by John Wagner, The Washington Post
Vice President Pence traveled to Florida on Tuesday to launch a national “Latinos for Trump” initiative in a bid to bolster support for the Republican ticket at time when new polling shows large majorities of Hispanics favoring the election of a Democratic president next year.
During an event staged in Miami, the city hosting the first of the Democratic presidential debates this week, Pence called Trump “a great champion of Latino and Hispanic Americans” and said the new group is “one of the most important coalitions of the 2020 campaign.”
Florida, home to more than 2 million Hispanic registered voters, is a key state for Trump’s reelection fortunes next year.
Trump’s immigration policies and rhetoric on the subject have drawn pointed criticism from many Latinos.
Pence largely sought to make the case for voting Republican next year on economic issues, pointing to a decline in the Hispanic unemployment rate since Trump took office.
“President Trump promised to get this economy moving again, and President Trump delivered,” Pence said. “President Donald Trump is the best friend that Latino and Hispanic businesses have ever had in the White House.”
Later in his remarks, Pence touched on Trump’s efforts to “secure the border,” prompting chants of “Build the wall” — a reference to the president’s long-promised barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Miami was among the cities that Trump targeted for sweeping raids when he announced a plan last week to remove “the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” Although he subsequently postponed the raids, the threat was among the latest of Trump’s policies to alienate many in the Latino community.
The Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant families at the southern border has also proved highly unpopular.
And Trump sparred with officials in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 about a federal response that many on the island and elsewhere viewed as less robust than those in hurricane-damaged states on the mainland.
Polling released this week by Telemundo showed Trump facing head winds among Hispanic voters in several states.
In Florida, only 34 percent of Hispanic voters would like to see Trump reelected, while 56 percent would prefer to replace him with a Democrat, according to the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Strategies.
The numbers were even less favorable to Trump elsewhere.
In California, 26 percent of Hispanic voters would like to see Trump reelected, while 66 percent would prefer a Democrat. In Texas, 25 percent would like to see him returned to office, while 69 percent want a Democrat. And in the New York metro area, 19 percent want Trump reelected, while 73 percent prefer a Democrat.
Republicans involved in the “Latinos for Trump” initiative express hope that he can build on his performance among Hispanics in 2016.
Trump won 28 percent of the Latino vote nationally in that election, according to exit polling, while Democrat Hillary Clinton won 66 percent.
During a television appearance Tuesday morning, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R) argued that Trump’s record would help him next year.
“I think the past three years under President Trump speaks volumes to the great work he’s done for the Latino community,” said Nuñez, who co-chairs the new effort courting Latinos. “If you look at the data . . . record low unemployment for Latinos, record high median income, homeownership. . . . Everything points to promises made, promises kept.”
John Wagner is a national reporter who The Washington Post’s new breaking political news team.