Bloomberg Opinion — President Joe Biden officially announced Tuesday that he would run for reelection in 2024, naming White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs director Julie Chávez Rodríguez as his campaign manager.
It makes sense for Biden – who is struggling to keep the support of Hispanic voters, the nation’s second-largest voting bloc – to appoint the administration’s highest-ranking Latina to the role.
Biden enters the race, and a possible rematch against Donald Trump, with most Americans wanting him to sit this one out. According to an NBC News survey, 70% of all Americans — including 51% of Democrats — don’t want him to run for a second term, citing his age as a major reason.
Although Latinos cast 16.6 million votes in 2020, and nearly 70% voted for Biden, the Biden campaign can’t ignore that Democrats still failed to attract enough Latinos in key swing states. Biden will need Latinos, a voting bloc that was essential to his win in 2020, to help make up the votes that he may lose elsewhere.
But if the president thinks that his challenge with Latino voters will magically go away with Chávez Rodríguez leading his reelection efforts, he is mistaken.
On the face of it, Chávez Rodríguez is an excellent choice to engage with Latino voters fully. She is well connected politically in Democratic Party circles, and there is no doubt that she has the bona fides.
Ahead of the 2022 midterms, where the Latino vote was decisive, she was elevated to senior adviser to the president. She worked on Biden’s 2020 general election team as a deputy campaign manager, tasked in part to court Latino voters. She is also close to Vice President Kamala Harris, working in Harris’s Senate office and on her 2020 presidential campaign. During Barack Obama’s administration, she was a senior official in the Office of Public Engagement and served as special assistant to the president.
And it doesn’t hurt that she is the granddaughter of Mexican American labor activist Cesar Chávez, an icon in the Latino community who fought for farm workers’ rights.
For sure, the symbolism of the moment cannot and should not be ignored. But to be effective, there needs to be an intentional effort to shift Chávez Rodríguez from symbol to strategist. Although she has never run a campaign, we can hope her experience will help make that switch clear.
Still, we should consider that even with her impressive background and ranking in the White House, Biden’s engagement with Latino voters remains deficient.
Biden now has a woman of color as the face of his campaign. That’s a start. But, no matter who is running the reelection campaign, the Democratic outreach to the Latino community has to undergo significant rework, and it needs to continue after elections are over.
What would success look like? Biden and Chávez Rodríguez must tailor his message to the different Latino communities they wish to activate to vote — and engage early. His plans for the country must be communicated face to face, specific, concise and understood by everyday people.
Undoubtedly, this means prioritizing connecting to Latinos where they organize. One of the most egregious examples of Biden dropping the ball on this in 2020 was when he didn’t attend the NALEO conference, a forum for the largest association of Latino public officials.
Repeating a political blunder like that would not bode well for Biden.
Outside of big conferences, outreach needs to be integrated into community service activities beyond voter registration. Democrats need to be on the ground, present and engaged, before the campaign begins and after the election is won to show they actually care. Grassroots organizers have proven they can be an asset when it comes to this, but the Democratic Party needs to invest more in this resource.
Reaching Latino voters directly — where they live and about things they care about — should be a no-brainer, but it remains a problem for Democrats because many leaders insist on viewing Latinos as monolithic. They flatten Latinos into one identity, deconstructing a complex and diverse voting bloc into one issue: immigration.
Perhaps Biden hopes that having Chávez Rodríguez at the helm of his reelection efforts will help get most Latinos excited about his record on immigration. He would be wrong. While the president has opened a back door to new immigrants by expanding humanitarian parole programs, his efforts have overall disappointed immigration-rights activists.
More important, it is not the No. 1 issue for most Latinos. A Pew survey found that among Latino registered voters in 2022, 80% said the economy was a fundamental issue, 71% said health care, 70% prioritized violent crime and education, and 66% thought it was gun policy. Regarding immigration, 54% thought it was the top priority.
Following the collapse of Roe v. Wade, abortion has also risen as an essential issue among young Latinos. According to an NBC News report, Voto Latino, a progressive voter mobilization organization, estimates that over 4 million Latinos are expected to turn 18 before the 2024 elections, making them eligible to vote. About 800,000 will be in Texas and 163,000 in Arizona — two key battleground states.
Even more telling: A different Pew report from 2022 found that while most Latino voters say that they think Democrats care more about them than Republicans do, 77% are unhappy with how things are going in the country, and 54% disapprove of how Biden has handled his job as president.
After the excitement over Chávez Rodríguez settles, Biden’s reelection campaign must prove that her appointment isn’t just window dressing or pandering. Latino voters need to see themselves represented in his actual policies. We need to feel like Democrats truly consider us part of America’s future. We, too, are “the soul of the nation.”
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano is a freelance writer and journalist. She is a grantee of the International Woman’s Media Foundation and the former news director of Channel 11-Univision in Puerto Rico. She has worked for ABC News, APTN and CNN International.
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