Georgia Latino Voters Could Play Decisive Role in Senate Runoff Elections

Dec 17, 2020
5:01 PM

Julián Castro speaks to a television news crew after a rally for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff in Lilburn, Ga., Monday, December 7, 2020. The rally was part of an effort to register and mobilize voters in Georgia’s growing Latino population for the two Democratic candidates in the Georgia’s twin Jan. 5 Senate runoffs that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Jeff Amy)

When people talk about the growing clout of the Latino voters, it’s usually states like California, Florida, Colorado or Arizona that come to mind. Most are surprised to learn that Latinos in Georgia are now 10 percent of the state’s population.

Atlanta is the Black Mecca of the South, but Georgia is also a state where Latinos are five percent of eligible voters. Five percent may not sound like much, until you consider that President-elect Joe Biden’s vote margin over President Trump last month was less than .3 percentage points, or just over 12,000 votes. And if you also consider that 160,000 Georgia Latinos cast a ballot in November, according to Latino Decisions.

In other words, Latinos could be the decisive voting bloc when two Republican incumbents for the U.S. Senate, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, meet in a January 5 runoff election against Democratic challengers, Rev. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff, respectively, in what most observers predict will be another photo-finish race.

Georgia is home to just over 1 million Latinos, 45 percent of whom are of Mexican origin, according to Pew Research. Puerto Ricans are 20 percent of the state’s Latino population, with Cubans, Salvadorans and Dominicans combining for another 12 to 13 percent. The rest are of other Latin American origins.

Georgia Latinos are also a growing voting bloc. Since 2016, the number of Latinos registered to vote in Georgia has jumped 35 percent, 162,000 to 250,000, according to the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. Most of that growth is thanks to aggressive voter registration efforts.

Who are they picking in the ballot box? NBC News exit polls found Georgia Latinos backed Biden over Trump 62 to 37 percent in November, while a separate poll by Latino Decisions conducted on the eve of the election found 69 percent Latino support for Biden to Trump’s 28 percent.

Given the stakes, grassroots groups are hustling to draw Latino voters back to the polls next month. Chuck Rocha, who directed Latino outreach efforts for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is there with Nuestro PAC, along with left-leaning groups like Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Fair Fight, which has registered 800,000 new voters since 2018, and GOP-tied Libre Initiative.


Update on Smithsonian Museum Fight

After a surprise move by Republican Sen. Mike Lee last week blocked legislation to create two new Smithsonian museums honoring the contributions of women and Latinos, a bipartisan group of lawmakers now wants Congress to add the measure to its year-end federal spending bill.

Lee scorned the idea of establishing the museums as an example of what President Theodore Roosevelt called “hyphenated Americanism.” Lee called his objection to the new museums “a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion.”

In a 1915 speech to a group of Irish Catholics, Roosevelt said, “a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts ‘native’ before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen… There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American.”

In an interview with NBC News, Estuardo Rodriguez, president and CEO of Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, called Lee’s statement, “a sad commentary based on fears around the diversity of our nation. He fails to understand that by highlighting the diversity that has helped build our nation, we are able to better understand each other and come together.”

Congress could decide on a final funding measure Friday. The bill is also expected to include hundreds of billions in COVID-19 relief funds.

What We May Not Know About Rural Voters

A nonpartisan group called Rural Democracy is working to connect leaders in small towns and rural areas with the people who fund local, state and national campaigns.

The goal? To build support for a progressive agenda regions outside of the country’s burgeoning metro centers.

The effort makes sense. By 2040, an estimated 70 percent of Americans will live in just 16 states dominated by major urban centers, leaving the other 30 percent scattered across 34 relatively less populated and politically more conservative states.

Election experts say that trend helps explain why Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential contests, but are having a hard time advancing their agenda in Congress and state legislatures.

Rural Democracy insists all is not lost. In a recent press release, the group said rural voters are more diverse and more receptive to progressive politics than most people think, adding that one in five rural voters is a person of color and nearly 40 percent of the population growth there is being driven by recent immigrants.

To make its case, Rural Democracy doled out $15 million in grants this year to 99 groups in 19 states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which backed Donald Trump for president in 2016.

In the November election, five of those six states supported President-elect Joe Biden.

Rural Democracy’s efforts may not have played a big role in why those five states flipped blue this year—a surge among urban voters of color, waning support for Trump with seniors and college-educated white suburbanites, and Biden’s decision not to ignore rural voters all played a role in the Democrat’s win.

Still, if a recent report by the Washington Post claiming that 2020 left U.S. voters  “more polarized along rural-urban lines than in 2016” is correct, Rural Democracy is probably on the right track.


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