Latinos on the Outside (Again) in Presidential Politics

We still lack national electoral power in Democratic circles.

No matter how you view it or whether you think American political media is unfairly covering only one big story right now, the fact remains: we haven’t witnessed in real time the possibility of an elected incumbent President not seeking re-election since 1968. That’s 56 years ago and 15 election cycles.

So by the time this post goes out to all 483 of our subscribers (thank you!) and lives on our website forever, I am 100% certain that news about what President Joe Biden decides will continue to be everywhere, whether it’s saying he's considering his next steps or he's still all in.

On Wednesday afternoon, just as I was about to publish this post, The Associated Press reported that Biden said the following during a Democratic National Committee call: “I am running. I am the leader of the Democratic Party. No one is pushing me out.”

The Biden campaign has had way better weeks, to say the least. Besides a debate performance that did not go well at all (no matter the excuse), Monday’s Supreme Court decision essentially gives American presidents immunity for “official acts.” The last six days have raised serious questions about whether our democratic system can remain intact after Election Day. There seems to be an air of a last stand against an unknown future that can be terrifying to many people living in this country.

Still, I think it’s important to pull back a bit and look at how a moment like this —perhaps one of the most intense moments in modern American history— highlights that the country’s U.S. Latino community is still nowhere near the political power table, even though it’s clear that Latinos are active participants in believing that our democracy must be preserved.

What strikes me about the Biden campaign is that when it comes to Latinos, we are being seen as business as usual this week. Take Tuesday, for example. The day after the SCOTUS ruling, First Lady Jill Biden was in Allentown, Pennsylvania, touting the Administration’s work in education and workforce development, an issue that is key for many in the Latino community.

Still, it felt disconnected from the moments we are all witnessing and feeling. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were at the event, along with Rep. Susan Wild (D). There was a lot of praise about what is being done to help Latinos, but when it came to addressing the obvious questions everyone has, “Biden did not take any questions from reporters following the event, but conducted a brief interview with La Mega Radio, a local Spanish-language outlet, according to pool reports,” The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.

Then there is the speculation about the Democrats “being floated” (per The Hill and other outlets) as “potential Biden replacements.” The names?

  • Vice President Kamala Harris (probably should be the only name on any list)

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom

  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

  • Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg

  • Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro

  • Illinois Governor JB Pritzker

  • Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear

It speaks to a bigger problem with Democrats. There is this misguided perception that Latinos still lack high-profile electoral power players, even though it is safe to conclude that if Democrats don’t capture 60% of the Latino vote in November, they won’t be in the White House at the start of 2025. (There are an estimated 36.2 million eligible Latino voters this cycle.)

And if governors like Beshear and Pritzker are added to speculation lists, why can’t Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Democratic Latina to lead New Mexico, be mentioned?

The answer is simple, controversial and might upset people: Latinos lack national electoral power in Democratic circles.

Interestingly enough, a former 2020 presidential candidate, Julián Castro, was the most prominent Latino politician who has already asked for Biden to step down this week.

Many tend to forget that at one point during his 2020 bid, Castro had a spotlight moment but was heavily criticized for questioning Biden’s memory in a 2020 debate. I am sure many of those American political journalists who slammed Castro back then are now being the ones who are raising issues about Biden’s recent performance.

Yet American political coverage tends to ignore what they got wrong in the past. We should be hearing more from Latino and Latina elected officials about what they think if they realize that post-debate polling with Latino respondents shows that people are concerned about Biden being able to run for President.

According to Wednesday’s CBS News poll, 81% of Latino voters think that Biden should not be running. Sure, the sampling is still small (a big problem), but 81%? Even if the margin of error was 10-15 percentage points off, that is still a big number.

Having Latinos on the periphery of American electoral politics is nothing new, and it’s one of the reasons we keep seeing our community becoming more and more independent and less tied to political parties.

Yet, when it comes to defending democracy, leave it to a Latina, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to encapsulate what everyone seems to be feeling these days.

“With fear for our democracy, I dissent.”

The U.S. Latino community is part of this country and the political process. Here’s hoping Democrats one day fully realize this.

Julio Ricardo Varela is the founder of The Latino Newsletter.

Editor’s Note: This piece incorrectly identified Gina Raimondo’s ethnicity. We have since corrected the piece. Our sincerest apologies. We will do better.

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