In North Carolina, 2020 election mailers sent by progressive political groups to Latinos have become hot collectors' items.
The mailers were created by four political groups trying to bolster Latino voting in a state that has seen immigrants’ children age into the electorate and Puerto Ricans arrive as refugees after Hurricane Maria in 2017. They are being shared online, put on refrigerators and becoming game cards in the Mexican bingo-like game “lotería.”
Irene Godínez, founder and director of the Latino advocacy group PODER NC Action, said the mailers began with a card that has an image of the late Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, his hands held in prayer. “THANK YOU FOR VOTING in the North Carolina primary elections and for showing up for our gente,” the card says. (Gente means "people" in Spanish.)
“It was basically a love letter that we sent to all of the Latinx voters who voted in the primaries," Godínez said. "Then they started sharing it on social media and tagging it and really saying that they would always give away their political mailers, but this time they were on the fridge."
The groups have created another crop of collectible mailers to build up excitement in the community about voting.
The number of North Carolina Latinos who voted rose to 186,000 in 2016 from 77,000 in 2008, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. NALEO projects that about 230,000 of the 338,000 North Carolina Latinos eligible to vote will do so in November.
Latinos are just 4.4 percent of the state’s electorate. But a poll released Wednesday by CNN showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are near even in the state, upping the value of the slice of votes. Trump won the state in 2016 by 3.6 percent of the vote.
Polling by Equis Research shows Biden performing well with Latinos in the state. He leads 64 percent to 24 percent in its latest poll. He even performs better than Trump, 57 percent to 38 percent, on who would do better on the economy, an issue Trump has used to gain ground with Latinos in other states, such as Florida and Arizona.
“Biden is steadily improving his overall numbers with Latino voters from where he stood in the primary, and there is a lot of room for growth in a lot of these states for him to try to run up the score with Latino voters,” said Democratic pollster Stephanie Valencia, co-founder and president of Equis Labs.
The state's competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate are helping progressive organizers drive up Latinos' attention to the November election, not just in North Carolina.
“Broadly speaking, if you are looking at a world where Florida is very close, North Carolina and Colorado become very important, not just in terms of the presidential," said Kristian Ramos, a Democratic strategist and founder of Autonomy Strategies. "If Biden wins North Carolina, that’s great, but you still have to win back the Senate in terms of putting on the brakes and turning back the things Trump has done."
The Equis poll shows Biden up 66 percent to 23 percent over Trump with Colorado's Latino voters and Democrat John Hickenlooper, the state’s former governor, ahead of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in the Senate race. However, 11 percent of the Latino voters who support Biden don’t back Hickenlooper. They are mostly young, male and urban, the poll found.
Appealing to new voters
North Carolina’s Latino electorate has been expanding with the children of immigrants who arrived to the state in the 1990s and 2000s. Since about 2010, the number of U.S.-born Latinos in the state has outstripped those born in another country, according to Carolina Demography.
That makes immigration a higher priority issue with Latinos than in some other states, such as Florida.
Maria Peralta started going door to door a month ago for Mijente, a progressive group. She is enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that was started during the Obama administration.
As she meets people who express ambivalence about voting, she tells them about her stepfather, who in the spring of 2018 was taking out the trash when he was questioned by immigration agents, detained and deported. In her community, spring is a scary time when immigration raids take place.
“That’s why I’m really motivated to take out Trump. I don’t want another family to go through that,” she said.
She said the issue of record deportations under the Obama administration does not come up often in canvassing, but when it does she asks potential voters, “Would you rather be shot in the heart or the leg?"
"We can’t afford four more years of Trump,” said Peralta, who compares that prospect to being shot in the heart. With Biden, the community has more leverage to get the things it wants, she said.
A Latino could make North Carolina history
Immigration also runs through one of the hottest down-ballot races in the state. For the first time, North Carolina could see a Latino elected to the Legislature. Ricky Hurtado, the son of immigrants from El Salvador, is running in a redrawn state Assembly district that leans Democrat. The Democratic candidate lives in Alamance County, known for the anti-immigrant policies and tactics of its sheriff.
“In Latino voters, we see an enthusiasm we haven’t seen for another race before because they do finally have a Latino on a ballot," Hurtado said. "The number of yard signs in trailer parks is pretty incredible. People are asking for ways they can support me, be on the phone and be part of events."
Biden has only begun to physically hit the campaign trail because of the pandemic, while Trump has regularly visited North Carolina.
Democrats told NBC News that Biden needs to be more visible in the swing state to win it. Thus far Trump’s campaign has had far more people on the ground knocking on doors, while the Biden campaign has largely contacted voters virtually, NBC News reported.
Jorge Neri, a Biden campaign senior policy adviser, said the campaign has been recruiting businesses, and holding weekly text and phone banks to reach Latino voters. A Biden campaign bus tour with congressional Hispanic Caucus members has North Carolina as a destination.
Making Latinos "the decided swing constituency"
This year, organizing groups chose to do their own outreach to Latinos after years of feeling the nascent population was ignored by Democrats.
The four Latino organizations that pushed out the Mercado mailer have followed up with mailers that imitate the cards and blocks of lotería, but with images, not numbers.
The first two mailers, distributed for the groups by Solidarity Strategies, are caricatures of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, holding a face mask and an outline of North Carolina, and of Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham with a Mexican sweetbread known as "conchas" around him. The backs of the card provide details on the candidates and on navigating the voting system.
Godínez said the mailers unify generations and combine "nostalgia for our parents' home countries with the present realities that we are forging and forming roots here in North Carolina."
“That’s the result of investing in Latinx-led organizations, that we can think creatively of how to reach our people in a way that can break through the political noise and where they can see themselves as part of the electorate,” said Godínez, who served as Hillary Clinton’s Latino outreach director. “That hadn’t happened before.”
Chuck Rocha, a Democratic consultant who founded Solidarity Strategies and oversaw Sen. Bernie Sanders' Latino outreach, created the political action committee Nuestro PAC to target Latino voters in key states. He released a digital ad Thursday featuring the song by “Las Cafeteras,” "If I Were President." He said Latino voters are an untapped resource that not many people spend time on or money talking to.
PODER NC Action has made about “300,000-ish” bilingual calls to Latino voters, Godínez said, and tens of thousands more calls are being made by the other groups, Fortaleza, NC Latino Power and Mijente, which has been sending canvassers door-to-door in nine counties to reach 80,000 voters through its “Fuera Trump” (“Out Trump) campaign.
Several grassroots groups have created an online voter registration and information hub, VotemosNC, a one-stop shop for registration, ballot information, candidate backgrounds and details on where the groups stand on issues. North Carolina allows any voter to request a ballot by mail, by the Oct. 27 deadline. It was in North Carolina that Trump suggested his supporters vote twice, which would be illegal.
Andrew Willis Garcés, co-coordinator of Mijente's Fuera Trump campaign, said that two years ago there were no Latino organizations on the ground reaching voters, but Republicans lost seats in the Assembly and “we hope we are going to keep turning the tide.” Mijente is talking to voters who sat out in 2016, he said.
“We had the highest absentee rate in 2016. Fifty-six percent of Latino eligible voters sat out and Trump won by 173,000 votes; 183,000 Latinos didn’t even register to vote that could have and that is not even the 56 percent that sat out who did register,” he said. “The opportunity is really on the table for Latinos to be the deciding swing constituency.”