IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Sanders proved 'you can engage, turn out Latinos', says top adviser

Sanders dominated the Latino vote, without having a Latino vote department, according to senior adviser Chuck Rocha.
Image: A supporter wears a shirt that says \"Tio Bernie\" during a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Phoenix, Ariz., on March 5, 2020.
A supporter wears a shirt that says "Tio Bernie" during a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Phoenix, Ariz., on March 5, 2020.Laura Segall / AFP - Getty Images file

Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the presidential race Wednesday, leaves behind a legacy of having proved “that you can engage Latinos and turn out Latinos,” Sanders’ senior adviser Chuck Rocha told NBC News.

“We’re the first presidential campaign to overwhelmingly dominate the Latino vote, while at the same time not having a Latino vote department,” Rocha said shortly after news of the Vermont Democratic senator's exit became public.

It’s a bright spot in the campaign that had a slim chance of overcoming former vice president Joe Biden, and was forced off the trail by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Coronavirus stopped us in our tracks,” Rocha said.

Rocha was proud of saying throughout the campaign that Sanders did not treat Latinos as an afterthought and integrated Latino voter outreach into every level of the campaign. Rocha often boasted of the number of Latinos that the campaign had hired. There were about 20 at senior positions by the end, he said.

As early as March 2019, “I pulled together every Latino and asked them to sketch out what our Latino operation should look like. I started involving immigrants and Dreamers and young brown kids who were on this campaign from day one and we continued that all the way to the last day,” he said.

By the campaign's end, there were 206 Latinos working for the Sanders campaign, according to a list from human resources Rocha said he requested a couple of days ago. The workers included immigrants and people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, which shields about 800,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

Sanders captured the Latino vote, largely younger Latinos, in Iowa, Nevada and California, helping to boost his campaign in the early race. Entry and exit polls showed him also winning the Latino vote in Colorado, Arizona, Illinois and Texas.

But Biden’s showing with older Latino voters helped Biden win Texas — a big hit to the Sanders’ campaign.

It helped that many Latinos were ideologically aligned with many of the issues Sanders pushed including health care for all, raising wages and a progressive immigration policy. Those policies lined up perfectly with a younger than average electorate that is more willing to donate $5 over the internet than “my grandmother who would write a check and mail it to you," Rocha said.

Sanders also scooped up political contributions from Latinos. Of the $23.7 million Latinos gave to Democratic presidential campaigns last year, $8.3 million or 36 percent went to Sanders, according to an analysis by Plus Three, a technology company that researched the contributions. Rocha said Sanders made history, starting with its grassroots fundraising.

Rocha said one of his proudest moments has been to be able to talk to Latinos and tell them “every dollar we raised in the Latino community got invested back.”

“Bernie Sanders has proven to every campaign that will come from now on —and every issue advocacy campaign —you can engage Latino voters and turn out Latino voters," he said.

"We changed the way Latino operations will be run from now on,” Rocha added.

While Biden has done well with African American voters and generally older Latino voters, he has work to do engaging younger Latino voters, which are a growing part of the electorate. About 40 percent of the 32 million Latinos eligible to vote in 2020 are between the ages of 18 and 35, according to the Census Bureau.

Rocha said Biden was able to get the African American vote without spending a lot of money in the community, and that won’t work in the general election.

“Doing heavy investment in the community early and running grassroots operations is what turns out our people,” he said.

Rocha said many of the people who had worked for him at his consulting firm, Solidarity Strategies, before coming to the campaign will return to work with him.

Sanders’ staff is unionized so the collective bargaining agreement provides 30 days of pay for those who have been with the campaign at least six months.

Rocha said some members of Congress who have endorsed Biden have reached out to him.

“It’s incredible to think back on what I started in a trailer house in East Texas,” he said. “To be the highest ranking Latino in any campaign this year is an honor and I hope it sets the groundwork for every Latino to be hired at senior levels.”

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.