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Ex-Bernie Adviser Chuck Rocha: Latinx Voters Will Be “Single Most Important Factor” in 2020 Election

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Image Credit: Facebook/Latino Community Foundation

The 2020 general election is on pace to have the highest turnout rate in over a century, with nearly 100 million ballots cast early — nearly three-quarters of the 2016 vote total. We look at how Latinx voters could play a key role in deciding the presidency and who controls the Senate. Many key battleground states, including Florida, Texas, Arizona and Pennsylvania, have large Latinx communities. Many polls show Biden is not doing as well among Latinx voters as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, and one recent poll in Florida showed a majority of Latinx voters supported Trump over Biden. “The Latino vote will be the single most important factor in this election,” says Chuck Rocha, a former campaign adviser to Bernie Sanders. “More Latinos will vote in this election than anytime in the history of America.” We also speak with Maria Hinojosa, award-winning journalist and founder of Futuro Media, who says young Latinx voters like her daughter are extremely motivated. “They are the ones who are saying, ’I’m absolutely voting. … I’m voting as if my life depended on it.’”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: People are voting across the United States for an election which is on pace to have the highest turnout rate in perhaps 150 years, percentage-wise. Nearly 100 million people have voted early — that’s nearly three-quarters of the total 2016 vote count.

But campaigns are still scrambling to get out the vote in key battleground states. On Monday, President Trump campaigned in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

On this final day of the 2020 campaign, we look at how Latinx voters could play a key role in deciding the presidency and who controls the Senate. Many battlegrounds states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona, have large Latinx communities. Many polls show Biden is not doing as well among Latinx voters as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. One recent poll in Florida showed a majority of Latinx voters supported Trump over Biden.

We’re joined now by two guests. Chuck Rocha was a campaign adviser to Bernie Sanders. He now runs the pro-Biden Nuestro PAC to mobilize the Latino voters. He is author of Tío Bernie: The Inside Story of How Bernie Sanders Brought Latinos into the Political Revolution. And we’re joined by Maria Hinojosa. She’s an award-winning journalist, author of the new memoir Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America. She’s founder of Futuro Media, host of Latino USA and co-host of the podcast In the Thick.

Chuck Rocha, we begin with you. You’re a numbers guy. Looking across the country, there was a Bloomberg report that came out this weekend that’s saying Black and Latinx voters are not coming out in the numbers that Democratic Party hope for. Can you talk specifically about the Latinx vote in Pennsylvania, in Florida, in Texas, where you are, in Arizona?

CHUCK ROCHA: Well, thank you. And thank you, Amy.

The Latino vote will be the single most important factor in this election. There’s some truth on both sides of everything and all of the noise that you’re hearing out there. There’s one thing that’s for sure, no matter where you are in America, that more Latinos will vote in this election than anytime in the history of America. And already with early voting you’ve had 2 million Latinos vote in Texas, 350,000 in Arizona, 1.4. All these numbers seem to drone together. But I’m not going to allow, and the Latino community is not going to allow, the party or either party to come step to us and say that we are underperforming.

As I’ve been watching this election now for almost two years, working for Bernie, creating Nuestro PAC, talking and listening to amazing journalists like Maria and others who are doing work in our community, I’m seeing this unrest. And what’s happening is Donald Trump is becoming the best get-out-the-vote operation that the Democrats have ever run. Other Democrats doing a great job? Eh, they’re doing an OK job. But there are so many people that are voting that are Latino who have no voting history. In Texas alone, almost half a million Latinos who have never voted before and have no voting history are showing up. That’s not because of some astronomical program that the Democrats are running. That’s because they’re sick and tired of seeing what this president is doing to our community.

Whether what we see in polling — is it around coronavirus? Is it around healthcare policy? Is it around jobs and the economy? It’s all of those things wrapped together in a cabal of unrest and uneasiness in a community where we feel like nobody’s really speaking for us. And we are yearning for somebody to come have that conversation, debate the issues and show up with their hat in their hand and ask for our vote.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Chuck, I’m wondering if you could talk especially about Arizona, because, to me, I think Arizona is more reflective of the enormous change in the Latino vote, especially given the fact that Arizona only a few years ago was the center of so much anti-immigrant reaction, the heyday of Joe Arpaio, the “show me your papers” law, and really the Latinx vote there is probably going to be most decisive in moving that state into the Democratic column. Could you talk about what’s happened there?

CHUCK ROCHA: What you’re seeing is an evolution in Arizona. And for all of you folks at home who may not live this life every day, Arizona is very different than Florida. It’s very different than other states, because it’s like 80% Mexican American. There’s been a second and third generation of Latinos who have come of age in Arizona under a racist Joe Arpaio, under a racist law by the governor that said you have to show me your papers no matter who you are, even if you’re a U.S. citizen, just because you may look Brown. This is the attacks that I’m talking about that our community has lived through.

And all of these young, woke Brown kids are now coming of age, where they have self-organized, without any help from Democrats or Republicans for the most matter, and organized themselves, mainly around the DREAMer movement, the immigration movement, the Bernie Sanders movement, the social justice movement. And what you’re seeing now, the fruits of those labors.

There’s amazing local Latino orgs like LUCHA, who is a client of my firm, who have been working year in and year out in the state of Arizona. They don’t just pop up three months before the election. They’re there throughout the year, registering voters, helping people get access to healthcare, helping people fill out immigration papers. They’re a part of the fabric of the community.

And I’ve been preaching this since I was a little boy. If you show up there and you show up in the community and you show the community respect, like LUCHA and other community-based organizations, you start building the infrastructure of power. And that’s what you’re starting to see now because of the demographic growth in Arizona with these kids coming of age. And that’s why you see a transformation of what’s happening in Arizona in the electorate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Chuck, I want to follow that up, ask you about Pennsylvania. Everyone agrees that Pennsylvania is probably the most critical or decisive state in this race, but there’s very little attention been paid to the Latino vote in Pennsylvania. I want to read just some figures. These are the latest figures from the census, the 2019 U.S. census estimates — not talking about Philadelphia, but all of the small cities outside of Philadelphia and in central Pennsylvania: Reading, Pennsylvania, 66% Hispanic; Allentown, Pennsylvania, 52% Hispanic; Lebanon, 44%; Lancaster, 38%; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 28%. There’s a whole — it’s called the 222 Latino Corridor, all the cities up and down the state that are along Route [ 222 ] that have had enormous growth in their Latino population over the last 15, 20 years. I’m wondering what your sense of the impact of that vote, which is largely Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican, will have on the results in Pennsylvania.

CHUCK ROCHA: Oh, my brother, as we say in Texas, I’m picking up what you’re putting down. I lived in Pennsylvania for 11 years, and I was the national political director of the steelworkers’ union. My son this morning texted me a picture of him and my twin 4-year-old grandboys in Butler, Pennsylvania, going to vote. When I was in 1990 and starting with the steelworkers, I ran a steelworker for Congress and moved to Bethlehem and Allentown, Pennsylvania, where I discovered these huge Boricua neighborhoods and all of the radio stations, like La Mega. So, I have been one of the first people out there jumping up and down on the soapbox screaming about this.

What happened in the last four or five years to exacerbate this even more was what you saw on the island of Puerto Rico. And with people fleeing Puerto Rico, people think that they all moved to Orlando. Well, over 200,000 of them moved in with their family members in that corridor that you’re describing in eastern Pennsylvania. And because me and Nuestro PAC have seen no real investment in this community early, Nuestro PAC, my PAC, we spent over a million dollars, starting in July, talking to Latinos. Now, many times, we were the only ones there, with some great organizations on the ground, like Unidos Action Fund and a handful of others that have been doing the work there. But we’ve been diligently communicating in Spanish and English with this community, because they have one thing in mind — and this is something that y’all talk about, Maria talks about, all the time — is the difference between a Cuban voter and a Puerto Rican voter, even though they’re both Caribbean Latinos. Puerto Ricans are way more apt not to like Donald Trump in any form or fashion, and vote at 60, 65 and 70% for Democrat.

So, you need to go have a conversation, talk to them over a long period of time, like Nuestro PAC did. We sent them six pieces of mail, radio commercials, digital commercials. We did the Bernie Sanders paid, multilevel communication. But we were one of the only ones to do it. Imagine if they would have spent the amount of money that they spent in Philadelphia talking to white persuadable voters, which, as of my last check, was over $50 million, compared to my little $1 million talking to Latinos. This is an overarching thing that we’ll talk about after the election, but you need to treat Latinos like white persuadable voters. Invest the same amount of money, and we will no longer have to accept the bare minimum when it comes to Latino turnout and their persuasion percentages.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Chuck Rocha, founder of Nuestro PAC. He’s going to stay with us, but when we come back, we’re also joined by the award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. She’s founder of Futuro Media and has a new book out, a magnificent memoir that’s called Once I Was You. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones. This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Let’s turn to two Florida voters discussing the Puerto Rican vote. We’ll hear from Maria Revelles, a Puerto Rican community organizer in Central Florida, but first to Bertica Cabrera Morris, a Latinos for Trump board member.

BERTICA CABRERA MORRIS: I think that a lot of the Puerto Ricans from New York mostly had signed up as Democratic, because that’s where they came from. You will find that a lot of the Puerto Ricans here, that might have signed up to be Democrats, might vote Republican.

MARIA REVELLES: Puerto Ricans are not — you cannot put them in the same basket than Cuban Americans, right? Puerto Ricans are fairly progressive. They believe in systems of welfare. They believe that the poor should be taken care for. They believe that there should be healthcare for all. You know, the monster of communism and socialism doesn’t scare Puerto Ricans, you know? I think that Puerto Ricans, they are a swing vote, because when they come from the island, they don’t belong to Republican or Democratic Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Two Puerto Rican voices from Florida. We are joined by Maria Hinojosa, a renowned journalist, award-winning journalist, and author of the new memoir Once I Was You, as well as Chuck Rocha, who is a preeminent voting expert, particularly in the Latino community, president of Solidarity Strategies and founder of Nuestro PAC.

Maria, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. As you listen to those two voices in Florida, you are spending your life right now, your podcast, your broadcasts, talking about this election. Let’s look at Florida right now.

MARIA HINOJOSA: OK. Specifically, you want me to talk about what I’m thinking about in terms of Florida?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, and relate it to these two voices we have just heard.


AMY GOODMAN: Two voices, one for Trump, one for Biden.


AMY GOODMAN: Puerto Rican voices in Central Florida.

MARIA HINOJOSA: So, I know Bertica. I was speaking to Bertica four years ago. At that time, she was allegedly on the fence about Trump. Now she’s solidly in Trump’s land.

The Trump administration — administration, and later the campaign — has been playing what they always play. So this should not be a surprise, and, frankly, for the Biden campaign to not be kind of prepared for it is surprising. So, this notion about, like, the fear of socialism, more conservative, evangelical, anti-abortion, this thing that nobody really knows about unless you’re from that — this conversation about “religious liberty” — most people are like, “Religious liberty? We have religious liberty.” Big issue for Latino evangelicals. So, Amy and Juan, what’s been happening with the Trump folks is that they’ve been making those connections in those communities for a while. And so, when Bertica makes those statements, it’s true. And they are familiar with the Trump rhetoric. They respond to it because they respond to bully speak, and they respond to the fear.

On the other hand — and this is where I got it wrong four years ago — I did think that the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida is what was going to swing the entire state, and I failed to see that the anti-abortion Latino evangelical side of the Puerto Rican vote, which is just enough to be able to swing it, is more conservative. This time around, it’s not clear. Even though the Trump administration has been making a lot of inroads in the campaign with Latino evangelicals, you know, they’re also — what I was hearing in terms of my reporting is that many Latinos and Latinas are like, ”Estamos este aquí,” the statement ”Estamos este aquí.” “We’re up to our — beyond our forehead. We cannot take this anymore.”

And what I’m focusing on in Central Florida, which I think Chuck is probably also geeking out about, is the youth vote. He talked about it in Arizona. It’s the same kind of thing in Florida. Their parents may be voting for Trump, but will they? So, that’s where I’m thinking about Florida, in particular.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. And, Maria, if I could follow up on that, one of the points I’ve tried to make now for several months is that there are more than 2 million Latinos who turned 18 just since the last presidential election. And your emphasis on — in terms of especially trying to get a sense of where the young vote is going, and clearly all of the polling has shown that especially when it comes to young people of all races and nationalities, there is a marked turn toward Biden and the Democrats versus Trump and the Republicans. But could you talk about what you’ve found as you’ve been talking to young people around the country, young Latinos especially?

MARIA HINOJOSA: Right. So, it’s different than last year — than four years ago, in the sense that, I think you remember, Juan and Amy, at the Democratic National Convention, the anti-Hillary, essentially Bernie wing of the party was so upset, and many Latinos and Latinas, my students, I remember, who were very much involved with Bernie, were very upset, to the point where many said, “We’re not going to be able to do this.” I remember hearing them say, “We’re just not going to go.” And it was like, “Yes, but you’re throwing away a vote.” And they were just like — I think that’s different this time around. So, that’s one element.

I think that we don’t have the polling. I’m going to talk, Juan, about my own family, right here, in my home. You are in my home right now. My daughter, who is 22, four years ago voted, kind of like, “Yes, I like Hillary. She’s fine. But, you know, Donald Trump is not going to win.” She was wrong, obviously. I knew that he had a very strong possibility of winning, as did probably you. This time around, she’s been phone banking almost every weekend. She is the one who organized the family vote plan. On Sunday night, she walked up to me, and she said, “Mom, Texas is blue.” And I’m like, “It’s 10:00 on a Sunday night in Harlem, New York City, and you’re telling me Texas is blue?” And I said, “No, mijita, it’s not.” And she said, “I’m repeating that to myself all the time as my mantra to make it come true.” And I’m like, “This is my New York City-raised Dominican Mexican Harlemite daughter who’s talking this way. She’s not the only one.” Latinas, who I know who are working at the polls right now. So, this is a part of the electorate that I don’t think is being polled or tagged.

I think Chuck knew how to connect with them, and he’s absolutely right. If you connect with Latino-Latina voters, they will respond. And I’m also de la banda de Chuck Rocha, which says, “You know what? Is it — you’re really going to tell us again, with all due respect to the Bloomberg reporters, that we’re not turning out?” I don’t — you know, I’m not buying it this time around. Now, maybe I’m going to have to eat crow. Maybe I’m going to have to eat crow, but I do think that this generation of Latinos and Latinas, who have felt these policies, mira, en la carne propia, with our skin, they are the ones who are saying, “I’m absolutely voting. I’m voting” — as you’ve heard people say in line, “I’m voting as if my life depended on it.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Chuck, I wanted to ask you — the Latino Decisions, which does a lot of the polling for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, has been doing a tracking poll now for a couple of months. And their tracking poll shows — of among Latinos around the country — and it shows that the number one issue for Latino voters is the coronavirus and is the country’s response to the coronavirus. Number two is healthcare. Number three is jobs. And then comes, in fourth or fifth place, immigration. Your sense of what these issues reads — how they can be read in terms of how Latino voters will break today and have been breaking in this election?

CHUCK ROCHA: Well, Juan, the polling is correct. I’ve done a ton of polling through the spring with Bernie, and then, in the summer, doing focus groups and polling with Equis, Latino Decisions and other folks, and that polling is spot on.

I would push back a little bit, though, and say that you can have all the polling in the world, and you can be cute plus two, meaning that you can figure out all the matrix and analytics to talk about all these policy nuances, but if you don’t actually step to the community and have a conversation, none of the policies or polling really matters. There’s a lot of people showing up right now that are new voters who have never voted before. And as a practitioner, I’m one of the very few senior Brown people who sat in major campaign meetings where decisions are made. And what I’m telling all of you and all of your listeners, if you have no voting history, no matter what the color of your skin, no campaign is targeting you to get you out to vote. There are hundreds of thousands of young Latinos that nobody is talking to, who are showing up because they’re mad about their president trying to define this country as an angry, nasty place.

The decisions that you’re talking about, in the Latino Decision polling, is what you see older Latinos reacting to when they call and ask them. And they’re absolutely right. But unless the campaign — in the early part of the summer, when we were doing focus groups, we were talking to Latino infrequent voters. And what they were saying is, “We don’t like Donald Trump. We get that. Don’t tell us nothing else about Donald Trump. But tell me something about Joe Biden. We don’t know him. Our issues are corona, healthcare, jobs. But what’s he going to do to fix that? What’s he going to do to make our lives better?” They have not, as of June, July and August and September, heard from any of the campaigns, to say, “Tell us your plan. Tell us why we should vote for you,” which is the larger problem that we are not going to fix today, but we’re looking to fix as we go. And I’ve been chipping away at this with Bernie and other things to fix this as a totality. Our problem is not specifically around one issue. It’s actually showing up there and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do to fix that issue.”

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Next story from this daily show

Maria Hinojosa on the Latinx Vote, Bipartisan Immigration Abuses & New Memoir, “Once I Was You”

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