In last week’s midterms election, the Latino vote was not a kingmaker in many states — but it could’ve been in Colorado, had Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO, who lost) been more able to tap into the demographic. Udall instead ran heavily on women’s choice issues, and didn’t seek to mobilize the Latino community until it was too late. Today’s piece from Jose Dante Parra, running at Univision, goes into more detail about how Udall should’ve sought to boost his Latino vote numbers — and how you can’t expect an electorate to turn out for you if you don’t speak to their priorities. That’s a lesson Democrats should remember this year, as the Latino vote continues to wait on executive relief on immigration from Obama, and beyond. Read Parra’s full piece below or in English or Spanish at Univision:
In short hand, Mark Udall’s Senate reelection bid was a chronicle of a defeat foretold, as far as the Colorado Hispanic vote is concerned. This was the state where the Latino vote mattered, but democratic efforts to get it were sorely lacking.
On immigration, Udall did not define Cory Gardner early on, despite Gardner’s long anti-immigrant voting record in the House of Representatives. Udall’s strategy in Hispanic media was limited to simply translating messages, apparently without testing them. And according to several frustrated Coloradans, the candidate was MIA from Latino communities for months. When he finally showed up, the concrete had already set.
Sadly, Udall had a pro-Hispanic legislative record on which to run, but he did not communicate it and did not fire up Latino voters. If Democrats plan on righting the ship by 2016, we need to learn from those errors in every state where Hispanics can make the difference.
What do the numbers say? According to a New York Times analysis of county-by-county numbers, Udall underperformed among Hispanic voters. An election eve poll by Latino Decisions found Udall would get 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. But compared to the 81 per cent his colleague Michael Bennet got in 2010, an Obama’s 87 percent in 2012, Udall was showing worrisome cracks.
Udall also had advantages his fellow senators seeking reelection did not. Most of them ran in red states President Obama lost in 2012. That was not Colorado’s case.
To be fair, the six-year itch was outside Udall’s control. That’s when voters normally turn against the party in control of the White House during the president’s second term. It happened to Reagan and to George W. Bush. Clinton suffered it, as did Truman, despite presiding over victory in WWII a few years earlier. We can add to this Obama’s hesitation on executive action on immigration, and the disillusionment it caused among Hispanics.
But if you see headwinds, you’d think Udall would have sought to heavily turn out Latinos to compensate. Campaigning 101 would have had Udall frequently dropping by coffee meetings and kissing babies in Denver and Pueblo’s Hispanic areas –several months in advance. He did not. This absence is magnified in a culture that values personal contact. You can say the same about Hispanic media: Udall rarely talked to them, outside the past month, despite having lots to communicate to his voters about his Senate work. If you’re not frequently in the media, the public forgets you. Udall forgot that rule, at least for Latino media.
And Udall had much material at his disposal: republican antipathy to anything labeled “immigration” and other important issues to Hispanics such as Head Start, which helps low-income children. Further, Udall was one of the first senators to ask Obama to freeze deportations. However, he was so low key hardly anyone noticed.
In the meantime, Gardner had voted three times in the House to deport DREAMers protected by Obama’s DACA program. Udall did not highlight these and other Gardner anti-Latino votes.
According to his campaign the Hispanic community already knew Gardner’s immigration record. But according to Latino Decisions, “41 percent of Colorado Latinos were either confused about Gardner’s positions or thought Gardner supported reform”.
Many colleagues and I were floored when Udall and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee focused their first Spanish language add on veteran’s issues. Did they know that 99.9% of Latino veterans speak English? If this was a high-polling issue in the state, could it have been more effective to air this commercial with a Hispanic face in English channels? They literally were deaf to the community’s nuances and its linguistic diversity.
It might not be the candidate’s job to understand these nuances. But it is his job to surround himself with advisors who understand voters, and who have a seat at the table with a say. I am not sure if that was the model in Udall’s campaign, but all evidence points to the non-existence of a real Hispanic effort.
Once Udall finally decided to set up a Latino communications team, there was barely one month left to Election Day. They drafted in Washington, D.C. as many people who could speak Spanish, but after months of silence, it was too little too late and probably even offensive to Colorado’s Hispanics.
As Democrats, Udall’s Latino collapse leaves us many lessons for the next two years: Know your audience. Define your opponent. Don’t be afraid to trumpet what you stand for. Don’t forget voters are people; they won’t show up to your party if you invite them just one hour before.