President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is making contrarian appeals in the most unusual places, trying to win over Hispanic voters in states not known for them, like Pennsylvania.
His second campaign, far better financed and organized than his first, is pressing every potential tactical advantage, including trying to capture even small slivers of the Hispanic vote, hoping it adds up to the narrowest of winning margins.
“I think that you win campaigns with what we call ‘tajaditos.’ Little bits. You have to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” said Bertica Cabrera Morris, a Cuba native and “Latinos For Trump” advisory board member. “You don’t need everyone from every group, but you have to have a little bit of everything.”
For many reasons, not the least of which is the president’s hostility toward immigrants, it will be a difficult sell.
That was clear on a recent evening in York, Pennsylvania, when Karyme Navarro, 18, was filling out her first voter registration form but stopped on a question about party affiliation.
Mirna Orellana, a community organizer with the nonpartisan nonprofit “We Are Casa,” who brought the form to Navarro’s door, isn’t allowed to advocate for any party. Still, she’s seen the scenario enough to have an answer ready: “If you’re Democrat, you’re for Obama,” she said in Spanish. “If you’re Republican, you’re for Trump.”
Navarro nodded, then handed back the completed form. She had checked “Democratic.”
Such exchanges are what Democrats are counting on — Hispanics so enraged by Trump’s policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric that they’ll turn out in force to deny him a second term.
Those on the front lines of Trump’s effort concede that the president’s anti-Hispanic fervor doesn’t help. Still, they say many Hispanics will be won over by a strong economy and conservative social values. Similarly, Democratic activists say simply criticizing Trump often isn’t enough to attract Hispanic support.
The reelection campaign’s efforts are understandably focused on key swing states like Florida and Nevada and could also shore up Trump’s hold on Arizona and Texas. Increased outreach may also have an effect in less obvious areas where Trump eked out a 2016 victory, though, like parts of Pennsylvania where the Latino population is booming and where his margin for error is slender.
“Latinos are moving out of the urban centers, moving away from the stronghold of the Democrats,” said Jose Fuentes, a former attorney general of Puerto Rico who is advising the president’s reelection effort and called Pennsylvania “a perfect example.” ”We’re microtargeting those areas that can be successful for us.”
That means locales like York, a city in the southern part of the state with a population around 45,000 famous for its York Barbells. It is nearly a third Hispanic, many with roots in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. The city, heavily Democratic, is surrounded by solidly Trump country.
Fuentes said party officials have identified about a dozen areas nationwide to woo Hispanic, black and Asian voters and funded the training of 500-plus staffers who increased their recruiting efforts at local events.
Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump 66 percent to 28 percent among Hispanics nationally, but that was lower than the 71 percent Barack Obama won in 2012. President George W. Bush also captured more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but his message was far more inclusive than Trump’s.
Hispanics make up only about 8 percent of Pennsylvania’s population. Trump won the state — home to about 12.8 million people — by around 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percent of those cast, in 2016. Nearly 1 million Hispanics now live in Pennsylvania and the Pew Research Center estimated that, for the 2018 midterms, 501,000 statewide were eligible to vote — 10th largest in the nation.
AP’s VoteCast data showed that 38 percent of Pennsylvania’s Hispanics voted Republican in 2018 congressional races, but Democrats still easily won the Senate and governor’s races.
Fuentes said a key to winning Hispanic support is tailoring messages to people who have ancestral roots in different parts of Latin America. Cubans are chiefly interested in U.S. relations with the island and with Venezuela, he said. For Puerto Ricans, it’s recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and U.S. statehood questions. Mexicans tend to be most motivated by commercial relations, as are people from most of South America. Central Americans tend to be most focused on immigration policy.
Messages targeting those types of voters in specific areas can resonate, Fuentes added, even if the president’s rhetoric sometimes doesn’t.
“This president has his own style,” Fuentes said. “But my line is he’s been successful with it.”
Trump seized on a coming “caravan” of Central American immigrants before Election Day 2018 and saw Democrats flip 41 House seats. But a Gallup poll released in July found that 27 percent of Americans named immigration the most important problem facing the U.S. — the highest ever measured for the issue. The Trump campaign highlighted that in emails to supporters, saying the president’s “leadership and determination” can “Keep America Safe.”
“We came legally and so did our forefathers. That means a lot to us, the rule of law,” said Republican Texas state Sen. Pete Flores, a retired game warden of Mexican ancestry who represents a district that includes 460-plus miles (740-plus kilometers) of U.S.-Mexico border. In heavily Hispanic South Texas, Flores said Trump “has more support among regular folks than most people are letting on” because unemployment is so low.
Back in Pennsylvania, the same themes are playing out, said former Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, who lost last year’s Senate race. As mayor of Hazelton in 2006, Barletta championed one of the nation’s first ordinances forbidding landlords and employers from dealing with people in the country illegally — which was later blocked in federal court.
“I think when the president talks about securing the border, about how people who are here illegally need to go home (because) they committed crimes, they understand what he is talking about,” Barletta said of the state’s Hispanic voters.
The Democratic National Committee also has begun staffing up in key battleground states. Its chairman, Tom Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, visited Pennsylvania last summer.
“It’s important to expose that racism and hate, and it’s a motivating factor, but it is not enough in a lot of cases,” said Lizet Ocampo, political director for People For the American Way, a Washington-based progressive organization. She said, “Being good at immigration gets you in the door and then being good on all the other issues gets across the finish line.”
A recent poll of eligible Hispanic voters nationwide by the Democratic polling firm Latino Decisions found that only 13 percent said they’d “definitely” vote for Trump in 2020, but there’s also an enthusiasm gap for the other side: Less than 60 percent of respondents said they planned to participate in Democratic primaries.
Orellana, the organizer for “We Are Casa,” which advocates for immigrant rights and has 100,000 members in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, says despite York being so heavily Hispanic, she still sees plenty of people in “Make America Great” hats.
“I can’t even look them in the face,” Orellana said. “It’s like, ‘How can you do that to your people?'”