Inflation is hitting Pa. Latinos hard — and they’ll vote that way | Friday Morning Coffee

The influential voting bloc is mostly working class. Pols need to remember it, advocates warned Thursday

By: - November 4, 2022 7:13 am

Carol Martinez makes and sells pupusas with her mother, Helen, next to a soccer game at Montour Junction Sports Complex in Coraopolis on 7/31/22 (Pittsburgh City Paper photo by Nate Smallwood).

It’s safe to say that just about every Pennsylvania family is feeling inflation’s pinch this midterm campaign season. But the commonwealth’s Latino voters, a key bloc that’s growing in both size and political clout, are feeling it more than most.

And they’re going to vote that way.

That was the bottom line Thursday from a trio of advocates and activists who have spent months knocking on doors in Latino communities from Pittsburgh to Allentown.

“It’s not just Latinos are feeling the pressure today. They believe now more than ever that the country is on the wrong track,” Eric Rodriguez, the senior vice president of policy and advocacy for the Latino civil rights group UnidosUS, said during a Zoom call with journalists.

“That does not bode well for incumbents,” and it amounts to “headwinds” for Democrats, who are trying to hang onto their Capitol Hill majorities in a midterm cycle favoring Republicans, Rodriguez said.

With a nationwide population of 60 million people, Latinos are the the second-largest racial and ethnic group in the country, and were among the largest voting blocs in the 2020 election, according to a UnidosUS analysis. And, like most Americans, jobs and inflation are among their top concerns this midterm cycle.

That should be a wake-up call for candidates who too quickly assume that Latinos are one-issue voters who are driven to the polls by immigration and immigration reform-related issues, the advocates said Thursday.

“Every election cycle, we see a lot of misconceptions,” Clarissa Martinez De Castro, who heads up UnidosUS’ Latino Vote Initiative, said. “There’s this mistaken understanding,” by candidates, “that you only talk about immigration. This attempt to put Latinos in a box results in inefficient outreach.”

Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS, speaks during a press call with journalists on Thursday, 11/3/22 (Screen Capture).
Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS, speaks during a press call with journalists on Thursday, 11/3/22 (Screen Capture).

Like the rest of the country, Pennsylvania’s Latinos were among the frontline workers in the pandemic, suffering the economic and personal loss that came with that, Hector Sanchez Barba, the executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota, a national group working to build Latinos’ political power, said.

Anytime we discuss anything related to the economy … We need to recognize and understand the important and historic contributors of immigrants,” Sanchez Barba said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say immigrants saved our economy during COVID … we have to align that to policy priorities.”

And historically, the Big Two parties have both done a bad job honing the message and their outreach. UnidosUS data released in August revealed that a majority of Pennsylvania’s Latino voters said they had not been contacted by either of the major parties. Of the two, Democrats were marginally more effective, the data showed.

As the 2022 campaign enters its final days, that effort has improved, with Democrats again putting in more effort than Republicans, but not by much, new data shows.

But there is a vote to be won there, if party activists put in the effort, the advocates said Thursday.

“The Latino community is a very working-class community. They have seen the worst instances of economic abuses,” such as wage theft and the exploitation of immigrant workers, Sanchez Barba said.

In Republicans, there’s a “party that welcomes extremism on issues of immigration, and a party,” in Democrats, “that needs to do more” on outreach and addressing those economic challenges, he added.

Hector Sanchez Barba, the executive director & CEO of Mi Familia Vota, speaks during a press call with journalists on Thursday, 11/3/22 (Screen Capture).
Hector Sanchez Barba, the executive director & CEO of Mi Familia Vota, speaks during a press call with journalists on Thursday, 11/3/22 (Screen Capture).

While Latino voters traditionally break for Democrats, UnidosUS canvassers have encountered a fair amount of misinformation among voters as they’ve knocked on doors across the state, Sanchez Barba said.

That, in turn, has created an opening for Republicans, relieved of the responsibility of providing solutions, who have aired a barrage of attack ads pointing the finger of blame for the sour economy at Democrats, Rodriguez said.

“There’s limitations there for governing, Rodriguez allowed. “But it [the message] is getting through.”

Sanchez Barba amplified the point, noting that there’s been a “lack of information,” among Latino voters, “about the response from [the Biden] administration on economic issues.

“There’s been a huge difference in how the nation responded to COVID between presidential administrations, and the [federal] response to protect workers and families,” he added.

That’s an opportunity for Democrats to seize the messaging high ground, the advocates said, with more than six in 10 Latino voters in the state saying they’re 100 percent certain that they will vote on Tuesday.

“Latino voters will affirm their role as deciders in many of these critical races,” Martinez De Castro said. “Hispanic voters are sending a wake-up call to both parties. Democrats have an edge they can build on … but they have work to do.”

And while Republicans might have an edge on the economy, they “seem to be radically out of step,” on such issues as immigration and abortion rights, and will have to bridge that gap “if they want to see longer-term gains among these voters,” Martinez De Castro said.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.