GUADALUPE, Ariz. (HPD) — In recent years, Hispanics in Arizona have responded to crackdowns on immigrants with a successful voter mobilization campaign that has brought Democratic officials to power and turned what was once a Republican stronghold in one of the hardest-fought states.
The strength of that movement will be tested in Tuesday’s election, when Democrats hope Hispanic support will help them overcome Republican criticism of the state of the economy.
This amid concerns from Democrats that his standing among Hispanics is slipping. The party suffered stunning defeats in 2020 in places like South Florida, where immigrants from Cuba and Venezuela tend to be more right-wing, and in South Texas. In Arizona, where Hispanics tend to be younger and more recent immigrants, they could be decisive in the battle for control of the Senate and the state governorship.
“The question is, will young Hispanics turn out to vote? Because that, really, is what is probably going to decide whether or not we win,” said Ruben Gallego, a Democratic lawmaker who represents a Hispanic portion of South and West Phoenix.
Democratic Senator Mark Kelly is counting on the support of those voters to repeat the victory he won in a special election two years ago. Also Katie Hobbs, the Democratic candidate for governor, before the possibility that the Democrats win that position for the first time since 2006.
Hispanics, who make up about a third of Arizona’s population, made up less than a fifth of voters in 2020, but tend to favor Democrats. The same is happening in Nevada, where Catherine Cortez-Masto, the first Hispanic woman elected to the Senate, is in danger of being defeated.
Democrats familiar with mail-in ballots say turnout in Arizona’s Hispanic neighborhoods is weak compared to white areas.
That’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, says Gallego. In the 2018 legislative elections, young Hispanics waited until the last minute to vote or to mail their ballot, he said. They eventually gave victory to Kyrsten Sinema, the first Democrat to win a senatorial campaign in Arizona in two decades.
Donald Trump, in the 2020 elections, increased the portion of the Hispanic vote for Republicans to 38%, compared to 28% in 2016, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
It wasn’t enough to re-elect Trump, but gains among Hispanic voters helped Republicans win seats in Congress, especially from South Texas and Florida.
In Arizona, young Latinos organized after the passage of a law in 2010 that allowed police to review the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The measure sparked a wave of similar laws in different states of the country.
The leaders of that movement are now in important positions: Gallego is in Congress and Raquel Terán is a state senator and chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.
Latinos are an integral part of the coalition that has brought Arizona into winable territory for Democrats, but they can’t deliver the state on their own, said Brendan Walsh, political co-director of Unite Here Local 11 and its affiliated political group, Worker. Power.
“If we get Latinos to act the way we want but lose ground in the suburbs, we lose,” Walsh said. “But there is no amount of votes that we can collect in the suburbs that will compensate for a drop in Latino voters. We need him to be tremendous to win.”
Unite Here hospitality workers are campaigning six days a week, focusing on appealing to Black and Latino voters who have said they support Hobbs and Kelly but might need an extra push to vote, he said.
“We’re looking for new supporters, but we’re also making sure that the people who told us in recent weeks that they were Hobbs supporters are going to vote,” he said.
Republicans believe rising prices and economic anxiety give them an opportunity to make the case to Latinos that they can’t afford Democratic leadership. Republicans have worked aggressively to tie Democratic candidates to President Joe Biden, who is unpopular in Arizona. The president has not been to Arizona as part of his election tour although first lady Jill Biden campaigned in the state on Saturday for Kelly and Hobbs.
“Hispanics care about employment. They are against inflation. They want a secure border,” said Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who leads the Senate GOP campaign arm, after an event last month at a Latino outreach office for the party in Phoenix. “They want their children to have a good education. Hispanics are fed up with the public school system wanting to teach their children critical race theory.”
Democrats point to GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters’ opposition to a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” young people brought into the country illegally as children. Democrats also cite his promotion of the racist conspiracy theory that Democrats are using immigration to replace Americans.
Masters noted that his focus on border security resonates with most Latinos.
“The Latino voters I spoke with are fed up with the southern border being so open,” Masters said. “These people are excited to vote Republican this November. They have come legally. This country welcomes immigrants when they come legally, but the correct amount of illegal immigration is zero.”
In the governor’s race, Lake has seized on a moment of Hobbs’s appearance at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. When she was asked what she had learned from the Latino community, Hobbs froze and struggled for an awkward response by mentioning that she liked to “practice my Spanish” with her Latina sister-in-law.
“He stuttered and pushed his way through a soft question about what he’s learned from the Latino community. She didn’t come up with anything,” Lake said at a news conference last month.
When asked to answer the question, Lake said her husband and daughter are Latino.
“They are the hardest working, dedicated to their family,” Lake said of Latinos. “They show us that there is a balance in life: when you put your faith in God, love your family and work hard you can have that American dream.”
Hobbs has prioritized outreach to Latinos in recent weeks. She spent a weekend touring Latino communities and last week she met with Latino business owners.
“You can’t separate the Latino culture from Arizona and who we are as a state,” Hobbs told The Associated Press. “I thought a lot about the people I worked with in my career as a social worker and the things I have learned particularly from the Latina women I had the opportunity to work with at the domestic violence shelter.”
Hobbs was a social worker and leader of a domestic violence shelter before turning to politics in 2010, when she was elected to the Legislature. She is now Secretary of State for Arizona.
For Felipa Álvarez, from Guadalupe, a small Latino and Native American community just a few miles from where Hobbs grew up in Tempe, no approach from Lake can top her embrace of Trump.
“In my opinion, Kari Lake is Trump’s puppet,” Alvarez said. “When Trump endorsed her, forget it, you’re out of the picture for me.”