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Latino voters helped Democrats stave off red wave, says strategist

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Going into this midterm election, some Democratic analysts were worried that Latino voters were moving towards the Republican Party. Latino voters are politically varied, but historically they have largely supported Democrats. That support has been on the decline. Last month, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that among voters who identify as Hispanic, support for Democrats was down 13 points from 2018. That had some strategists concerned that Republicans were making inroads with the fastest growing portion of the U.S. electorate. Here to tell us about where Latino voters landed in this year's midterms is Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha. He joined us last month to explain the challenges his party faced courting Latino voters this election season. Hello, Chuck.

CHUCK ROCHA: Hey, Elissa.

NADWORNY: Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm wondering - of course, some ballots are still getting counted as we speak, but can you tell us what we know so far about how Latinos voted?

ROCHA: Well, the one thing I can tell you immediately is that this trope about Latinos all running to the Republican Party is just false. And the headline on every paper on Wednesday morning should have said Latino voters saved the Democratic Party, especially in the U.S. Senate, where you saw Latinos who played a huge part in Arizona and Nevada, which is not called yet, but really going in our direction. Pennsylvania - which is surprising to lots of folks, there are over 300,000 Puerto Ricans who've moved to the eastern part of that state. And they voted at over 70% for John Fetterman. The Democrats will probably be in control of our U.S. Senate, and it will be because of the Latino vote.

NADWORNY: What about in Colorado?

ROCHA: Colorado is what I've been saying, Elissa, is the opposite of Florida, mainly because of the growth of the Latino population now, is a very safe Democratic seat. The Senate race did so well there that it's catapulting two congressional races that was on nobody's radar. One is the Boebert seat. And then the new CD, that is a 50-50 seat, there's going to be a Latina doctor - her name is Yadira Caraveo - is going to be elected there. So it's a huge night for Latinos in Colorado.

NADWORNY: Can you help us understand some of these regional differences, why things will be different in Florida versus Colorado?

ROCHA: On average, the party who had won the White House loses 30, 40 seats, and Republicans and a lot of the press had us believing that. But that was just not the case outside of Florida. And the reason Florida is different is the nuance that you speak about. There's just so many more Republican Cubans, Republican Colombians and other Republican Latino voters in that state, A. And then, B, the national Democrats made a strategic decision early on in the campaign cycle not to invest in Florida and to take those resources and double down in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. And so the Republicans kind of had a one-sided contest and took advantage of having a playing field that wasn't very level.

NADWORNY: Yesterday, we heard that young voters in the U.S. played a big role in stopping the predicted red wave. Did that hold true for Latino voters?

ROCHA: The average age of a Latino voter is 27. The youth vote is the Latino vote. So when you see people talk about a spike in the youth vote, it correlates with a spike with the Latino vote. So I knew when I started seeing folks standing in line at college campuses that it was going to be a good night for us and our vote.

NADWORNY: So Dems did well, but where did they miss the mark in terms of connecting with and earning the Latino vote?

ROCHA: I think that making sure that you have folks on your campaign that are from the community - many times the big national parties will come in. They'll tell you, you have to hire their consultants from Washington, D.C. or New York. That's where Democrats normally lose their way. Democrats need to make sure that they're hiring local operatives or at least Latino-owned firms who understand when you show up with some cultural competency because cultural competency is the real key as you see our demographic grow into being such a big, determining factor in all of these races.

NADWORNY: Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, thank you for joining us.

ROCHA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.