Nicholas Simões Machado thinks it’s time for the Maryland Democratic Party to step up its game when it comes to Latino voters.
Machado, 26, is the campaign manager for Ivan Bates, who is set to become Baltimore’s next state attorney, following his defeat of Marilyn J. Mosby in the primaries earlier this year.
Machado said Democrats must now lay the groundwork for a stronger electoral bloc in the coming years.
“In Maryland, I understand that Latino voting hasn’t been statistically significant in the past. But that’s the past. And the trends we’re seeing right now show that it’s absolutely statistically significant for the future and right now,” Machado said. “Democrats in general are wasting opportunities to build those bridges. and I think it’s going to bite us in the back if we don’t change that.
According to the Pew Research Center, Latinos make up 6% of Marylanders who identify as Democrats and 5% who identify as Republicans. Across Maryland, Latinos made up 5.8% of eligible voters in 2020.
Nationally, Democrats still lead with voters who identify as Hispanic and Latino. But that lead is shrinking, according to polls.
In one of the largest nonpartisan surveys of Latino voters since the 2020 election — in which President Donald Trump performed better with Latinos than he did in 2016 — Latino support to the Democrats was 56% against 32% for the Republicans. Latino voters are also more likely to agree with Democrats on major issues such as immigration, gun policy and climate. But those numbers aren’t as strong as they were before 2020, especially among young Hispanic male voters.
Chuck Rocha is a political analyst who has worked in politics for over 30 years, including on two Bernie Sanders campaigns. He said Trump’s message of building up blue-collar workers resonates with hard-working young Latino men. He knows this because it’s the same message that drew Rocha to the Democratic Party as a factory worker in Texas.
“He [Trump] uses that populist message about working class values and that’s what I’ve seen that particularly drives Latino men to move over to Republicans,” Rocha said.
Rocha is the president of Solidarity Strategies, a minority-owned, DC-based political consulting firm that “provides bilingual direct mail, phone and digital services” and helps elect people of color. Machado was recruited by Rocha to work for the company, which focuses on Democrats.
Rocha said the Democratic Party was “leaving votes on the table” and allowing Republicans to take over without much effort.
“Half the battle with new Latino voters, because they’re younger, is just showing up and competing,” Rocha said.
Additionally, candidates must engage Latino voters year-round to maintain authenticity and get the vote, Machado said.
“The Latino vote is a sleeping giant. It’s not the one that’s materialized in Maryland yet,” Machado said. “And it never will be until that engagement happens all year.”
Machado said of the governor’s two campaigns, he’s seen more grassroots efforts from Republican Dan Cox.
“I’m not saying it’s effective outreach. I’m not saying these are successful conversions,” Machado said. “But I see more clearly the effort that is being made.”
Marc Schifanelli is the husband of attorney Gordana Schifanelli, a candidate for lieutenant governor alongside Cox. Schifanelli is a member of the Queen Anne County School Board, a spot he won in a write-in vote. His wife set up a social media page, Kent Island Patriots, in response to a letter sent to parents by former Superintendent Andrea Kane in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the time of his campaign, Schifanelli, an immigration lawyer, said the policy should not be promoted at school. According to The New York Times, Schifanelli got enough school board votes to drop Jacqueline Woodson’s “Harbor Me” from the middle school curriculum because it was “sympathetic to a boy whose father was at risk of expulsion.”
The Cox campaign has held events with the Hispanic community, such as an event in September at the Mi Gran Mariachi restaurant in Glenn Dale. Schifanelli said by email that it was a meeting with Hispanic and Latino business owners, but did not provide further details. The event flyer, promoted by Cox on Facebook, was in Spanish.
Schifanelli spoke in Spanish at some of these events, primarily to introduce his wife and Cox. He added that he has attended several fundraisers and has met and greeted “as a guest” and enjoys speaking Spanish with voters.
“Hispanic voters in Maryland have long been taken for granted by the Democratic Party. They seem to be neglecting the Latino community every election cycle,” Schifanelli said in an email response to written questions from The Sun. “They really appreciate having someone non-Hispanic who speaks Spanish and we always have a great welcome.”
Democratic State Congresswoman Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk agreed that her party could do more to engage the Hispanic community, especially when it comes to ensuring a more diverse candidate pool. But the vice chair of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus said she has never seen a candidate as dedicated to engaging Latino voters as Wes Moore, of whom she is a member.
She pointed to Unidos Con Wes, the part of the Moore campaign that focuses on Latino voters of which Peña-Melnyk is one of the leaders. She added that Moore had hired a firm to explore engagement with the Latino community and that he planned to have Latinos on his transition team and cabinet if he won the governorship next week.
“From the start of his campaign, he has made it clear that the Latin American community will not only have a seat at the table, but that we will be intimately involved in his campaign,” Peña-Melnyk said.
Maria Robalino, senior adviser to the Moore campaign, said by email that Moore had invested in Spanish media by airing radio spots on Spanish radio stations, placing an op-ed in El Tiempo Latino on access to healthcare healthcare and conducting interviews with Telemundo and Univision. on issues related to the Latino community and Maryland as a whole. A spokesperson said Moore spoke in Spanish for some of the interviews.
Moore’s spokesman, Brian Adam Jones, said the campaign always uses an interpreter at events, “usually a community leader.” Additionally, Jones said Moore “spoke at least some of his remarks in Spanish at every Spanish-speaking event we engaged with.”
The latest census showed significant growth in Baltimore’s Hispanic community. The census reported about 46,000 Hispanic residents in the city, an increase of almost 77% since 2010. This means that Hispanic and Latino residents make up about 8% of Baltimore’s population. By comparison, black residents make up 58%, white residents 28%, and Asian residents 4%.
Baltimore County increased its Hispanic population by 82.3%. In the state, the Latino population has grown from 8% to 12%.
Baltimore elected its first Latino council member of 2020, Odette Ramos, a Puerto Rican Democrat who grew up in New Mexico.
“I think people can’t ignore us anymore,” Ramos said. “You can’t just generalize here and put us all in the same bucket. We are a diverse population within our population, aren’t we? Not only do we come from different countries, we have different backgrounds, we have different religions… and that’s OK. It’s a good thing, actually.
Ramos works with the outreach group Latinos Con Wes.
Ramos said she’s not surprised that Cox is trying to reach out to the Hispanic population, as some religious Latinos are anti-abortion, like Cox. Notably, according to the New York Times/Siena College poll of Latino voters, a majority of Latino voters think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Kimia Turcios, a Republican voter from Bethesda, disagrees. Turcios, an immigrant from Honduras who declined to share her age, said abortion was the most important issue for her because she regretted her own abortion.
Turcios thinks it’s “not strange at all” that she is a Latina, an immigrant who votes red.
“It’s common sense,” she said.
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Lena Carmone, 63, tends to vote Democratic and will vote for Moore in the next election. She identifies as Brazilian, Colombian, Kenyan and Nigerian.
But going forward, Carmone’s vote could be up for grabs. If Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was on the ballot Tuesday, he would be her pick and she would support him for president.
“I identify as a Democrat, but I’m changing my vote,” Carmone said. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve met Republicans who are very successful, they are working very well.”
Latino voters tend to care about the same issues as everyone else, analysts said. For the upcoming elections, concerns about the economy are at the top of the list. Health care is also often a priority.
But another priority, Peña-Melnyk said, is simple: to be seen.
“[They want] to make sure they feel included and matter and aren’t an afterthought,” Peña-Melnyk said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Hannah Gaskill contributed to this article.