Biden names Julie Chávez Rodríguez, César Chávez's granddaughter, as top Latina on team

Image: Julie Chavez Rodriguez
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, White House Deputy Director of Public Engagement. Chavez Rodriguez is the granddaughter of civil rights icon Cesar Chavez.White House Photo

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By María Peña, Noticias Telemundo

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has named Julie Chávez Rodríguez, granddaughter of the late farmworker union leader César Chávez, to shore up his support among Latino voters six months before the presidential election.

Chávez Rodríguez, who will be senior advisor, will be the highest ranking Latina on the campaign, as Biden's team told Noticias Telemundo in a Spanish-language exclusive on Tuesday. Among her objectives will be to strengthen operations in key states and join efforts with related coalitions.

Her appointment comes six months after Vanessa Cárdenas' controversial departure at the end of last year as the highest-ranking Latina in the campaign. Sources had told Politico that Cárdenas was frustrated by not having a voice in decision making and what she perceived as Biden's lack of firm commitment to Latinos.

Cárdenas had spent seven months in charge of reinforcing the campaign's approach to women and minorities.

Chávez Rodríguez was co-director of the presidential campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. and previously worked in the White House for Barack Obama as deputy director of political engagement.

With her arrival on the Biden team, Chávez Rodríguez joins Cristóbal Alex, former president of the Latino Victory Fund, who is the senior advisor for Hispanic affairs.

Without specifying an amount, the Biden campaign said it will focus resources on "swing" states like Florida and Arizona, which will be key in the November 3 elections, as well as in states with a growing Latino population like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania.

This strategy responds to criticism that Biden allegedly has not done enough to win over Hispanics, which the Census Bureau said exceeds 60 million.

His campaign insisted on Tuesday that he has adopted, since the start of the primaries at the beginning of the year, messages with cultural sensitivity, understanding that the Latino community is diverse.

A Latino Decisions poll released April 24 indicated that 59 percent of registered Latinos support Biden or lean toward his candidacy, while 22 percent support or lean toward President Donald Trump. According to the firm, which does polling for Democrat and progressive groups, Biden's advantage is lower than in February, when the numbers were 67 percent to 22 percent.

Former President Barack Obama won with 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008 - when Latinos were only 9 percent of the electorate - and was reelected with 71 percent of the vote, when Hispanics were already 10 percent of voters.

Latinos are the largest non-white electoral bloc in 2020, with a total of 32 million or a little over 13 percent of the electorate.

Latino Decisions co-founder Matt Barreto said that Chávez Rodríguez was "a great pick" who brings ind-depth knowledge and cultural competence to the campaign, adding that this is hopefully the first of many Latino senior hires, since they need to field a full team of organizers, analysts and outreach.

Barreto said most Latino voters oppose Trump's immigration policies, which include his highly controversial family separation policies and his "Remain in Mexico" measures blocking asylum seekers from the U.S.

But Biden has to contend with the criticism of the Obama administration's record deportations, and Biden was vice president at the time.

Biden's challenges

Several veteran Latino Democrats told Telemundo News that no candidate can afford to take the Hispanic vote for granted.

"Biden has the opportunity to take advantage of this moment to welcome, unite and invest in a community that has felt invisible in the political arena," said Amanda Renteria, former director of national politics for the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton.

"His own roots connect with working Latino families across the country, but he must do more than any other campaign has ever done to ignite, inspire, and unleash the power of the Latino community in the most important choice of our lives," said Renteria, current director of the Code for America group.

Jess Morales Rocketto, director of the Care in Action group, said the Biden campaign has not developed enough of an infrastructure or an experienced staff specifically aimed at Latino voters.

There is no "ready to go script, with a proven formula" on how to speak to the community, Rocketto said, although she insisted that any electoral campaign must take into account that Hispanics consume political news on their mobile phones more than any other group.

Rocketto described the hiring of Chávez Rodríguez as "a successful move" because it demonstrates the seriousness of the campaign's efforts to win the Hispanic vote. However, while Biden has promised comprehensive, progressive immigration reform, he should not be afraid of "making contrasts" with Trump's anti-immigration proposals, she said.

In addition, there are other equally pressing issues for Latinos, such as education, the economy, health and the response to the health crisis, added Rocketto, former director of Clinton's digital strategy in 2016.

Due to COVID-19 shutdowns and quarantines, Biden's campaign has been holding virtual events with Hispanic groups. Recently, during a virtual forum with the League of United Latino Citizens (LULAC), Biden proposed a salary increase for essential workers in the pandemic, including those working in meat-packing plants.

Biden has also sought support from national groups such as Latino Victory, Voto Latino, and CASA en Action. The campaign has announced it will invest in ads in coordination with the Democratic National Committee.

Two weeks ago, his Hispanic group, Todos Con Biden, organized a videoconference with several previous White House Latino officials including Labor Secretary Hilda Solís; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Federico Peña and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.

Recently there have been Latino virtual events Biden has also had the public support of civil rights and labor leader Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the farmworker union with César Chávez in 1962; as well as Colombian-American actor John Leguizamo and leaders of the progressive wing in Congress; and state representatives from California and Arizona, two states with high Latino concentrations.

Trump has opted to maintain the support he has among Hispanics, in addition to investing resources to mobilize his ultra-conservative base, and promoted conspiracy theories about Biden's alleged involvement in espionage of Trump's 2016 electoral campaign.

Biden has urged his supporters to bolster their donations to combat "the garbage" and "the lies" that he believes have come since the Trump campaign.

“There's no other way to put it: This [Trump's] email is rubbish. Not a single sentence is true ... But, notice, we are against this, and it is exactly the same as it did in 2016," Biden said in a message sent to his donors this Monday.

The Democratic Party and related groups have launched a campaign to highlight what they describe as Trump's disastrous management of the health crisis, which has especially hit minorities that will be key in the most contentious states of the contest.

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