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'Refuting the narrative.' Biden's results in Arizona and Florida show Latino support

Miami Herald — By Bianca Padró Ocasio, David Smiley and Alex Daugherty Miami Herald

March 18-- MIAMI-For all the talk of Joe Biden's weakness with Latinos, the former vice president deeply wounded his rival and tightened his grip on the Democratic presidential primary Tuesday night by successfully competing with Bernie Sanders for Hispanic voters in Arizona and Florida-two crucial battleground states.

Biden's clean sweep in Tuesday's primaries, which also included Illinois, revealed his gains among Latinos. And yet, as Sanders reassesses his campaign and Biden begins to set his sights on beating President Donald Trump in November, the results also underscored the front-runner's challenges in a crucial general election demographic.

Data emerging from the Florida and Arizona primaries show that Biden trounced Sanders in Florida among Hispanic voters, romping in precincts located in heavily Cuban, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican communities. In Arizona, exit polling by CNN suggested that Biden split support among Latinos with Sanders-an accomplishment, considering Sanders' early dominance in western states.

"It was reaffirming to see him win all of the Latino enclaves in Florida," said Mayra Macias, executive director for the Latino Victory Fund, a Super PAC that has endorsed Biden. "It's a direct refuting of the narrative that Biden doesn't have Latino support."

In a memo Wednesday afternoon, Biden's deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, wrote that the former vice president had "expanded his broad coalition to include new constituencies: Latinos, young voters, and more progressive parts of the Democratic Party."

But Tuesday's results also reflect Biden's room for improvement going forward.

While Biden did far better in Arizona and Florida than he did last month in Nevada, where he took just 17% of the Latino vote in a caucus, a CNN exit poll showed him receiving 45% of the Latino vote in Arizona, meaning a majority of the demographic voted for someone else.

Exit polling was limited Tuesday due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, but a precinct-based analysis in Illinois by the University of California Los Angeles Policy & Politics Initiative found that Biden took only about a quarter of the Hispanic vote in Chicago. And in Florida, where non-Cuban Hispanic voters have become a crucial swing demographic, 62% of Puerto Ricans and 57% of Cuban Americans voted for Biden, according to an Associated Press poll conducted over the final week of the election, concluding as polls closed.

"The question for Biden is, does he want to compete for Florida's 29 electoral votes? If he does, then that means he must engage in a comprehensive campaign to maximize his support with the state's Hispanic electorate," said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based pollster whose firm conducted Hispanic research and media for Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. "We pretty much know how blacks are going to vote. We know how whites are going to vote. The group that has had some fluctuation from cycle to cycle is the Hispanic electorate."

Head-to-head general election polling between Biden and Trump by Univision Noticias/Latino Decisions has shown the former vice president trailing Trump in Florida. A Telemundo/Mason-Dixon poll shows Biden leading Trump in Arizona and holding a whopping 52-point advantage over the president among Latinos. In Florida, Mason-Dixon found that Biden's advantage over Trump among Hispanic voters is smaller-20 points-and below the 27-point mark Hillary Clinton hit in 2016 when she crushed Trump with Hispanic voters but still lost the state by more than 100,000 votes.

And according to precinct-level analysis of the Democratic primary in Florida from UCLA, Biden dominated in heavily Cuban districts in Little Havana and Hialeah but still fell short of a majority. In Doral, one of the largest Venezuelan exile communities in the U.S., Biden won 49% of the vote. He won 54% of the vote in Orlando and 49% in Osceola County, both home to large Boricua communities.

After the 2018 midterm elections, in which Florida Democrats lost races for Senate and governor by razor-thin margins, the party and its candidates acknowledged they fell short with Hispanic voters. In a general election matchup, a recent Telemundo/Mason-Dixon poll found Biden winning 80% of the Puerto Rican vote against Trump in Florida, but only 27% of the Cuban-American vote.

"Biden has to do well with Hispanic independents," Amandi said. "He has to maximize his support with Hispanic Democrats. He has to be able to even carve out a significant slice of Hispanic registered Republicans."

Beyond partisan politics, Biden also faces the challenge of speaking to a diverse community with needs that go far deeper and wider than Trump's hard-line immigration policies.

In Arizona, multiple generations of citizenship have created viewpoints that differ from communities that only recently immigrated to the U.S., said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions.

"Arizona is a little bit different in that you do need to understand how to communicate and message to some of those Latino communities who don't have immigrant parents or even immigrant grandparents," Barreto said. "They say, 'Yes, I'm Mexican American, but my family's been here in Arizona for four generations.' And they want to be treated like Mexican Americans, but perhaps maybe not like immigrants."

And in Florida, diverse communities with ties to Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico each have differing issues.

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the former national political co-chairman of Michael Bloomberg's campaign, said one of the billionaire's advantages before he dropped out early this month was that his unlimited campaign account allowed him to tailor ads and campaigns to different segments of the Latino community. Diaz said 27% of early votes in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade County were going Bloomberg's way before he dropped out.

"I think in terms of the overall messaging, we actually devoted a significant amount of time, our policy team in particular, to not talking about the traditional 'immigration is the only thing Latinos care about' line which makes (Latino voters) sick and dizzy," Diaz said. "There needs to be more of a connection with the Hispanic community. ... You've got to be able to invest the resources and get people on the ground and you've got to have surrogates and people who are out there speaking on your behalf to get the message out."

Biden's campaign, which was waffling and broke until he began to perform better in primaries in late February, has begun to build out its Hispanic outreach arm. Ahead of the Florida primary, before the spread of the coronavirus destroyed all semblance of normal campaigning, Biden had brought on surrogates from different backgrounds and was working to create Hispanic coalitions, such as Colombianos por Biden. Early this month, former Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Doral to talk about Biden's work in Latin America.

"Florida always is-and will be again in this presidential cycle-dependent on the voice of Latinos to help determine who the next president of the United States is," said Henry Munoz, a Texan who sits as national co-chairman of the Todos con Biden Hispanic outreach campaign.

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Carlos Odio, a former White House aide under former President Obama and the co-founder of the Latino-focused research firm EquisLabs, said "it's a promising sign" that Biden's campaign has shown interest in talking to different segments of the Hispanic community.

And while he said Biden faces a new hurdle as campaigning shifts to online-only amid the spread of the coronavirus, Odio said Latinos disproportionately rely on social platforms such as WhatsApp to share and consume information, so they shouldn't be too hard to reach.

"The good news is Latinos are over-represented on all digital and tech platforms. Latinos are way more digital than anybody else as a percentage, so it comes naturally," Odio said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see more happen in WhatsApp than it's happened in the past."

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