Democrats largely prevailed in two states seen as tests of whether Republicans could win over more Latino voters: Arizona and Nevada. But to build on those gains, Democratic strategists say the party must invest more resources.
by Dan Balz, Washington Post
Leading up to Election Day last month, Republicans were poised to claim major victories, from a red wave in the House to control of the Senate. As part of those grand expectations, they hoped the results would show that Latino voters were continuing to join their ranks. That prediction proved off the mark.
Like so much about the midterm elections, what didn’t happen is as important as what did. Democrats did not lose ground among Latinos, but neither did Democrats significantly regain the ground they lost in 2020.
The big exception was Florida, where the two Republicans atop the ticket — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio — rolled up impressive majorities among Hispanic voters. Elsewhere, however, the story was one of steadiness rather than slippage by Democrats.
“Outside of Florida, we saw a portrait of stability,” said Melissa Morales, president of Somos Votantes, a Latino advocacy and organizing group that was working to support Democratic candidates. “We held on.”
The 2020 election set off alarms among Democrats — and bold predictions among Republicans — about a realignment of the Latino vote. In 2020, President Donald Trump saw his support among Latinos jump 10 percentage points nationally, to 38 percent from 28 percent in 2016. In South Florida and South Texas, Trump made even bigger gains in some heavily Hispanic counties.
There were other reasons to think a major shift could be underway. Latinos are not a monolithic group, and many Hispanics share some things in common with Republicans, among them religiosity and small-business economics. Some analysts have long seen Latinos as a potential swing vote — and still do.
But while Republican gains in South Florida and South Texas drew the most attention, many strategists and academics tracking Latino voting patterns said the true test of whether the Democrats were continuing to lose ground would come this year in Arizona and Nevada, a pair of midterm battlegrounds each with hard-fought races for Senate and governor.
“It was going to be the ultimate testing ground,” Carlos Odio of Equis Research said of the two Southwestern states. “While there was no reversal to pre-2020 levels, neither [of the Republican senatorial candidates] improved on 2020. … You have to judge it as a failure of Republicans to exploit what seemed the best opportunity they were going to get.”
Democrats held the Senate seats in both states and picked up the governorship of Arizona while surrendering the governorship of Nevada. Exit polls showed that Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona won 58 percent of Latino voters, down slightly from President Biden’s vote share in 2020.
In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who was seen as her party’s most vulnerable incumbent, captured 62 percent of Latino voters, almost identical to Biden’s performance in 2020.
Analysts are still sifting through election data. Exit polling, while scientific, can be imprecise because it does not fully represent raw vote totals. Odio recently posted a series of tweets looking preliminarily at patterns in heavily Hispanic precincts. He described Arizona and Nevada as examples of “perfect stability.”
One reason Democrats did as well as they did in Arizona and Nevada was because of a significant disparity in resources invested in Spanish-language advertising. Overall in those two states, the Democrats outspent Republicans by a margin of about 5 to 1, according to an ad tracking source.
The Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democrats, and affiliated organizations spent about $16 million on Spanish-language television and radio in the two states. The Senate Leadership Fund, which supports Republicans, spent almost nothing. The SLF concluded that, in Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters had little chance of winning and officials did not want to waste money on what seemed destined to be a losing campaign. In Nevada, because other Republican groups were spending on Spanish-language media, the SLF did not invest heavily.
J.B. Poersch, president of the Senate Majority PAC, said the strategy was not only to invest but also to invest early. Efforts by organizers, who knock on people’s doors to urge them to vote, remain critical in reaching Latino voters, he said, but added, “You can’t just knock on somebody’s door. You have to talk to them well in advance … It’s getting to these voters early on.”
One of the Democrats’ most successful efforts, in terms of the party’s margins among Latino voters, came in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz and flipped what had been a Republican-held seat. In heavily Hispanic precincts in Philadelphia, Fetterman did better than Biden in 2020, according to one analysis.
Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist who has specialized in reaching Latino voters, said there was a below-the-radar operation on behalf of Fetterman to appeal to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who now live in the state. In the final weeks of the campaign, with the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, he pushed for ads on Spanish-language broadcasts of the games.
“I knew I would not have a more concentrated audience than on the Spanish-language simulcast of the Phillies in the World Series,” he said.
Florida tells a similar story of the disparity of resources, only this one being to the advantage of the Republicans. Democrats were badly outspent in Florida, in part a strategic decision by national party leaders reflecting the state’s continuing shift toward the GOP and DeSantis’s and Rubio’s apparent strength. If Democrats hope to turn around their fortunes among Hispanics in Florida, it will come with a high price tag.
Matt Barreto, a Democratic strategist, said polling ahead of the election offered clues that the Latino vote in the Southwest might not be shifting this year, as some analysts were suggesting. “I saw no evidence of Latinos becoming more conservative,” he said.
He said the pre-election polling had shown that Latino voters were aligned on many issues with Democratic candidates — they were upset with the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, strongly supported the Inflation Reduction Act, felt that climate change is an issue that demands more attention and supported gun safety legislation.
“To the extent that Republicans were getting some attention, it was really because Latinos, like many voters, were frustrated about the cost of living,” Barreto added. “The mistake they [Republicans] made was [in assuming] that all Latinos were blaming Joe Biden.”
In House races, Latino voters helped Democrats win several competitive districts, including a newly drawn district in Colorado, which will be represented by pediatrician Yadira Caraveo, and two districts in South Texas that Republicans had targeted. But they lost someother seats in districts with a high percentage of Latinos.
Barreto said that where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee invested heavily to attract Latino voters, the results were generally positive. But he said Democrats need to significantly increase their investment in Latino voters in future years. If they do, Rocha said, districts with sizable Latino populations that remain in Republican hands, such as California’s 13th and 22nd districts and Texas’s 15th district, could be ripe for pickup in the presidential year of 2024.
Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Coalition, while bullish overall about the Democrats’ support from Latinos, nonetheless acknowledged that the party let some opportunities get away. “It’s not perfect, and there’s work to do,” he said.
Odio summed up the midterm results with a caveat for both parties. “There was discontent,” he said. “Republicans were not able to take advantage of it. So they fought basically to a draw, which benefited Democrats, and both parties lived to fight another day. It was a skirmish in another war.”