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Democrats outspent the GOP on Spanish-language ads in 2020, but it came late

Trump's inroads in some Latino areas showed it's not just spending but also putting "resources into the community early enough" to make a difference, said a strategist.
Voters wait in line at a polling location in Miami on Nov. 3, 2020.
Voters wait in line at a polling location in Miami on Nov. 3.Jayme Gershen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

When the Democratic political action committee Nuestro PAC sent election mailers in Florida featuring a photo of Kristin Urquiza — who blamed President Donald Trump for her father's Covid-19 death — 200 were returned with “communist” or “socialist” scrawled on them. 

The response underscores a blaring lesson from the 2020 election: By the time Democrats started paying attention to Latino voters in the state and spending money on them, Republicans had already embedded their message, linking Democrats and Joe Biden to socialism.

“This showed the damage had already been done. Latinos in Florida had made up their mind and the long-term organizing and misinformation campaign by Trump and the Republicans worked,” Nuestro PAC said in a report on 2020 Democratic Latino outreach that was made available to NBC News. 

Although Biden won Latino voters nationally, Trump won Latino voters in Florida and gained ground in overwhelmingly Latino counties in Texas Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, areas that have been Democratic strongholds.

The missed opportunities for Democrats are most noticeable in spending on Spanish-language media, said Nuestro PAC's founder, Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie Sanders' senior campaign adviser in the 2020 primaries. He wrote the book "Tío Bernie" detailing his strategy to help Sanders win Latino voters.

Democrats, the Biden campaign and political action committees spent twice as much money on Spanish-language television and messaging as Trump and Republicans did.

But the majority of the spending occurred in the final 60 days of the election, the report says. 

In Texas, Democrats spent more than $1.6 million on Spanish-language television in the Laredo, Brownsville and McAllen media market during the last 30 to 40 days of the election, compared to almost zero by Republicans.  

"You've all heard me cry ... that if you will invest and spend money ... you can win the Latino vote," Rocha said in a press call Wednesday. "Well, this proves me wrong, because it's two things: It's resources into the community early enough for them to make a difference."

When Democrats and their allies finally did spend money, they hired white-owned media firms that used Spanish-speaking voiceover actors who narrated over stock photos and video. 

A Hispanic Trump supporter sent back a pro-Biden mailer with a handwritten note dated Sept. 24, 2020, affirming their support for Trump.
A Hispanic Trump supporter sent back a pro-Biden mailer with a handwritten note dated Sept. 24 affirming support for President Donald Trump.Courtesy Nuestro PAC

According to the PACs research, white-led super PACs had spent more than $1 billion by October. Latino-led super PACs got 2 percent of that money, according to the report.

Nearly all of the messaging, including messaging by national super PACs, was the same as had been used in English, meaning the messaging was not tailored for Spanish-speaking Latino voters, the report said.

At the congressional level, few Democratic candidates ran bilingual campaigns. A young congressional campaign manager told Nuestro PAC that with just $5 million to spend, "'the consultants said the Latino vote was not a priority and not a part of the path to victory.' The district was 33 percent Latino," the report says.

Nuestro PAC spent more than $8 million targeting Latino voters for Biden in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona and parts of Florida, often in Spanish.

Rocha founded Solidarity Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm that produced campaign advertising and other work for campaigns.

Nuestro PAC, which would have hired consultants to create Spanish-language advertising, probably including Rocha's firm, got no money for such work in Florida in the last 60 days of the election, the report says.

The report was based on interviews with former congressional campaign staffers, activists, candidates, consultants and state organizations, as well as bilingual post-election polling of Latinos in Miami-Dade County and four other counties in Florida and Texas.

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