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The Harris Effect: Winning Latino Votes in 2020

It’s been a long year. Between a worldwide pandemic, a summer of America’s institutional racism once again coming to a head, raging wildfires in California, the appearance of Asian giant hornets in the northeast, and the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is difficult to believe that the 2020 presidential election is less than two months away.

Depending on one’s preferred voting method, the weeks leading up to November 3 will include millions of voters casting their ballots for either the Trump-Pence or the Biden-Harris ticket. As the minority group with the highest number of voting-age members, Latinos are an especially interesting group to consider in light of Kamala Harris’ recent addition to the campaign as Vice Presidential candidate. Harris’ history as both Attorney General and State Senator in California has put her in close contact with the Latino community for many years.

As the child of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris also has a lived experience with immigrant communities that Trump, Pence, and Biden cannot match. The rapidly growing Latino constituency could ally themselves with the Biden-Harris ticket because they know that Harris has a personal connection to immigration issues.

Understandably, Harris is most well-known in her home state of California for her years of service as Attorney General from 2011 through 2017, and as State Senator from 2017 onward. She is no stranger to firsts, having been the state’s first African-American Attorney General, the first Asian-American woman to serve as senator, and the first woman of color to ever appear on a major party’s presidential ticket. Her time as Attorney General has come under scrutiny for her self-described position as “Top Cop” over the years due to recent criticism of police brutality in light of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Despite this reputation, the relevancy that much of her personal history and identity bring to the table cannot and should not be understated.

The significance of Harris’ pick as Vice Presidential candidate has not gone unnoticed by the Latino community. Her popularity among this group in California was bolstered while campaigning for State Senator in 2016, during which she put significant effort into winning the support of Latinos over her opponent, Loretta Sanchez. As a Mexican-American herself, Loretta Sanchez’s defeat in that race is indicative of Kamala Harris’ strong stance on many issues important to the Latino community, such as immigration, healthcare, and the economy.

Californian farm workers are one constituency that non-natives to the West Coast do not often hear about. However, they were one group that felt the influence of Harris’ position as senator. During her time in office, she pushed for substantial changes to farmworker overtime and health protections. As 92% of farmworkers in California were Latino in 2013, it is easy to see why this might work in her and, consequently, Biden’s favor to lock in even more support from this voting bloc.

In addition to her record as a senator, the support that Harris won from Latinos in the presidential primary further indicates her popularity. According to a survey conducted by Univision News on July 1, 2019, she led the pack of primary candidates, closely followed by Julian Castro.

Whether her addition to Biden’s campaign will be enough to sway Latino support nationwide will not become apparent until closer to the election. However, Biden and Harris will have to win over many members of the Latino community. For instance, Florida’s Latino population has often provided the Republican party with advantages in their state due to a high percentage of Cuban-Americans. This subgroup has a history of leaning towards the GOP because of their collective memory of the Castro Regime. Thus, Cuban-Americans tend to be more conservative than the majority of Latino immigrants, which could prove a stumbling block for the Biden-Harris ticket.

Biden and Harris wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2016, polls suggested that Hillary Clinton won a majority of the Latino vote in Florida. Election polls by publications such as CNN and Fox News reported her winning between 66% and 63% of the vote. This year, Biden has not seen consistent support among the same group of Latinos. For instance, Equis Research has found that Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 16 percentage points, but a poll by NBC and Marist found Trump leading Biden by 4 percentage points. It seems that Harris has not given Biden a significant boost among Latino voters in Florida. Considering the difference Florida would have made in 2016, that could really hurt them this November.

However, Biden could remedy his issues with Latinos if he were more willing to embrace Harris’ political chameleon capabilities. The Right condemns her more progressive stance on immigration, healthcare, and women’s rights. At the same time, many on The Left have deemed her time as Attorney General too moderate. Capitalizing on the seeming inability to “label” Harris as either conservative or progressive could be Biden’s secret weapon. Harris could play the moderate card among Cuban voters in Florida while using her progressive reputation to bring in younger left-leaning Latinos.

Indeed, there is a reason that Kamala Harris successfully won over Latinos in California. Biden could use her reputation to bolster support among this constituency nationwide. Still, the question of whether or not it is too late to convince enough Latinos that she is worth their vote looms ever closer with each passing day. Yet, given the controversy surrounding the current administration and the unpredictability of this year, anything seems possible this election season.

Ellie Jimenez
Regular Contributor at The Commoner | + posts

Ellie is a regular contributor at The Commoner, focusing on the Latin American experience in the USA and international affairs. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and has since taught English as a foreign language both online and in Mexico. She enjoys listening to podcasts about foreign culture and annoying her fat and sassy tortoiseshell cat with lots of love and pets.

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