Republicans have increased their outreach to Latino communities in their effort to win Georgia’s two runoff elections after President Donald Trump outperformed expectations with those voters in November.
Through advertising, campaign events, and canvassing, Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their allies are seeking to persuade and turn out a diverse voting bloc that largely supports Democrats but has been receptive to some GOP messaging.
Peeling off even a fraction of support from Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would be decisive in a tight race that has major implications for governing in Washington for years to come.
“If you can shift 10,000 voters one way or the other way, that could define the race,” said Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, a nonprofit affiliated with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. “They will very much tip the scale.”
The number of registered Latino voters increased 18% between 2016 and 2020, according to Pew Research Center. Garza, whose organization’s political arm is canvassing for Perdue, said how groups talk to the more than 250,000 Latino registered voters in the state will be critical.
A review of political ads collected by tracking firm AdImpact found that Perdue and Loeffler have aired at least four Spanish-language ads since advancing from the November election. Neither ran any such ads ahead of it.
The two candidates were joined on a recent bus tour across the state by Cathy Genty, who was once named Georgia Hispanic Business Woman of the Year. And, with Perdue quarantining after contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, Loeffler held a canvassing event Saturday with the Hispanic mayor of Loganville, a city on the eastern edge of Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta.
Mayor Rey Martinez, who is Cuban-American and identified himself as a Republican, urged Hispanics to come out and vote for Loeffler. He said his party doesn’t do enough to let Hispanics know they are pro-school choice, anti-abortion and support less regulation for businesses.
“They could do better, they could do more,” he said. “The message has to be out there.”
Republicans aren’t yet matching Democratic investment in Spanish-language media. Perdue, Loeffler, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have spent some $316,000 on Spanish-language media in the run-offs, according to AdImpact data. Warnock and Ossoff have spent five times as much, not counting spending from supportive outside groups.
Garza said Republicans have ignored Latinos for decades, while Democrats have always had an advantage because they invest more time and effort. But he sees that changing within the party with better targeted messaging.
“It is just now in the past few years where the numbers cannot be ignored,” he said. “Latinos are very much defining races across the country.”
More Than Immigration
Early last month, as she walked the aisles of the Plaza Fiesta, a shopping mall with a food court and play area where stores sell Quinceanera dresses, pottery and colorful blankets, Gigi Pedraza had a tough time finding someone willing to talk about the runoffs.
“We have a lot of immigrants here that are not citizens, and so immigration is really key,” said Pedraza, executive director of the nonpartisan Latino Community Fund.
About 10% of Georgia residents were immigrants as of 2018, and a fifth of them were from Mexico, according to a study from the American Immigration Council. But immigration wasn’t top of mind for Georgia Latinos who voted in 2020. According to a poll conducted by Latino Decisions, the biggest issues were the coronavirus pandemic, jobs and the economy, and health care.
Pedraza said plenty of Latinos are interested in tax cuts for businesses and are worried by the GOP’s narrative about more socialist policies under a Democratic-controlled government.
“Eventually both parties need to advocate and champion policies that create opportunities for our people,” she said. “That’s what we want.”
President-elect Joe Biden performed better among Latinos in Georgia than in Florida or south Texas, according to the Latino Decisions poll. But organizers in the state said Democrats shouldn’t view the group as a sure bet.
Ossoff and Warnock haven’t. Beyond the TV ads, they’ve held multiple meet-and-greets in Hispanic communities and campaigned with former presidential candidate Julian Castro and Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who’s fluent in Spanish.
“We’re not necessarily Republican or Democrat,” said Susi Durán, the Georgia state director of Poder Latinx, which focuses on Latino mobilization. “We care more about issues.”
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