(CNN)The Latino impact on the Democratic presidential race will be felt very soon.
Almost all of the states with a large Latino population will vote in just the next four weeks: Nevada on February 22 through Arizona, Florida and Illinois on March 17 — with Texas, California and Colorado in between on March 3, or Super Tuesday.
Cumulatively, the seven states with large Latino populations looming on the calendar will elect nearly half the Democratic delegates at stake in February and March.
This clustering will provide Latinos, now the nation’s largest minority group, their best opportunity to influence the choice of the 2020 Democratic nominee. And it represents a key test for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has devoted enormous effort to organizing among Latinos after most of them backed Hillary Clinton during their 2016 contest for the nomination.
This time, Latinos represent one of Sanders’ best opportunities to expand his coalition beyond the universe of younger and very liberal voters who powered his bid in 2016 and provided the core of his support in the Iowa and New Hampshire races that kicked off the 2020 race. Sanders is betting that not only will his performance improve among Latinos, but that Latinos will participate in the primaries in larger numbers than before to express their opposition to President Donald Trump.
“You are going to see much more intensity in the Latino community and I think that’s going to have a big benefit for him in a whole host of states,” says Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders.
Both in 2008 and 2016, Latinos came together to provide a critical mass of support for Hillary Clinton. In each of her two presidential races, she carried almost exactly three-fifths of all Latino voters, according to cumulative analyses of all the exit polls conducted in each contest.
This time, no candidate appears poised to consolidate nearly as much support among Latinos.
“I think it’s a much tighter contest this year than in 2016,” says Matt Barreto, managing partner and co-founder of Latino Decisions, a Democratic polling firm that focuses on Latino voters. “Bernie Sanders still appears to be the most popular among Latinos, but he’s not a runaway.” Former Vice President Joe Biden has been attracting the second most support among Latinos, though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fueled by a barrage of Spanish-language television advertising, is quickly establishing a beachhead too, Barreto believes.
So far, the campaigns and media alike have focused more attention on the group of Southeast states with large African-American populations that will also be voting over the same period. That lists starts on South Carolina on February 29 and runs into mid-March through states including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. Biden, in particular, is relying on those states to recover from his extremely weak showings in the first two contests.
The potential impact of Latinos, mostly in Southwest states, that will be voting at the same time has generated much less discussion.
“I really do think there is almost a total denial of the emerging Latino vote in the United States,” says former Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who played a leading role on immigration issues until retiring from the House in 2018. “People say statistically they say we will outnumber any minority group, but when I read my favorite newspapers, watch my favorite newscasts, we’re absent.”
From Nevada through March 17, the Democratic primary calendar will run through seven of the 12 states where Latinos constitute at least 10% of the total eligible voting population, according to recent figures from the Pew Research Center. New Mexico, the state where Latinos comprise the largest share of eligible voters (at almost 43%), doesn’t vote until June. But all of the states that rank next on the list for Latino presence are voting in this upcoming rush. That includes California (30.5% of eligible voters), Texas (30.4%), Arizona (23.6%), Florida (20.5%), Nevada (19.7%) and Colorado (15.9%). Latinos represent almost 12% of eligible voters in Illinois, the other state voting soon with a large concentration of that population.
In a Democratic primary, the Latino share of the vote in most of those states will likely be larger than their share of the overall eligible population. Barreto says all indications in polling is that Latino turnout will be high in the upcoming primaries.
“There is a very high level of interest,” he says. “When you get to the Super Tuesday states we are expecting extremely high turnout in California and Texas.”
The seven Latino-heavy states voting through March 17 will award 1,207 pledged delegates to the Democratic convention. That’s 46% of the 2,603 total pledged delegates that will be awarded in primaries and caucuses through February and March.
After this cluster of states vote, Latinos won’t weigh in again in large numbers until the primaries on April 24, when Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, with eligible voting populations ranging from 11 to 15%, will hold their contests.
In most states, delegates are allocated based on the results in each congressional district. And, though many might assume that Latinos are concentrated in a few large cities, in these upcoming states at least they are geographically dispersed in a manner that will magnify their influence. In all, according to the Pew figures, Latinos constitute at least 15% of the eligible population in 110 of the 154 congressional districts across those seven states, including 31 of the 36 in Texas.
“It is really incredibly geographically spread out,” says Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “You need to not only be going into the urban areas to reach [Latinos].”
While this widening geographic reach underscores Latinos’ potential impact in the next stage of the Democratic race, it’s less certain they will coalesce enough behind any one candidate to significantly reshape the contest.
While some Latino groups have complained that none of the Democrats have focused as much on their communities as