By Adrian Carrasquillo
Every vote matters. And voters of color are used to being relied upon to show up for Democrats, while investment in reaching and engaging them often comes late in the cycle — sometimes not until the fall, weeks before election day.
Jaime Harrison, the former South Carolina Senate candidate and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is looking to change that dynamic more than a year ahead of the 2024 vote, with particular interest in re-engaging and winning back Latino and Black men who have drifted away from the party
In an exclusive interview days after the first Republican primary debate, Harrison stressed that Democrats are prioritizing Hispanic and Black men early.
“The big thing is everyone wants to be seen, to be heard, to be valued, and you can’t take anybody or any vote for granted and I can say that as a man of color,” Harrison said. “When your community provides votes to a party, you never want to feel like you’re being taken for granted.” He added that he has “extra sensitivity” on the issue as the second Black man to serve as chair for Democrats in 175 years.
At this early juncture, with no real Democratic primary to speak of, there is very little distinction between the DNC and the Biden campaign, who are working hand in hand. That’s why Harrison is touting the campaign’s $25 million ad buy targeting Latino and Black voters in key battleground states, which the campaign said was both the largest and earliest media buy for a reelection campaign into constituency media ever and served as “intentional investments in African American and Hispanic-owned media properties.”
Maca Casado, the DNC’s Hispanic media director, told The Messenger the investment builds on the aggressive work Democrats have been doing to mobilize and reach Latinos since the midterms and that President Biden’s agenda is delivering for the community.
“His policies are lowering costs for families, creating good-paying union jobs, and making our communities safer, while MAGA Republicans fight for tax giveaways for the rich, threaten to repeal measures to save families money on drug costs, and use human beings as political pawns,” she said.
Harrison said early conversations and engaging with trusted leaders—the Latino men task force will meet again during Hispanic Heritage Month—allows the DNC to make sure lessons learned are applied on the ground and in Senate and presidential campaign strategy. This includes the ads released by the Biden campaign, which DNC staff helped shape.
The DNC strategy in reaching out to Black and brown voters is not importing new staffers into those communities, but elevating people who are already there, he said.
Democrats repeatedly mention that they have to let communities of color know what Biden has accomplished, from the Inflation Reduction Act, to the infrastructure law and negotiating drug prices. Harrison said it’s about translating policy and parachuting the accomplishments of the administration into these communities, while also getting information from voters, where Latinos in Las Vegas may have different concerns than Black voters in Atlanta.
The DNC and the Biden campaign have plans for new initiatives, announcements, and endorsements tied to Hispanic Heritage Month which begins September 15, The Messenger has learned. Those efforts appear to be geared towards setting up early building blocks to better understand what the Latino community prioritizes as the Biden campaign builds out its Hispanic engagement operation under the leadership of campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez. The kickoff on September 14 will include Latino stakeholders and feature Harrison and Rodriguez.
Michelle Villegas, the Latino coalitions director, is making hires in key states and has organized a brand new initiative of Latino-focused boot camps to ensure all states have fully bilingual staff, which will teach staffers how to do outreach to Latinos as well as recruit in-state volunteers to work across coalitions. The boot camps will be active in eight battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.
Villegas and Casado, also already hosted the first call to activate the diaspora groups and “Con Biden” groups, which were active in 2020. They are comprised of Colombian, Mexican and Puerto Rican supporters, among others, for more targeted outreach within the vast and diverse Latino community.
The DNC Black outreach has been very active as well, with Harrison holding Black engagement events in Wisconsin ahead of the GOP debate, in Mississippi in partnership with the Mississippi Democratic Party, and taking part in a community event in Tallahassee, FL.
The DNC has partnered with sister committees, campaigns, and state parties to fund coordinated campaign coalitions and organizing staff working with Black communities in many states, including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The issue of voting access is a key priority.
Democratic allies hope the early start, particularly with Latinos, will be the ripple that leads to a sea change from 2020, when Hispanic voters played key roles in Biden wins in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, but Donald Trump made gains from 2016.
“The comparison to 2020 is that the Biden Latino team did not come together until June of 2020 because they were getting through the primary and COVID was just a complete reset and game changer for all of the campaigns,” Matt Barreto, who has done polling for the DNC and the White House, and was part of the 2020 Biden campaign, told The Messenger.
So while in 2020, Biden still had to win a primary, now Democrats are starting a year and a half earlier than last cycle, Barreto added, calling the partnership between the DNC and the campaign “historic.”
He said what the DNC understands now ahead of 2024 is that along with Biden’s accomplishments, it should also focus on telling the story of the tenacity of a Latino community that worked through COVID and is taking the lead on rebuilding American manufacturing, as well as roads and bridges.