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Lagging Among Latino Voters, Warren Ramps Up Outreach04:40
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Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren  speaks to supporters during a campaign event at West High School in Iowa City. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters during a campaign event at West High School in Iowa City. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Elizabeth Warren is heading into the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary lagging behind Bernie Sanders and, depending on the poll, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

As the race revs up, Warren is trying to gain support from a group that's key to cinching the Democratic presidential nomination this year: Latino voters.

Warren got a late start in winning over Latinos. She didn't hire a national Latinx outreach director until September, months after some other candidates, leaving her behind Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in support among Latinos.

"We are seeing her numbers increasing, and her outreach efforts appear to be starting to make inroads," says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a research and polling firm concentrating on the Latino community.

Ivelisse D'Onofrio is a a big part of those outreach efforts. She lives in Windham, N.H., and knocks on doors for Warren in Nashua, which has the largest proportion of Latinos in New Hampshire.

D'Onofrio, originally from Puerto Rico, says many of the Latino voters she meets identify with Warren's story.

"This is a woman that does not come from wealth. It is a woman that comes from a hard-working family," D'Onofrio says. "She learned about her dad not being able to work at a time because he had health issues, and her mother was able to work and sustain her family. She feels like a person who understands what [the] middle United States is all about."

She's also drawn the support of former presidential candidate Julian Castro, who has been barnstorming through Iowa on Warren's behalf.

Former presidential candidate Julián Castro campaigning for Warren at a small gathering at La Carreta Mexican Grill in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Former presidential candidate Julián Castro campaigning for Warren at a small gathering at La Carreta Mexican Grill in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Another Warren supporter is Massachusetts state Rep. Jon Santiago, who's also an emergency room physician.

"Ultimately, why people come to the emergency room, particularly at a place like Boston Medical Center, is largely as a result of what's going on in their communities and the issues they're facing. Whether it's poverty, racism, sexism, violence," Santiago says. "These [are] big issues. So you need big plans and big ideas. And to me, Elizabeth Warren really gets those big ideas. She understands the need for big structural change."

But not everyone sees it that way. Warren is third among the Democratic candidates in support from Latinos. And Barreto thinks that's because Warren is not as much of a household name as other presidential candidates.

"She still is behind the front-runners, which right now are Bernie Sanders, by a little bit over Joe Biden," says Barreto. "Both of those two gentlemen have very high name recognition."

Sanders is drawing supporters like Carlos Cardona, who grew up in a shantytown in Puerto Rico. He now lives in Laconia, N.H. and is running for the state Legislature. Like many millennials, Cardona says he was drawn to Sanders' long track record as a progressive.

"Bernie Sanders has been the same guy since way before I was born, and that was 1989, so I think it's a powerful thing," says Cardona. "For a guy that is as old as he is, he's getting more young people than any other candidate in the slate of candidates. And the reason why is he's focusing on the issues that matter for the generation that is taking the lead now in America. My community, [the] Hispanic and LGBTQ community, recognizes that."

Polling by Latino Decisions found the top issues for Latinos are health care and the economy. That's what state Rep. Andy Vargas, of Haverhill, hears as he knocks on doors in New Hampshire.

"One of the keys with Latino voters is that a lot of folks think we're single-issue voters, that all we care about is immigration, right?" Vargas says. "And the reality is that's probably not the number one issue for the Latino community to begin with."

Vargas praises Warren for her detailed plans on bread-and-butter issues, including education. In campaigning for Warren, he says he's impressed by how many Latino-specific door-knocking campaigns he's seen.

"I've been up to New Hampshire multiple times now, where the lists that we get are specifically for Latino homes," Vargas says. "And we're talking to Latino families in their language, in Spanish, listening to them, following up with them. And I think that level of intentionality will pay off in the long run."

Latino Decisions estimates that 13% of likely Democratic voters in Massachusetts and 3% in New Hampshire are Latino. Those aren't huge numbers, but they're enough to affect a close primary. And Barreto says Latinos are highly motivated to vote this election season.

Latino Decisions found 74% of California's Latino voters said they were sure they would vote in that state's primary, which will have a profound impact on the race.

"Just from the Latino vote in California and Texas combined, there are more what we might call Latino delegates at play than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, combined, those four early states," Barreto says. "So, really, the Latino vote on Super Tuesday could restructure the presidential race if one of the candidates does well."

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters during a campaign event at West High School in Iowa City. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters during a campaign event at West High School in Iowa City. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on February 3, 2020.

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Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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