Latino voters

The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the oldest and largest Latino organizations in the United States, urged immigrants to vote, in Des Moines, Iowa, in February 2016.

Soon after she announced she was running for president, Hillary Clinton met with 350 supporters at La Rumba night club in Denver on a hot summer night in 2015. 

She talked to the young, diverse crowd about Planned Parenthood. She talked about health care. She talked about climate change. She spoke from her talking points but not from her heart.

"Clinton offered no specifics, however," I wrote at the time.

The star of the night  I reported this fact in a blog for The Denver Post  was Wellington Webb, the city's former mayor who introduced the former first lady and secretary of state.

The crowd was putty in Webb's hands for nine minutes. 

“Now look to the person to your right and say, ‘I apologize because I look so much better than you,' ” he said to a roar of laughter and applause.

Clinton did not so much lose young voters of color in Colorado to Bernie Sanders the following spring, and certainly not to Donald Trump that November. She lost them to the couch on Election Day. This year, for Democrats to win, they can’t take this constituency for granted, or they could lose again or win despite themselves.

Trump, however, faces a last stand.

A record 32 million Latinx voters are eligible to vote this November. Weigh that against the fewer than 80,000 votes that swung the Electoral College to Trump last time around.

I was on a call recently with U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, the state's only congressional delegate of color, and Colorado political elder Ken Salazar to talk about Latino voters, specifically immigration. Unsurprisingly, political bile splashed over on incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

Salazar co-chairs Joe Biden’s Latino Leadership Committee.

The former Obama cabinet member and U.S. senator from the San Luis Valley called Gardner and Trump “two peas in the same pod.” He said Latino voting potential had been awakened by Trump’s attacks and policies.

“We’re going to work hard to make sure Latinos make the winning difference for Joe Biden in states across the country,” he said on the lunchtime call.

I remember having a similar conversation with Salazar in Pueblo in 2008, backstage before Barack Obama spoke at a downtown street rally.

Neguse is the state’s first Black delegate to Congress. He is a first-generation American. His parents came to the U.S. as refugees from war-torn East Africa. His wife is Latina, so the issue is personal, he said on the call.

Because his parents were welcomed to the United States “with open arms,” he had the chance to prosper and become a member of Congress, one generation later.

“In Donald Trump’s America … that dream is out of reach for too many,” Neguse said.

Trump tried and failed to unwind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. After the Supreme Court stopped him, Trump alleged he supports the program and wants to make it law, with a pathway to citizenship on top.

He also took office on a promise to build a border wall that Mexico would pay for, which, like his threat of mass deportations, never materialized.

After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, Republican leaders sought to stem the receding tide of non-white voters. The party published a post mortem on how to do better. The 100-page document mentions Colorado as a state where Republicans used to win, but don’t anymore.

“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too," it states. "We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities.”

While Black voters went 91% for Clinton and 8% for Trump nationally, Hispanic voters weren't as sold, giving Clinton 66% to Trump's 28%.

There are 659,000 eligible Latino voters in Colorado, according to a Pew Research analysis that came out in January. Couple of problems here. Pew researchers found that 57% of Hispanic adults in Colorado were registered to vote. That’s up from 54.5% just two years earlier, but 69% of eligible white adults were registered to vote.

Hispanic adults make up 22% of the population but 15.9% of the electorate.

That is a margin for growth, if either side can capitalize on it.

A thought leader on the Hispanic left, arguably the biggest right now, is Joe Salazar, the former state legislator who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2018. He’s a civil rights attorney in charge of the leading challenger to the oil and gas industry, Colorado Rising.

He said immigration is a big issue but it’s also a trope; Democratic party leaders buy into a “monolithic, one-issue myth.”

“Immigration equals Latinos,” he said. “Education equals Latinos. Health care equals Latinos. Economy equals Latinos. Environment equals Latinos.”

At the top of the Democratic ticket in Colorado this year, there are Uncle John and Grandpa Joe, two white men, one in his late 60s, one in his late 70s. That ticket doesn’t look like Colorado. Democratic voters have plenty of opportunities to seat candidates of color and women in the last two elections, and only Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who is white, was able to break through.

“Republicans won’t get our vote,” Salazar said. “No one will.”

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