Latinos Are in Position to Decide Majorities in Congress

Latinos Are in Position to Decide Majorities in Congress
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
Latinos Are in Position to Decide Majorities in Congress
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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As candidates head for the home stretch in the midterm elections, Latinos across battleground states are poised to play a key role in races that could decide future control of Congress.

This is no ordinary midterm. Right now, Republicans’ control of both the House and Senate hangs by a thread. In such a high-stakes political environment, it’s more important than ever for candidates – regardless of party or state – to aggressively engage with Latino voters.

At nearly a fifth of the U.S. population, the Hispanic community isn’t just large – and growing fast – it’s uniquely positioned to make a difference in several of the 2018 battleground elections. In four of the Senate races rated by RealClearPolitics as toss-ups, Latino voters could be the determining factor.

In Florida, Texas, Nevada and Arizona, the 2016 presidential election was decided by a tighter margin than the population of eligible Hispanic voters. Certainly, no one expects all Hispanic voters to cast their ballots for the same candidates; but those numbers do mean that the Hispanic vote could make or break any coalition in the fall. In these narrow races where every vote counts, engaging the Hispanic electorate should be a top priority.

But to connect with Latino voters, candidates must be aware that a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it. The Hispanic population is diverse, and Mexican-Americans in Texas, Nevada, and Arizona won’t necessarily have the same life experiences and background as Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans in Florida. At an even more micro level, generational and geographical differences within states and within Latino populations from the same homeland can vary widely.

In the aftermath of the Puerto Rican debt crisis and Hurricane Maria, demographic realities long taken for granted in the Sunshine State are starting to change, as Puerto Ricans in Central Florida overtake Cuban-Americans in South Florida as the largest Hispanic group in the state. In battleground races like the Senate contest between Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, reaching out to these groups on their own terms could play a pivotal role.

This diversity extends to more than just culture. Latino voters don’t fit neatly into one political box or another, and playing to old political stereotypes is not a winning strategy.

Latino voters care about more than just immigration (although it is a key issue). In fact, issues such as education, health care and a growing economy are high priorities for our families.

And even on immigration, Latinos often have a richly nuanced understanding of the policy debate. Despite generally one-sided media coverage, some polls indicate that Latinos also disapprove of how Democrats have handled negotiations with Republicans on what to do about the Dreamers — immigrant children who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 54 percent think Democrats are using the issue for political gain rather than putting forward genuine solutions aimed at enacting a legislative fix.

If candidates hope to earn the support of Latinos, they need to speak directly with our community and show that they are serious about reaching across the aisle for solutions.

As Latino voters weigh their options in this election, they are asking for solutions that create opportunity for everyone and help them to improve their lives. If candidates want to win, it’s time for them to listen.

Wadi Gaitan is a spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative.

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