Under fire over outreach efforts, House Democrats launch new Latino-focused ad campaign

First round targets Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas

by Stephanie Akin, Roll Call

House Democrats courting Latinos in the midterm elections announced a seven-figure ad campaign Thursday that uses regional dialects, accents and themes to connect to voters in battleground districts.  

The digital, radio and print ads from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee  — shared first with CQ Roll Call — are the latest response to criticism that the party is losing support among Latino voters because it waited too long to start outreach efforts and treated the diverse group as monolithic, even as Republicans invested heavily in Latino outreach in recent election cycles. 

“I have always said: Latinos are not going to automatically vote for Democrats unless we come to them and woo them, show them that we are the party that actually has their backs,” said Maria Cardona, a political strategist who specializes in Latino outreach and was an informal adviser on the ad campaign. 

Democrats in recent years have worked to tailor ads to different subsets of Hispanic and Latino voters. President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, for instance, ran ads featuring speakers with different accents, as has the group Building Back Together, which promotes the president’s policy agenda. Cardona and DCCC strategists said the timing of this campaign — three months before the election — was a positive change in strategy.

“In cycles past, these ads would not have been on the air until about two weeks before the election — that to me speaks volumes as to how Democrats have learned and how they have understood this is not a community you can take for granted,” she said.

he ads also come after Republicans in a June special election flipped a Texas district that had supported Biden over Donald Trump by 15 percentage points in 2020.

‘Caminoneta’ vs. ‘troca’

The first radio advertisements will run in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. 

Actors speaking English will have stronger Mexican accents in the ads airing closer to the Southern border. Those speaking Spanish will use regional colloquialisms and refer to experiences that are common in the communities where they will be distributed. 

In Texas, for example, actors talking about a truck use the more formal word “camioneta” that would be more natural to recent immigrants and first generation Mexican-Americans near the border than the more Americanized “troca.” In New Mexico, they refer to traveling across the Mexican border to purchase medications where they are less expensive, a practice that is common in the area, according to DCCC strategists.

The ads also attempt to turn the tables on Republican messaging that blames Biden and the Democrats in control of Congress for inflation, high gas prices and other economic concerns. 

“Republicans are only working for rich people,” one ad says, while Democrats “are finding solutions.”

“One of the things I love about one of the ads is that it’s in Spanglish, and that is how some in our community speak,” Cardona said. “I love that you can hear yourself in these ads, and you can completely relate. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, this is like a conversation my family had at our last cookout.’” 

$30 million project

The ads are part of a $30 million  Building Our Base project launched by the DCCC to engage Black, Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. As part of that program, the DCCC has made a seven-figure investment in Latino-focused organizing programs last spring and additional seven-figure investment in organizing programs to build relationships with Latino communities and voters.

The DCCC also announced a seven-figure investment Tuesday in digital, print and radio advertising targeting Asian American Pacific Islander voters in battleground districts. Some of those ads, running in California, Nevada, New York and Virginia will spotlight Republicans’ opposition to abortion rights, which Democrats think is unpopular among ethnic groups — including Latinos — that don’t personally believe in abortion but don’t want the government involved in the decision and worry that other conservative social policies will follow. 

While Democrats have historically fared better with Latino voters than Republicans, the GOP has chipped away at that advantage in recent cycles. Republicans flipped two South Florida seats in 2020, a year in which Trump made gains among Latino voters compared to his 2016 performance, especially in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.  In June, Republican Mayra Flores won the special election to serve the remainder of Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela’s term in Texas’ 34th District, a seat Vela won by 13 points in 2020.

This year the GOP is targeting several majority Latino districts held by Democrats in the Southwest and the southern border, several of which will have Latino Republicans on the ballot in November.

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Stephanie Akin covers house leadership for Roll Call with an eye toward profiles analysis and news features.

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