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Biden and Trump fight for Arizona's Hispanic vote

Biden gaining momentum in key states
Biden gaining momentum in key states 06:01

At an Arizona mask production site in May, President Trump thanked factory workers, GOP elected officials, and the owners of Sammy's Mexican Grill.

"I think most of us, all of us, all the Latinos are going to vote for you," Jorge Rivas told the president

Now Rivas is lending his voice to Trump campaign ads that have blanketed the state, arguing in Spanish that the president's Democratic rival "doesn't have the energy or capability to be the great leader this country needs." The spot is among more than $400,000 in ads that have aired on Spanish-language TV channels in Arizona in recent weeks, according to Kantar CMAG ad tracking data, outpacing spending in battleground states like Florida, which has nearly three times the number of Spanish speakers. 

Though Arizona awarded its 11 electoral votes to Donald Trump in 2016, Biden has tied or topped the president in nearly every recent poll here. If the former vice president were to win the Grand Canyon state, he'd be the first Democrat in three decades to do so. 

Much of Biden's lead comes from Hispanic voters, who comprise a third of Arizona residents. Sixty-nine percent support him in the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll. In 2016, 61% of Hispanic voters cast ballots for Hillary Clinton here.  

"In 2016, we left too many young Latino votes on the table. In 2018, a lot of us put local investment here to turning out younger Latino voters and they did," said Congressman Ruben Gallego. Exit polls reported Hispanic or Latino voters cast 19% of all Arizona ballots cast in 2018, up from 15% in 2016

The Phoenix-area Democrat serves on the Biden campaign's "Latino leadership committee" of surrogates attending virtual Zoom events and fundraisers. "The fact that they are investing this much time and money and effort in Arizona this early is impressive," Gallego added. 

Biden's campaign has also tapped a handful of Hispanic staff members, including state director Jessica Mejía to lead its Arizona operation, which is expected to grow to 200 paid staff by August.

But Republicans insist they see an opportunity to erode Biden's edge among Hispanics.

"Something that Trump Victory takes a lot of pride in is finding and hiring folks from these communities to lead. And we have folks who are bilingual in Yuma, in Phoenix, in Tucson that are able to speak to these communities," said Drew Sexton, the Trump campaign's Arizona director. 

The campaign says it has "over a dozen" Spanish-speaking organizers, as part of a team numbering "more than 80" paid staff on the ground. 

Mr. Trump's supporters claim they've made historic inroads back into a Latino community once monopolized by skeptics of the president in Arizona. And Mr. Trump had a slight edge among Hispanic voters over 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, winning 28% of the Hispanic vote nationwide, compared to Romney's 27%. 

Sergio Arellano led Arizona's GOP Hispanic outreach in 2016. "Until I came on board, it was nonexistent," he said. "We didn't have coalitions. Basically, every variant of a Latino group is out for themselves."

"Today is the culmination of a lot of people you can talk to now, as compared to back then, because we are empowered. The coalitions are crazy," he added.

Republican organizers have resumed some in-person campaigning and events in Arizona, while Biden's campaign continues to rely on phone contacts, social media, and virtual events to reach Latino voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Top organizers and strategists in Arizona acknowledge remote organizing has proven an imperfect substitute for in-person campaigning, especially in Hispanic communities that often struggle with poor internet access and other obstacles to civic engagement.

"If you're on the lower end of voter participation and engagement, it's that much harder to reach people there," says Tania Unzueta, political director of Mijente, one of several groups trying to turn out Hispanic voters in Arizona and other battleground states against Mr. Trump. 

"It just feels like the conversations need to happen in person. It hasn't been easy," Unzueta said. 
Also based in Phoenix, Mi Familia Vota, has committed $10 million to a "Basta Trump" effort.

"We are doing conversations with potential voters that are low-propensity, that wouldn't traditionally go out to vote if we don't remind them and invite them to participate," says Mi Familia Vota's Arizona director Eduardo Sainz.

For more than a decade, the group has led campaigns to sign up Hispanic voters in the state to vote-by-mail and has ramped up its efforts this year, partnering with local Spanish-language media.

The latest CBS News polling in Arizona shows that among those not supporting Mr. Trump, 22% of Hispanic voters might be persuaded to switch their vote. Only three-fourths said they "definitely" planned to cast a ballot at all, behind 88% of White voters and 84% overall.

Some Biden critics blame the controversial legacy of the Obama administration's deportation policies for a lack of support for the former vice president. Others argue the pandemic drowned out enthusiasm around pledges he made as the primaries drew to a close, like focusing deportations only on undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies. But Gallego says voters don't agree. 

"They remember the times fairly fondly with Obama and Biden," he said. "And their distrust of Trump is extremely deep here in Arizona."

Republican hardline immigration policies on the state and federal have divided voters in the southwestern state, from controversial efforts in Arizona to curb illegal immigration to months of protest over wall construction along the state's border with Mexico. In his June visit to the state, the president visited the border barrier to sign a plaque marking its 200th mile of new construction, though he has tacitly admitted that much of it replaces existing fencing.  

Recent Spanish-language ads shared by Biden's campaign make only a few references to immigration, focusing their messages on economic issues and the coronavirus. All of the groups reached for this story agreed healthcare and pocketbook concerns now dominate their conversations with Hispanic voters in Arizona. 

"Immigration is not a top three issue in any of our polling or our focus groups among Latino voters. Big emphasis on voters, not community," said Chuck Rocha, head of Nuestro PAC and author of a forthcoming book "Tío Bernie" on the Sanders campaign's Latino outreach. Nuestro PAC has spent heavily on targeting Spanish-language media supporting Biden.

However, Mr. Trump so far has outpaced Biden in ad spending targeting Hispanic voters, according to data collected by Kantar CMAG ad tracking. In Arizona, the Trump campaign's past buys on Spanish-language television channels is more than double that of the Biden campaign.

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