As the general election sprint began after Labor Day, so too did deepening scrutiny of Joe Biden’s engagement and support from Latino voters, which polls show continues to lag Hillary Clinton’s 2016 results, as well as in Florida. A multi-million dollar effort to boost his campaign with Hispanic voters launching Tuesday—the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S.–is looking to change that.
The Lincoln Project, a well-funded group started by veterans of Republican campaigns that has produced electric anti-Trump ads, has teamed up with the on-the-ground expertise of grassroots groups that engage Latino voters each cycle, Newsweek has exclusively learned.
“There’s a sense of urgency, and to a large extent, a feeling that the Biden campaign is lackluster in reaching out to the Latino community,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a longtime national Hispanic group, “so we’re having to go to third parties like The Lincoln Project to activate the Latino community, because the Biden campaign has been so unresponsive to Latino organizations.”
The new campaign will include at least six bilingual television and digital ads, and will focus on swing states with sizable Latino populations. The first ad begins with on screen text saying, “Not long ago, presidents celebrated Hispanics in America.” From Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to Barack Obama, it shows presidents speaking positively of Latinos, before a record scratch leads to Trump saying immigrants are rapists bringing drugs and crime.
It comes as Biden’s campaign has faced sharp questions about the size and scope of its Hispanic voter outreach, particularly amid worrying Florida polls for Democrats of Biden under-performance in Miami-Dade County and compared to Clinton with Hispanics.
“The cavalry is coming,” said Lincoln Project co-founder Mike Madrid, who said the immediate focus is on Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, along with a ramp-up in Texas.
An outside source with knowledge of The Lincoln Project campaign told Newsweek there are 3 to 6 percent of Republican Latino voters who still don’t support Biden, along with 5 to 10 percent of Hispanics who have traditionally been receptive to messaging from both parties.
Madrid said the Lincoln Project knows how to message to Cuban-Americans, and will take the lead on that work, but they will also work in coordination with other groups to increase turnout largely within the Puerto Rican community in Florida.
Madrid said it has three or four more ads aimed at Puerto Ricans that were informed by focus groups it conducted with voters, and will also run ads in Puerto Rico as a way of being part of the conversation from San Juan to Orlando.
The Latino groups don’t have a long list of policy agreements with the former Bush, Romney and McCain officials and staffers that make up The Lincoln Project, or the Latino Republicans who comprise its newly formed Hispanic council, but they all uniformly agree that President Donald Trump must be defeated, and is a clear and present danger to the Latino community.
“Under Trump, the nation has reached such a dramatic crisis that we must put political ideologies aside to vote Trump out of office,” Hector Sanchez, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, told Newsweek. The group, which is active in battleground states, said it will partner with The Lincoln Project on digital ads.
The Lincoln Project has become a darling of Democrats and those opposed to Trump through hard-hitting, quick turn-around ads excoriating the president on everything from his response to the coronavirus outbreak to his dismissive rhetoric regarding Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria killed more than 3,000 people.
The group also announced Tuesday a Hispanic Steering Committee, coming after similar women’s and veteran’s councils, which includes former senior George W. Bush officials Rosario Marin and Abel Guerra, as well as lawyer and Republican donor Jacob Monty, who was part of the Republican’s Hispanic Task Force in 2016 supporting Trump, and now supports Biden.
The summit effort is meant to show unity across the political spectrum, but also means the groups will be able to coordinate through shared strategy and messaging, The Lincoln Project said.
As part of the partnership, the Latino groups will take part in a virtual summit on September 30—think a mini-Latino convention—which will include leaders, celebrities, and Democrats, sharing their message of why they oppose Trump’s reelection and are backing Biden.
Plans are for the summit to be two hours of programming and include a Spanish-language broadcast partner to help amplify the message. Organizers have reached out to celebrities like “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel-Miranda to take part, as well as “I Like It” singer Cardi B, who supported Senator Bernie Sanders during the primary season, but recently interviewed Biden.
Orson Aguilar, executive director of the UnidosUS Action Fund, one of the top Latino civil rights groups over the last 50 years, said the group’s president Janet Murguia will take part in the summit.
“Bringing together Latinos from across the aisle to speak on issues—clearly the issue we all agree on is Trump isn’t fit to be president—that is historic,” Aguilar told Newsweek. “His policies have been painful and hurtful, his actions insulting and racist.”
The summit will also include specific calls to action for Latinos to get ready to vote and be counted on Election Day.
The unprecedented nature of the initiative is evident in who is taking part. During the 2004 campaign, legendary ad man Lionel Sosa was leading Hispanic strategy for George W. Bush, and Maria Cardona was spearheading NDN’s $6 million Hispanic Project, an effort that sought to target specific segments of the Latino community and presaged future Democratic outreach efforts. Now both Sosa and Cardona are on board with The Lincoln Project effort as the election reaches its final stages.
“We agree on this one thing because it is literally life or death for the Latino community,” Cardona told Newsweek. “Latinos will continue to die if Trump gets reelected. They have already died in droves by COVID-19 as the community is disproportionately infected and killed by a pandemic the president knew was deadly back in February, and still to this day is not taking seriously.”
The Biden campaign has pushed back on reports of its demise with Latinos and sought to tamp down the concern of Democrats on a Hispanic Heritage Month call on Sunday. It says its financial investment is high and the recent talent it has brought on is top-notch, with the promotion of the granddaughter of labor icon Cesar Chavez, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, to deputy campaign manager, and hiring of Jorge Neri, an architect of successful Clinton Latino efforts in Nevada in 2016, both Obama White House alums.
The Lincoln Project said their work will be a net positive, regardless of how much outreach the Biden campaign does in the final weeks.
“We’re assuming they’re not doing anything,” Madrid said. “That’s not to be critical. If we’re hitting the same voters twice, then great. But we estimate every Latino in Florida will hear from us three to four times from now until the election.”