Elizabeth Warren campaign to launch five-city Latino tour in Texas

"For the first time, we are seeing presidential candidates invest in activating this base," a Latino activist says.
Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign rally in Austin on Sept. 10, 2019.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign rally in Austin on Sept. 10, 2019.Nick Wagner / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

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By Suzanne Gamboa and Deepa Shivaram

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who heads to New Hampshire with an apparent third-place finish in Iowa, is looking ahead to Texas and its bevy of Latino voters.

On Monday, the Massachusetts senator's campaign is launching a five-city tour, starting in San Antonio, the hometown of former presidential candidate Julián Castro. Castro joined her campaign as a surrogate after dropping out of the race in early January. Castro's mother, Rosie Castro, a civil rights activist, will be a headliner at the San Antonio event.

The next city is Laredo on Tuesday where comedian and Texas native Cristela Alonzo will act as surrogates, then to McAllen on Wednesday. Her campaign is scheduled to be in Corpus Christi — home of the iconic Tejana singer Selena — on Thursday and wrap up Friday in Houston, where Warren attended college. As of Thursday, Warren was not scheduled to be on the tour.

Texas holds its primary on Super Tuesday, March 3, along with several other states and has 38 electoral votes.

“Latinos, Latinas and Latinx people will play a big role in upcoming elections,” Maria Martinez, Warren’s national Latinx community engagement director, said in a statement. “We understand that historically and under this administration, immigrant communities and communities of color have been under attack.”

The tour targeting the state's largest nonwhite voting bloc drew praise from Antonio Arellano, executive director of Jolt, a group aimed at mobilizing young Texas Latino voters.

"This marks a drastic change in how politics is run in Texas. For the first time, we are seeing presidential candidates invest in activating this base," said Arellano, whose group is holding a presidential forum for Latino youth Feb. 15 in Pasadena, Texas.

"We here in Texas are sick and tired of candidates Google-translating their websites and running one Spanish language ad and calling it outreach," he said.

The attention to Latinos from a five-city tour of a presidential candidate is welcome, said Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota, which has been registering Latinos to vote for years. But he said Latinos will want more than a tour.

"We want to see where they stand on the issues that are strategic for us; what is the percentage of Latinos they have in the campaign, including at senior levels; what are the positions they took in the past; how many Latinos have they hired in the past and what is the commitment they have moving forward," Sanchez said. Mi Familia Vota has been holding "conversations" with candidates that are posted online. Warren has not yet committed to participate.

A coveted voting group for both parties

Democrats have big hopes in Texas where Latinos are on track to be the largest population group in the state by 2022. The Latino vote in Texas grew 76 percent in 2018, not only because of population increases, but also because a greater share of the Latino population went to the polls.

The state remains red and GOP candidates in past elections have won as much as 30 percent to more than 40 percent of Latino support, depending on the race. But in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost by 9 percentage points, the smallest GOP margin of victory in a presidential race in the state.

Albert Morales, political director of the polling firm Latino Decisions, said Warren is smart to get on the ground early considering the state’s multiple and expensive media markets. Any campaign in Texas has to get good media coverage to supplement work on the ground, he said.

Showing up early helps get that coverage, which helps more voters to learn about her, “but it’s still a steep climb,” Morales said.

Among Latinos in the state, Warren is not as well known as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

But Warren may be able to build on favorability: Warren had a 39 percent favorable rating and 17 percent unfavorable among Texas Latino Democrats registered to vote, according to a Dec. 8-16 poll by Equis/TargetSmart. Sanders' rating was 55 percent favorable and 17 percent unfavorable and Biden's was 52 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

Warren's campaign could be helped by Texas native son Castro, who brought several staffers and supporters from his campaign to hers, along with his connections in the Latino community. A Warren staffer said his schedule was still in flux so details hadn't been set on whether he'll be on the tour.

In Texas, Warren will confront the significant resources that Michael Bloomberg has been putting into the state. His campaign has been working Latino circles for endorsements, too.

“The calls from Bloomberg are furious, a lot more reaching out to people for endorsements,” said Gilberto Ocañas, a Democratic strategist who advised Castro.

Joe Enriquez Henry, adviser to the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told NBC News that although Sanders had the larger ground game with Latinos in Iowa, Warren’s campaign also was visible in the community.

Many Latinos in Texas remain on the sidelines, not yet enthusiastic about anybody, with the exception of Sanders loyalists; he has a heavy appeal among younger Latinos, Ocañas said.

But none of the candidates have a long history with Latinos, he said.

“Because Julián is from Texas and is her surrogate, it gives her an advantage,” Ocañas said. “The thing is can she turn that into some sort of movement?”

Warren still must do well in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, which hold their primaries before Super Tuesday.

Warren pulled $500,000 of TV ads that were scheduled to run in Nevada and South Carolina, according to information from ad-tracking group Advertising Analytics.

Warren has been saying on the campaign trail that she is in the race for the “long haul” and has emphasized her work in states beyond the first four in the nominating process — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

“We’re out here fighting for every vote in New Hampshire,” Warrren said Thursday. “And after this, we’ve got 55 more states and territories. We already have ground operations in 31 states and a thousand people. This is an operation that is built for the long haul and I’m loving every minute of it.”

Suzanne Gamboa reported from Austin and Deepa Shivaram reported from New Hampshire.

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