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Hispanic pandemic

Hit hard by pandemic, Hispanic voters could be key to California recall

As California speeds toward its second gubernatorial recall election in history on Sept. 14, the outcome may hinge on its largest ethnic group. Latinos, for years a loyal voting bloc for Democrats, have suffered disproportionately from pandemic job losses and deaths. As the largest group of parents in the state, they have been widely affected…

As California speeds toward its second gubernatorial recall election in history on Sept. 14, the outcome may hinge on its largest ethnic group. Latinos, for years a loyal voting bloc for Democrats, have suffered disproportionately from pandemic job losses and deaths. As the largest group of parents in the state, they have been widely affected by school closures.

At the same time, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has expanded health care to unauthorized immigrants and is now sending out $600 stimulus checks to residents who earn up to $75,000. 

Why We Wrote This

Hispanics have suffered disproportionately high death rates and job losses from the pandemic. If they take their frustrations out on California Gov. Gavin Newsom, it could presage further erosion in this voting bloc’s support for the Democratic Party.

statewide California poll this week shows 58% of likely voters favor the governor in this deep blue state, though earlier polls had been far tighter. Even a narrow win would suggest Democratic vulnerability; a sacking would be a political earthquake. Nationally, former President Donald Trump made real inroads with Hispanic voters in 2020, picking up more than any Republican presidential candidate since at least George W. Bush in 2004.

“Latinos in California, specifically in working-class neighborhoods, have really borne the brunt of the pandemic and are very much at a crossroads,” says Steven Almazan, volunteering at a voter registration table along with other young Democrats in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights.

Stanton, Calif.

Ron Flores has had it with California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom. So he put up a gigantic sign on the corner of Beach Boulevard and Katella Avenue in the Southern California city of Stanton, where about half the population is Hispanic. “¡BASTA!” reads the first line, followed by a translation, “(Enough is Enough) Recall Newsom.”

On Tuesday evening, about 18 people rallied with Mr. Flores on this busy corner in the greater Los Angeles area, waving “Recall” flags and signs as cars streamed past, some honking approval. The clutch of supporters, several of them Hispanic Republicans like Mr. Flores, aired a long list of grievances: mask and vaccine mandates; schools, businesses, and churches closed by the pandemic; high taxes; unaffordable gasoline; rising crime.

People are frustrated, says Mr. Flores – and not just Republicans. At a Friday night football game last week, he says, a number of Hispanic Democrats told him they’ll vote to boot the governor in a special recall election Sept. 14. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat,” he says. “They are upset.”

Why We Wrote This

Hispanics have suffered disproportionately high death rates and job losses from the pandemic. If they take their frustrations out on California Gov. Gavin Newsom, it could presage further erosion in this voting bloc’s support for the Democratic Party.

As California speeds toward its second gubernatorial recall election in history, the outcome may hinge on just how deeply these frustrations run among its largest ethnic group – for years an important and loyal voting bloc for Democrats. Latinos have suffered disproportionately from pandemic job losses and deaths, as front-line health care and service workers living in underserved communities. They are the largest group of parents in the state, and thus have been widely affected by school closures. At the same time, the governor is a Democrat who has expanded health care to unauthorized immigrants and is now sending out $600 stimulus checks to residents who earn up to $75,000. 

“Latinos in California, specifically in working-class neighborhoods, have really borne the brunt of the pandemic and are very much at a crossroads when it comes to determining what is a priority for their own state, [and] also their own future,” says Steven Almazan, who spent Sunday volunteering at a voter registration table along with other young Democrats in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Mr. Almazan grew up in this Latino enclave and served on the neighborhood council.

Latino turnout is typically low in off-year elections, and with this one coming unusually early, Democrats worry they don’t have enough time to make the case. Mail-in ballots, which have been sent to every voter, are already being filled out and returned. The Hispanic electorate here also skews young – in 2020, many voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won the California Democratic primary and just days ago began showing up in an anti-recall ad.

A statewide California poll this week shows 58% of likely voters favor the governor in this deep blue state, though other earlier polls had been far tighter. Even a narrow win would suggest Democratic vulnerability; a sacking would be a political earthquake. Both parties view the special election as a barometer for the 2022 midterms, when the president’s party usually loses seats in Congress.

Nationally, former President Donald Trump made real inroads with this population, and not just among Cuban Americans in South Florida, says Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research at the Pew Research Center. Mr. Trump won over Hispanic voters along the Texas border and at the precinct level in cities as diverse as New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, and Dallas. The majority of Hispanics still went for Joe Biden, but Mr. Trump picked up more Hispanic voters than any Republican presidential candidate since at least George W. Bush in 2004, says Mr. Lopez. He adds: “Perhaps Latino voters are a group that may be more up for grabs than either political party is aware.”

Poor outreach and a confusing ballot

Latino community leaders in California cite poor outreach by all of the campaigns and a confusing ballot with 46 replacement candidates. Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco, says voting is not top of mind for many Latino voters because they have so much else to contend with. “Why would I rush to turn in my ballot when I need to rush to turn in my rent relief application [because] I might get evicted two weeks after the recall?” He’s concerned that some Latinos might not even know about the election.

“If Democrats can’t mobilize Latino voters to save a Democratic governor, how on earth can you ask them to save a Democratic Congress, and thus the Biden agenda next year? It’s that serious,” says Mr. Arana, whose group builds philanthropy and political particip

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