California’s Heated Battle for the Latino Vote: Why Clinton and Sanders Are Neck and Neck

Lead Photo: AP Photo/David Becker
AP Photo/David Becker
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In 2008, Hillary Clinton handily won the California primary, but the state may elude her this time. With the June 7 primary just around the corner, Clinton and Bernie Sanders find themselves virtually tied. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll puts Clinton at a mere two percentage points ahead of Sanders – a number that basically means nothing due to the poll’s margin of error. A separate USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of voters who can cast a ballot for the Democratic party in the California primary has Sanders leading at 44 percent, with Clinton at 43. It marks a 9-point shift toward Sanders in a three-month span.

The LA Times points out that the west coast state is still not a sure thing for Sanders since many of his backers have only registered in the last few weeks. While seen as fickle, this group should be taken seriously. From January 1 to the end of May, there’s been 1,967,543 new registrations in California – with Latinos accounting for almost half a million at 488,437. A bigger portion – 58 percent – of Latinos who registered in this time period signed up as Democrat. NBC adds that these numbers don’t include some areas with high Latino populations, like Los Angeles and San Diego counties, which were still getting registrations before the May 24 deadline.

Lynne Sladky / Associated Press
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It seems Clinton is feeling the heat, and has adjusted accordingly. Recently, she canceled an event in New Jersey – which also has its primary on June 7 – though her team chalks it up to a scheduling conflict. But it’s clear that California is currently Clinton’s focus. The Los Angeles Times reported that she and husband Bill Clinton have planned more than 30 events in the state between June 2 and June 7.

In a state with such a large Latino population, reaching out to this community has become a necessary part of securing the biggest portion of delegates. An April article in the San Francisco Chronicler explains that Sanders has been able to gain momentum with Latino voters through “all sorts of grassroots, under-the-radar events to connect with the community.” This is something Erika Andiola, National Press Secretary for Latinx Outreach for Sanders’ campaign, also confirmed to me during a phone chat. “Most of the young Latinos who are for Bernie are under 40,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy.” Andiola added that Sanders’ supporters are so passionate that in other primaries, people have been coming from different states to organize. In California, Latino supporters started getting the word out about Sanders as early as a year ago.

In San Francisco, efforts have ranged from volunteers hosting a free Concierto del Pueblo in the Mission District to his team passing out fliers around predominantly Latino neighborhoods. But there’s also been more high-profile stops that have struck a chord with voters. At Friendship Park – the meeting place for those living in the United States to share brief moments with their loved ones who have been deported – Sanders spoke to a deported U.S. veteran. Standing on the San Diego side, Sanders spoke to Héctor Barajas, who started the Deported Veterans Support House in 2013 to provide a community for other U.S. veterans repatriated to Mexico. While it’s not clear if Sanders knows the specifics of Barajas’ case, he delivered a message of solidarity. “Thank you very much for your service to this country,” he said. “And we would like you on this side.”

One of Sanders’ latest power plays is a Spanish-language commercial aimed at Californians. One of the first images is of a man wearing a Viva La Raza tee. (Watch the Spanish-language one below, and the English-language one here.)

Something Clinton has had to overcome this election season is having her efforts seen as genuine, instead of Hispandering. In New York City in April, a Washington Heights rally had her dancing merengue to Los Hemanos Rosario’s “La Reina del Swing” with NY officials like State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and State Assemblyman Keith Wright. Just before that, she hit up El Barrio and played dominoes with a bunch of viejitos. Clinton has had her share of missteps when trying to speak Spanish, with a rally in El Centro on June 2 being the most recent example. She hyped up the crowd by saying, “I love this country, and I know we are a nation of immigrants from New York to California.” The crowd started chanting “¡Sí, se puede!” When Clinton joined in, she didn’t get it quite right and said, “¡Si, se pueda!”

On Cinco de Mayo, Clinton held a rally at East Los Angeles College, where Sanders’ supporters called her to task on various of her past actions, such as her “super-predator” remarks in 1994 to her involvement in the 2009 Honduras coup. But, as The State points out, in 2008, Clinton had twice as many Latino voters than Barack Obama, and that’s been a boon to her campaign. According to the Associated Press, Clinton has an advantage when it comes to the state’s prominent Latino politicians, most of which have endorsed her. She counts Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and U.S. Rep. Xavier Bercerra as her backers. 20 members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus have also endorsed Clinton. Assembly member Luis Alejo said he supports her because she’s “been a lifetime champion for the same things we fight for in California’s Latino community: better jobs, better education, better healthcare and an opportunity for hard-working Californians to achieve their dreams for themselves and their families. She has also proven that she will fight to ensure our nation’s immigrants are treated with dignity and respect.”

At the end of May, the campaign named Dolores Huerta – a longtime Clinton supporter – a senior advisor to help with Latino voter outreach. Working with Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Services Employees International Union, and Latino outreach coordinator Gabriel Rodriguez, the trio is working on reaching all voters, notes the Mercury News.

Clinton’s campaign is also relying on canvassers and phone bankers to get the word out about how Clinton proposes to introduce an immigration bill within her first 100 days of office. And they are also showing potential voters how Sanders and Clinton differ on Obamacare and education, with Clinton’s team saying Sanders wants to get rid of Obamacare, NBC News reports. Clinton’s California press secretary Hilda Delgado told NBC News that they are exploring every single option available to them. She said, “We’re doing everything possible to reach out to the Latino community.”