Latina Press Secretary Helps Build Bernie Sanders' Hispanic Outreach

Image: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Sanders talks to tribal members of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki Nation during a campaign event at the Meskwaki Nation Settlement near Tama, Iowa
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) talks to tribal members of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki Nation during a campaign event at the Meskwaki Nation Settlement near Tama, Iowa, September 4, 2015. REUTERS/Scott MorganSCOTT MORGAN / Reuters

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By Suzanne Gamboa

As Democrat Bernie Sanders has closed the gap with rival Hillary Clinton in Iowa and according to some polls moved ahead, it is the face and words of a Latina who is helping to communicate his message in media.

Lilia Chacon, a former press secretary to Chicago’s city treasurer and former television journalist, has been added to Sanders’ political team as his Iowa campaign for the Democratic nomination has gained support.

The U.S.-born daughter of immigrants, Chacon, 61, said her hiring reflects a stepping-up by the campaign of its Hispanic outreach. Two other staffers on the campaign are Latino, she said.

“His message is really going to resonate with the Hispanic community, with (his platform of) income equality, with labor, with access to education, with putting the brakes on mass incarceration, which includes detention for deportation,” said Chacon, who is currently handling his Iowa media but also is in charge of Latino media.

Chacon’s father is originally from Costa Rica and her mother from Guatemala. Her father was educated at Columbia University. He returned to Costa Rica after earning his degree and met and married her mother. They later immigrated legally to the U.S., back to New York. Chacon was born in Syracuse, New York.

Democrats have been aggressively chasing the Latino vote, hiring Latino staffers for outreach and other key positions.

NBC News/Marist polls conducted in July showed Hillary Clinton maintaining her lead over Sanders, a Vermont senator, but that Sanders has been closing in on her. Other polls since have showed him narrowing the gap or leading in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders has made some efforts to reach out to Latinos. He spoke at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Conference focusing on immigration.

He has participated in the candidate question and answer series that the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has been holding, as has former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Clinton has not yet done the one-on-one chamber forum.

Sanders has backed immigration reform and a path to citizenship, but has expressed concerns over the years about immigrants affecting the wages and employment of U.S. workers.

Gallup polling conducted in July and August found that Hillary Clinton is most familiar to Hispanics and only about of quarter of Hispanics knew of Sanders. Sanders had a +5 favorability score with nearly as many viewing him unfavorably as favorably.

About 6 percent of Iowa's population of 3 million is Latino, but the state is often a focal point of the immigration issue because of the many Latino immigrants who work there in agriculture. It also is home state of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has said immigrants have canteloupe-sized calves because they are drug mules and of Chuck Laudner, an adviser to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump's campaign and a former chief of staff to King.

RELATED: Martin O'Malley Blasts Democratic Rivals For Skipping Immigration Forum

Although he skipped a recent forum in western Iowa on immigration reform, Sanders held a roundtable with Latino community members last week in Muscatine, Iowa, where he said undocumented immigrants did not cause the greed on Wall Street, according to WQAD in Illinois.

Members of the Latino community are working to increase Latino turnout at the Iowa Caucuses to at least 10 percent of overall turnout. The state's caucuses are scheduled for February.

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