It’s a rainy afternoon outside of Chelsea City Hall, and Rep. Joe Kennedy exchanges greetings with a supporter from the Dominican Republic.
Kennedy spent his time in the Peace Corps on the island from 2004 to 2006. He even has a Dominican accent. He uses his connection to the island to try to connect with the more than 130,000 Dominicans who live in the state.
But community organizer and tech entrepreneur Claritza Abreu — who was born in the DR and now lives in Randolph — thinks Kennedy’s name is the biggest draw.
"I grew up with a poster of John F. Kennedy in our living room," Abreu says. "My dad was a fan of him and my parents. So all Dominicans have this wonderful admiration for the Kennedy family.”
But Abreu says she’s supporting Markey — and not just because he’s better on Latino issues.
"Most of the Latino people ... are concerned about immigration, for example ... but most of us are concerned with the economy. We are concerned about the environment.
"What we want is somebody that is ... experienced to fight and win on the issues that we care about."
Out in Springfield, school committee member Maria Perez is behind Kennedy. She heads a grassroots group called Mujeres a la Vanguardia — or, "Women at the Vanguard." For Perez, Kennedy has been more present in the community.
"One of the things that has attracted me most has been Kennedy's involvement with the people," she says. "He's come here and showed interest and concern — he's the only Senate candidate that's shown interest in all of our concerns."
Analysts say the focus on Latino voters in this race is unprecedented for Massachusetts. Both campaigns have multiple staffers charged with targeting Latino people — both are putting out literature and phone calls in Spanish — and they’ve exchanged attacks over issues like immigration and Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
Ramon Soto is Statewide Latinx Director for the Kennedy campaign. He says the campaign "absolutely believes" the group could be the deciding factor in this race.
"While [support is] strong for Joe ... the Latino vote isn't always consistent on Election Day," Soto says. "And so we had to make sure that we had a concerted effort — not just in messaging, but also in organization."
On the Markey side, consultant Doug Chavez says they’ve adjusted their strategy in light of the coronavirus — instead of knocking on doors, it's about media strategy and reaching people in other ways.
"We're pushing hard on social media, on ethnic media. ... we have a lot of Latino phone banks going, Latino texting banks going …. So we're pushing hard on all those fronts," Chavez says.
Markey and Kennedy have also rolled out lists of Latino elected officials who support them, locally and nationally.
Attorney Adrian Velazquez did Latino outreach for Markey when he first ran for Senate in 2013, though he hasn’t chosen a side in this race. He says Markey and Kennedy are changing the model for campaigns in Massachusetts.
"Moving forward for any other campaign, they have to look at the Latino community as part of their strategy," Velazquez says. "And I think any winning strategy has to incorporate that."
That message resonates with Michael Goodman, a veteran political operative who helped Mayor Marty Walsh get into office — largely thanks to the Latino vote.
"This is the first statewide race that's saying, 'We've got to identify [Latino] people just like we do old people, like we do educated people, just like union people,' " Goodman says. "I mean, it's just another sliver of a puzzle."
That sliver of the puzzle could even decide Tuesday’s primary. But the big question is how many Latino people will turn out to vote.
This segment aired on August 28, 2020.