With Connecticut’s presidential primary nearly two months away, a contingent of Latinos determined to support Democrat Bernie Sanders in his bid to upset Hillary Clinton have become weekend warriors in Massachusetts, which votes Tuesday, March 1.
Volunteers from the Connecticut Latinos for Bernie Sanders wanted to help their candidate on Super Tuesday and Massachusetts was the closest of 13 states holding primaries or caucuses that day, explained Alfredo Javier Porras, an outreach coordinator for the CT Latinos For Bernie Sanders.
“We want to let people know where Bernie stands,” said Porras, who said Sanders’ appeal to Latinos includes his backing of the immigration reformed bill that Republicans have stalled in Congress.
While the Massachusetts vote on Super Tuesday, he says is likely to draw less attention than the Republican primary in Texas and votes in several other states. However, the Bay State’s Latino vote could possibly influence the outcome in what is expected to be a tight Democratic race, and may influence whether the underdog Vermont senator has any chance of stopping the Clinton juggernaut.
Jossie Valentin, a leader of Mass. Democrat Delegates for Bernie and a councilor in Holyoke, Mass., expects a close race, but is confident Sanders can win Massachusetts.
The Connecticut Latinos for Bernie Sanders have sought to turn the tide in heavily Hispanic areas, such as Springfield and Boston, by primarily distributing information and talking to residents. Several volunteers have been campaigning for Sanders for several weeks in Massachusetts, including a Stamford couple who has spent five weekends in the Bay State, staying at local volunteers homes, Porras said.
The Connecticut crew’s agenda for the final days of the primary campaign included attending Monday’s rally in Milton, Mass. where the candidate is scheduled to appear, staffing a phone bank to contact voters that evening in Trumbull from 6 to 8 p.m and then returning Tuesday to Massachusetts to help on primary day.
Clinton, whose schedule includes a rally Monday in Springfield, is more than ready to do battle in Massachusetts and, if need be, in Connecticut and Rhode Island, both with large Latino populations and April 26 primaries.
In Connecticut, Clinton does not appear to have an “official” Latinos for Clinton group yet, said Joseph Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus. However, he said, “I personally know many elected Latinos who are heavily leaning her way.”
Clinton’s advocates include Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has campaigned for her in Massachusetts, and state Rep. Christopher Rosario, whose support goes back to the 2008 primary.
“She is an extremely hard worker and will work to ensure that our communities and all Americans have an opportunity to prospect,” Rosario said Sunday. The Bridgeport Latino added that Clinton will be good for cities such as Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.
An intangible for Clinton in Connecticut is that her national Latino outreach director, Lorella Praeli, grew up in New Haven and attended college in Hamden. A native of Peru, Praeli is well known among the state’s undocumented aliens as a co-founder of Connecticut Students for a DREAM. She became a naturalized citizen in December.
In Massachusetts, Clinton has the support of the state’s only Latino mayor, Daniel Rivera, and several other prominent Latinos such as Andrea Cabral, the state’s former public safety official.
The Clinton outreach to Latino voters started last May and included meetings with minority groups. Groups in Lawrence, Holyoke, Boston and Lynn have held Spanish language phone banks and have canvassed in Latino neighborhoods.
Clinton also started with a huge recognition edge. A Univision poll last year found that 68 percent of Latinos nationally did not know about Sanders or had not formed an opinion about him, but 68 percent held a favorable opinion of the former first lady.
Sanders also has the backing of several prominent Latinos, including Kendrys Vasquez, Lawrence city council president, and Maria Elena Latona of the Neighbor to Neighbor organizing group.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump has supporters in both states, as do his two leading opponents U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.
In Connecticut and Rhode Island, both with large Latino populations, the primary date is April 26, and whether there still will be a viable Republican contest largely hinges how Trump does in Texas, Cruz’s home state on Super Tuesday and in Florida where, Rubio needs to impressively defend his turf March 15.
The Rubio campaign is the only one that has reached out to the Latino National Republican Coalition of Connecticut, said Ruben Rodriguez, chairman of the conservative group. “We are working to support him,” the Waterbury politician said.
A leading supporter of Rubio in Connecticut is a fellow Cuban American, state Sen. Art Linares, who was an intern in Washington D.C. for the Florida senator. Linares and the coalition are developing strategies for outreach to Latino communities, Rodriguez said.
One of the major hurdles that candidates courting Latinos face in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island is getting many to register and then to vote.
In Connecticut, barely half of the eligible Latinos are eligible to vote, and while they represent more than 15 percent of the population overall, they only comprise 11 percent of the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center, which projects that nationally 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote.
In Massachusetts, Latinos comprise about 11 percent of the population and just 7.6 percent of eligible voters. In Lawrence, where Dominicans predominate, and in Chelsea, with a large Salvadoran population, they represent more than 60 percent of the population.
In Holyoke, where half the population is Latino, they hold only three of the 15 council seats. Valentin, who won easily with 80 percent of the vote last year, said she and others are working to overcome voter apathy.
One positive sign, Valentin cited, is the emergence of young Latino leaders “feeling the Bern.”
This type of interest could help boost Latino political clout over the long run, with the median age in Massachusetts for Latinos is 26, only 20 for those native born, as compared to 43 for non-Hispanics.
A similar situation exists in Connecticut where the median age for Latinos is 27 but the foreign born group is about 26 percent.