Latinos could swing Georgia. Don't repeat the mistakes of Florida and Texas

Chuck Rocha

Democrats must win runoff races in Georgia to control the Senate - giving Biden a mandate. Latino voters will be crucial

‘We are not a monolith and you must ask us for our vote if you want to earn our vote.’
‘These next three weeks present a small window of opportunity for Democrats to expand their electorate. Emerging Latino populations can and will tip the balance in this election.’ Photograph: Jack Kurtz/Rex/Shutterstock
‘These next three weeks present a small window of opportunity for Democrats to expand their electorate. Emerging Latino populations can and will tip the balance in this election.’ Photograph: Jack Kurtz/Rex/Shutterstock

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 15.36 EST

In less than eight weeks, voters of the now-blue state of Georgia will head to the polls to vote in the Senate runoff election on 5 January 2021 to decide if the Rev Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will join their Democratic colleagues in Congress. These two seats are crucial to deliver the mandate needed by Joe Biden to enact his ambitious vision for America’s future.

With the Democratic party’s hopes and dreams resting on Georgia’s shoulders, it would be a costly misstep to overlook a key demographic: Latinos. There are nearly a million Latinos living in Georgia, the majority of whom live in and around the Atlanta metro area. About 300,000 persuadable Latino voters who are registered to vote identify as neither Democrat nor Republican. These voters represent a small but decisive 5% of the electorate. In a world in which races are won on razor-thin margins, that 5% is a crucial swing vote.

In the days leading up to the 2020 general election, I watched my colleagues’ hopes rise at the sight of a string of polls showing Biden with the lead in Florida and record-breaking early voter turnout in my home state of Texas. These hopes were quickly dashed. In the wake of defeat, my phone started to buzz with people asking, urgently: what went wrong with the Latino vote? It was the first time in my 30 years of political experience that the nation finally learned a truth that Latino organizers have been trying to convey for ages. We are not a monolith and you must ask us for our vote if you want to earn our vote.

Let’s set the record straight: President-elect Joe Biden won Latino voters. He spent more money engaging with Latino voters in his 2020 campaign than either Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton. This investment paid off for Biden, with decisive Latino victories in the states he focused on competing in, including Florida.

By now, we have all heard about the heroine of Georgia’s historic blue shift. Stacey Abrams’ unprecedented grassroots voter registration and mobilization efforts have unequivocally proven that the antidote to poisonous voter suppression tactics and lagging voter engagement involves two key ingredients: both statewide and community-led operations.

Fair Fight Action was responsible for the registration of over 800,000 voters in Georgia – a force to be reckoned with in the once reliably red south. This level of mobilization, focused on Latinos, will be critical to swing the Georgia special election toward Democrats and clinch these two remaining Senate seats.

Every 30 seconds in America, a Latino turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. Over half of Georgia’s Latino population is under the age of 18. This means there are thousands of Latino youth in Georgia who will turn 18 on or before 5 January who qualify to register to vote in the Senate elections. This is in addition to hundreds of thousands of Latinos already over the age of 18 who are currently unregistered to vote.

The registration deadline for all Georgians who wish to vote in the runoff elections is less than a month away, on 7 December. These next three weeks present a small window of opportunity for Democrats to expand their electorate. Emerging Latino populations can and will tip the balance in this election.

Latino organizers and groups on the ground such as Galeo, a non-profit that helps register new Latino voters across Georgia, need funding and resources right now in order to mobilize Latinos in large enough numbers to swing the state. Over the past four months, Nuestro Pac – now the largest Latino-focused Super Pac, which I helped found – spent over $5m to galvanize Latino voters for Biden in swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. These efforts helped deliver the margins of victory for Biden in many of the states he won.

Georgia presents an enormous opportunity for Democrats, in part because the unique nuances of Latino voters in Texas and Florida, who are culturally distinct from elsewhere, are not present to the same extent in Georgia. The most pressing issue for Latinos in Georgia – and Latinos in general – is Covid relief funds, which are currently being held hostage by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Healthcare is a similarly critical issue for Latinos in Georgia – yet the Republican party has voted over 50 times to strip Americans of health protections provided by the Affordable Care Act, and are trying to defeat it through the supreme court.

Through the appointment of a new and diverse Covid-19 taskforce, Biden has already taken a crucial first step to instill confidence in these voters. Now it is time for investment in grassroots organizing so that Latinos can deliver Biden a mandate.

  • Chuck Rocha is the president of Solidarity Strategies and the founder of Nuestro Pac. He was a senior adviser to the Bernie Sanders campaign