The Crucial Role of Latinos in Georgia Senate Runoffs

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The year 2020 is coming to an end and with it one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history, not only due to a pandemic that wiped out everything in its path but because of the closing of a political cycle that many of us would rather forget.

However, the last stretch remains in Georgia’s runoffs, where the control of the upper chamber in the U.S. Congress will be decided.

The goal of Democratic activists, organizers, and leaders is to defeat incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and elect challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Warnock.

According to the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, the Latino turnout grew by 72% in Georgia since 2016. Despite constituting a smaller percentage of the electorate (about 7 percent), exit polls suggest that Georgia’s Latinos backed Joe Biden by a 25-point margin, making them an essential part of the Democratic focus.

After observing the behavior of this crucial electorate in key victories in Arizona and Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, it is not surprising that it is precisely voters of color who will hand over control of the Senate to the Democrats on January 6th.

“Partisan politics in Georgia has long been defined by a Black-White racial divide, and Asian Americans and Latinos don’t quite fit obviously into that framework in a neat fashion,” said Emory University political scientist Bernard Fraga to CNBC.

“They’re more persuadable than Whites or African Americans are, so they’re more of a swing constituency,” Fraga said. “But Asian Americans and Latinos are much closer to being a core Democratic constituency in the state than even suburban White voters.”

Precisely to persuade Latino voters, Democrats have focused on issues such as immigration and COVID-19 relief in their campaigns, according to the Associated Press.

In Georgia, more than one-third of the Latino community is under 18; about another third are adults who are in the country illegally, the AP continues. According to census figures, many of those eligible to vote are young adults, with about 20,000 Georgia Latinos turning 18 each year.

“Georgia is no longer only Black and white. Georgia is multilingual and multiethnic,” said Gigi Pedraza, executive director of Georgia’s Latino Community Fund, which has helped mobilize Latino voters.

Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, noted that current Republican Gov. Brian Kemp aired a television ad in 2018 saying he drove “a big truck “in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”

“Georgia is a hostile state toward immigrants,” Gonzalez said, indicating it’s hard for Republicans to break through to Latinos. “If you’re talking in that level of rhetoric, then Latinos really don’t have any interest in listening to anything else you’re talking about.”

And the effort doesn’t stop there. Continuing the momentum to mobilize voters will require “continued outreach and relationship-building,” political organizers told CNBC.

Jen Rafanan, AAPI media director of the Georgia Democratic Party, said in a statement, “we aren’t taking anything for granted. Rafanan and Karla Alvarado, Georgia Democrats’ Latinx media director, said the party is committed to engaging and mobilizing AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) and Latino communities in the state beyond the runoff election.

“We have been struggling every year to get investments,” said Pedraza of Latino Community Fund Georgia. “Now everybody’s paying attention, which is great…But can you make a commitment for the next five years?”

“Because maybe Georgia is not going to be sexy next year, and it’s going to be sexy back again in 2022 for the gubernatorial election, but by then, it’s going to be too late,” Pedraza said. “We need to continue building next year, so we’re ready for 2022.”