don’t do this, please!’ If you’re speaking to Latinos do not speak about only immigration. What about the economy, what about healthcare?”
He added: “A Democrat in New York is totally different from a Democrat in Miami.”
While the overall conditions are favorable for Democrats, investment in Latino targeting has been uneven, according to Matt Barreto, a pollster with Latino Decisions.
He noted that the DCCC under Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Executive Director Dan Sena has put money into polling Latinos. But the DSCC hasn’t followed suit. In Senate contests in Arizona, Texas and Florida “there has not been as much investment.”
Nevada was one bright spot where Latino outreach was getting funding, said Barreto. “We have seen sustained investment, almost every single cycle, in Latino outreach, going back to the Harry Reid days.”
For Republicans who want to stand up a Latino outreach program before November, there’s still time.
Steinhauser, the Texas-based practitioner, suggests targeting a narrow universe of Spanish-speaking voters who have voted in Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.
“Anyone with that mixed voter history, who votes in general elections, you can actually reach out to them pretty cheaply with targeted mail, targeted digital. You’ll be ready to go by September,” he said, adding that earned media on Telemundo or Univision could round out the marketing to that audience.
“It’s going to be at the margins, but you’re at least going to make a play.”
While the polling numbers may have Republican candidates leery over investing in Latino outreach, the demographic numbers should make the opposite case.
Forecasters predict the Latino population will grow more than 50 percent in the next two decades to 87.5 million — representing nearly a quarter of all Americans.
“I think every year that goes by we’ll face more and more pressure to do this as a party,” said Steinhauser. “Hispanics will be a plurality of the population in Texas by 2022. That alone should have sirens going off. That’s not that far away.”