What Bernie Taught Us: When You Pay Attention to Latinos, They Come Forward

Bernie Sanders Latino Voters BeLatina
Sen. Bernie Sanders, center, greets attendees during a campaign rally in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 23, 2019. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The departure of the independent senator from Vermont from the Democratic nomination race has left many desolate.

His latest attempt to become the president of the United States demonstrated not only the scope of grassroots politics, but also how much of the country is prepared — and eager — to see a real change in the way politics are done.

Having lost the 2016 nomination to Hillary Clinton, Sanders again saw his opportunity to bring his progressive, social-democratic proposal to every corner of the country, taking advantage of Donald Trump’s erratic presidency — seen more as an urgent call for change than a threat.

But a crowded race and a fearful Democratic National Committee were stronger than the will of a politician who, even with a heart attack, showed what we are capable of when we agree.

With an astonishing fundraising effort of more than $25 million and a controversial but powerful fan base, Sanders was able to present a one-of-a-kind campaign infrastructure, which was fragmented, again, by some proposals considered “very radical” to the conservative wing of the party.

Finally, his opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, won the necessary votes to establish an unwinnable lead. Despite Sanders starting out with major victories in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses, Biden finally recovered onSuper Tuesday, in the Michigan primary, and subsequent elections.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic to the country made it impossible to continue with rallies and his campaign in general, so Sanders announced to his team the sad decision to suspend his campaign on April 8.

However, the senator did not retire without leaving us with an important lesson: “You can engage Latinos and turn out Latinos,” as his senior adviser Chuck Rocha recalled in an interview with NBC News. 

“We’re the first presidential campaign to overwhelmingly dominate the Latino vote, while at the same time not having a Latino vote department,” Rocha said shortly after news of the Vermont Democratic senator’s exit became public.

Sanders’ overwhelming victory among Latino voters was evident in the Iowa caucus, where he won “almost unanimously” in the state’s four Spanish-language caucus sites. 

In states like Texas and California, where Latinos represent one-third of the electorate, Sanders “carried the Latino vote overwhelmingly,” according to Vox, with 49 percent support in California and 39 percent in Texas.

Considering that in 2016 Sanders lost to Clinton “in 10 of 11 states where Latinos made up a large share of eligible voters,” the 2020 results demonstrate a monumental effort by his campaign to get the Latino vote.

As early as March 2019, “I pulled together every Latino and asked them to sketch out what our Latino operation should look like. I started involving immigrants and Dreamers and young brown kids who were on this campaign from day one and we continued that all the way to the last day,” Rocha said to NBC.

The campaign finally had 206 Latinos on its staff, which included immigrants and Dreamers. 

“It helped that many Latinos were ideologically aligned with many of the issues Sanders pushed including health care for all, raising wages and a progressive immigration policy,” NBC explained. Those policies lined up perfectly with a younger than average electorate that is more willing to donate $5 over the Internet than “my grandmother who would write a check and mail it to you,” Rocha said.

“Bernie Sanders has proven to every campaign that will come from now on — and every issue advocacy campaign — you can engage Latino voters and turn out Latino voters,” he concluded.