The Sleeping Giant Awakens

By Antonio Caceres, Staff Writer

The 2020 presidential election will likely be the last to have been decided in the mostly white Midwest. The so-called “Blue Wall” made up of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania can no longer be relied upon by the Democratic Party to deliver the White House. We must look beyond and to the future: the Sunbelt, the states that lie along the US’s southernmost region. There live large communities of Latinos whose votes must now be courted seriously. The Latino electorate has often been called a sleeping giant because of its large source of untapped votes; now, the giant has awakened and is set to become the driving force in American politics.


Donald Trump and the current iteration of the Republican Party have enacted some of the most xenophobic and racist policies in this nation’s history. Nevertheless, in Texas and Florida, the president won Latino voters by larger margins than he did four years ago. Except for Arizona, the Democratic Party fell short of consolidating Latino support this election cycle in the states that mattered.


This failure was by design; the Biden campaign made it clear early on that their victory would be predicated on the white working class, moderate Republican, and Black voters. Their strategy worked this time, but this fragile coalition likely will not hold once a “normal” Republican espousing the same policies is at the top of the ticket. If this election taught the political sphere anything, it was that Donald Trump, not his party, was the problem. Republicans made gains in the House of Representatives and are on track to retain their Senate majority unless Georgia performs a Hail Mary for the Democrats in their runoff elections.


Moderates and liberals in the Democratic Party have too often worried more about appealing to the other side than mobilizing their own base. They have shunned popular policies for fear of appearing too radical, which usually does nothing to energize their primary constituency. To be fair, this is an imperfect election for Democrats to use for scoring points in the moderate vs. progressive debate. The party largely failed because of its lack of on-the-ground organizing due to COVID-19 restrictions and a lag in digital organizing that is emblematic of our outdated tactics.


To ensure success in the future, Latinos must become a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition. Progressive policies like raising the minimum wage were popular with Cubans in Florida, and legalizing cannabis was widely supported by Mexicans in Arizona. These two demographics are quite different with distinct histories. Yet, the potential for Democrats to make inroads is possible. We have to become comfortable with alienating some white voters– our caution when speaking about issues as vital as immigration and racial injustice are an abdication to the voters who placed Democrats in office.


The Democratic Party has become better in regards to rewarding the unwavering support of Black voters. Every presidential candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary was expected to have a “Black Agenda,” and our nominee made a sage decision, which resulted in Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Similarly, we need to cater to the real needs that Latinos face in this country. The injustices in our immigration system and the lack of economic opportunity are stifling Mexicans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Venezuelans alike. The Democratic Party must also repay the reliable support of Latino voters in a state like ours.


Latinos are the strongest force in the California Democratic Party. White voters in Orange County and suburbs all across the state still split their votes relatively evenly between both parties. Yet, white politicians like Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein continue to glide into an office off of the fidelity of the Latino electorate. The party is doomed if it continues to take this loyalty for granted.


Now that Kamala Harris is set to be inaugurated this coming January, Governor Newsom is already being pushed to appoint a Black woman to her vacant seat. I understand that many Democrats are understandably uncomfortable with the idea of not having a Black woman in the Senate. However, only 6% of California’s residents are Black, whereas we have a 15% Asian population, and our largest demographic are Latinos, who make up a whopping 40% of the state. Yet in California’s 170-year history, there has not been a single Latino representing us in the United States Senate.


It is high time that California has a senator that represents a plurality of its people: Latinos, and more specifically Mexicans who quite literally built this state. There are countless great candidates for the job. Xavier Becerra, our attorney general, and Alex Padilla, our secretary of state, are both the sons of Mexican immigrants who graduated from prestigious universities and lead respectable careers in public office. Our state indeed has a long tradition of sending women to the Senate; Hilda Solis, former labor secretary and LA County supervisor, and Nanette Barragán, a LA congresswoman, would be accomplished Latinas who would continue that legacy with vigor.


The only way the Democratic Party can win Latino votes is to care about Latino issues and elevate Latino voices. May the dismal returns in states like Texas and Florida be a wake-up call to action and organizing. And may the encouraging results from states such as Arizona and California be a model for how to connect and mobilize. The Latino community is the future of American politics; if the Democratic Party seeks to garner their support, they must be worthy of it.