“I will talk about how I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote,” Biden said when asked by reporters what his message would be in the country’s largest traditional general election battleground state.
The former vice president’s trip comes as polls in Florida have tightened up to a virtual tie between Biden and President Trump. And he arrives in the state as recent surveys point to Biden underperforming with Latino voters and amid a bunch of negative headlines regarding his outreach to Spanish-speaking voters in the state.
When asked about his poll numbers among Hispanic voters, Biden said they were “much higher than [Trump’s]. But they gotta go higher.”
A month ago, Biden held a four-point advantage over the president in an average of the latest surveys in the state compiled by Real Clear Politics. Now it’s down to 1.2 points.
And among likely Latino voters in Florida, recent polls from NBC News/Marist and Quinnipiac University indicate the president with a slight edge over Biden. That’s a significant switch from four years ago, when 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton crushed Trump by more than 25 points among Florida’s Latino voters, according to exit polls. The exit polls indicated that Latinos made up 19% of the state’s electorate.
But Trump narrowly carried the state, winning Florida’s prized 29 electoral votes, helping him capture the White House.
Those polls and other surveys – combined with other recent headlines – have some Democratic officials and activists worried that Biden’s playing catch-up with less than 50 days to go until the November election.
Biden’s trip, which comes at the start of national Hispanic Heritage Month, will include stops in Tampa and Kissimmee, two areas with large Puerto Rican populations. Unlike Cuban-American voters, who trend Republican, voters of Puerto Rican heritage typically favor Democrats.
The Biden campaign touted the trip on social media ahead of the former vice president’s arrival.
But the Republican National Committee’s Steve Guest charged that “Biden traveling to Florida on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month won’t make up for months of his campaign taking the Hispanic vote for granted.”
Guest argued that “Biden’s trip to Florida today is a stunning reminder that Biden is not only failing to resonate with Hispanic voters but he is hemorrhaging support in the Latino community because of his far-left agenda.”
And in a tweet, Guest claimed that Biden was in “panic mode.”
Jennifer Molina, Biden campaign’s Latino outreach director, told Fox News, “The Hispanic vote will be a deciding factor and we are not taking it for granted. This is why we made investments early on and are currently doing the work to reach voters in English and Spanish across all platforms — TV, radio, digital, mail and culturally-competent outreach that underlines Joe Biden’s commitment to help the Hispanic community prosper and thrive and more importantly call out the devastating impacts of Trump’s failed leadership to our community.”
But the poll numbers are perplexing, as Trump has long been viewed by critics as the more anti-immigrant candidate, dating back to the first speech of his 2016 presidential campaign, when he argued that many Mexican illegal immigrants to the U.S. were “rapists.”
Later in the campaign, he created another controversy when he questioned whether a federal judge of Mexican heritage could be objective.
But Biden has his own baggage. In the Democratic primaries, he was repeatedly pummeled by rivals over the increased deportations of illegal immigrants during the Obama-Biden administration. There were also complaints that his campaign’s leadership lacked Latinos, and that he concentrated far too much courting African American and suburban voters at the expense of Latinos.
Biden’s lack of support among Latinos was evident early in the primary calendar. His main rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, won more than half the Latino vote in February’s Nevada caucuses. And the progressive senator crushed Biden among Latinos in California and solidly defeated the former vice president among Spanish-speaking voters in Texas on Super Tuesday in early March.
Chuck Rocha, who spearheaded Latino outreach for the Sanders campaign, has raised alarms that Biden risks losing a crucial voting population. But Rocha told Fox News that “the good news is that they don’t have to make up that many points. So there’s still time. They only need to move the needle five to 10 more points to put this thing away, so, as long as there’s more direct investment in communicating regularly with Latinos about what Joe Biden’s going to do make their lives better, he can move that needle.”
Rocha said he’s seen signs of improvement by the Biden campaign, highlighting, “I’ve been more encouraged every day by their performance.”
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary and former San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro – who was the only major Latino candidate to run for the Democratic presidential nomination – said recently that the Biden campaign understands outreach to Latinos is “a priority,” but he told The Washington Post that “at the same time there needs to be a little bit more support shown.”
Rocha’s concern is less with the Biden campaign and more with the outside groups supporting the Democratic nominee. Rocha, who currently runs a super PAC working to boost Latino turnout in the general election, noted that the Biden campaign is now “at parity with the Trump campaign.” But explained that “early on the problem was Donald Trump was spending more money, and Biden lost some ground because Donald Trump got to go up first. So now Biden’s caught up and will surpass Trump in communication.”
But he emphasized, “I’m disgusted at the amount of outside money that’s going to non-Latino outreach. That’s the real difference in this election.” He spotlighted that the top 10 outside pro-Biden groups focusing on white voter turnout have raised $500 million while the three Latino super PACs – including his own – have only raised $5 million.
He called this the “real dilemma” and worried that “there’s such a huge disparity, and we’re expected to show up at the same rates as white voters when we get 1/500th of the money.”