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Desire for Drastic Change Driving Texas Latino Voters to Embrace 'Tío Bernie' Sanders
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=53479"><span class="small">James Barragán, Gromer Jeffers Jr., Allie Morris and María Méndez, The Dallas Morning News</span></a>   
Friday, 28 February 2020 13:56

Excerpt: "Clad in 'Tío Bernie' shirts and plastering Bernie Sanders' face on to the popular Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate in memes, Latino voters in Texas are 'feeling the bern' for the Democratic front-runner to be their party's presidential nominee."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, smiles while the crowd chants his name during a campaign event on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (photo: Nick Wagner/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, smiles while the crowd chants his name during a campaign event on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (photo: Nick Wagner/AP)


Desire for Drastic Change Driving Texas Latino Voters to Embrace 'Tío Bernie' Sanders

By James Barragán, Gromer Jeffers Jr., Allie Morris and María Méndez, The Dallas Morning News

28 February 20


But not everyone is convinced. Some are worried about his identification as a Democratic Socialist and how he would pay for his policies. Others worry about his immigration record.

lad in “Tío Bernie” shirts and plastering Bernie Sanders’ face on to the popular Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate in memes, Latino voters in Texas are “feeling the bern” for the Democratic front-runner to be their party’s presidential nominee.

“The Tío Bernie shirts are hot right now,” said Carlos Martínez , a 44-year-old activist and photographer in Austin. “We’ve been calling him ‘Tío Bernie,’ ‘El Viejito.’ ‘El Abuelito.’”

But more importantly than the familial monikers, Martínez said, it’s Sanders’ policies of “Medicare for All”, free college tuition at public universities and a federal guarantee for jobs that pay a living wage that appeals to Latino voters, especially younger progressives.

“When you raise the bottom of the barrel, you raise the people who have been left at the bottom of the barrel, and that’s a lot of Latinos,” he said. “These three policy points will overwhelmingly affect more Latinos than any other policy points from any other candidate that’s running.”

Latino politicians in Texas are less impressed.

Sanders has gotten little love from the Texas congressional delegation or state legislators. Instead, some of the state’s biggest Latino politicians have thrown their support behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who leads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said Sanders does not have a winning message for November when Democrats are trying to win the Texas House for the first time in two decades.

“If your message is ‘the economy is really good and we’re going to completely overhaul it’ -- that’s not a winner. Certainly not in the suburbs where Democrats have been making gains,” he said. “We picked up 12 seats in the Legislature, we’re close to speakership right now and I think Bernie Sanders jeopardizes all that. I talk to older Latinos all the time and ... you hear from them ‘too radical.’”

But Sanders supporters say they want drastic change.

“We need somebody that has that kind of integrity and backbone to stand up to the establishment and that will go in as president and not select the same revolving door that has gotten us to where we’re at,” Martínez said.

Lydia Camarillo, president of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, which focuses on engaging Latinos in politics, said she was not surprised that Sanders was doing well with Latino voters. Sanders’ main support has come from young voters, and a large portion of young voters in Texas are Latinos, she said.

Moreover, Sanders’ message of jobs, affordable college and free health care appeals to a Latino population that has been left behind in those areas.

“Our Latino youth is quickly becoming a majority not just here in Texas but the U.S. as a whole,” said Christine Bolaños, communications director for Jolt Action, a group that works to involve young Latinos in politics and has endorsed Sanders. “While they’re growing in population and voter power, they’re increasingly inundated in debt and struggling with access to care. It automatically makes them gravitate towards someone who appears to address their priorities.”

That message resonates with Millicent Olivarez, a 28-year-old Sanders volunteer in Brownsville. She recently graduated from college and now has over $20,000 in student loan debt. She worked in retail to pay her way through school. Those jobs meant she didn’t have time to do internships, a factor now hurting her job search.

"To have a campaign that is basically telling you, 'We are going to tax the rich, we are going to make them help us, we are all going to be on the same level, all be equal,' I think that's what you want," she said. "I think that is why he appeals so much."

Sanders’ ability to win over Latino voters had been questioned after his strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are predominantly white. But Sanders’ performance in the Nevada caucuses has beat back many of those criticisms.

Entrance polls by CNN showed him winning 54% of the Latino vote in Nevada, most of it from younger voters. He also won 40% of the Latino vote in New Hampshire, which was a much smaller portion of the overall vote there.

Sanders hopes to duplicate that support in Texas, a much larger state almost nine times the population of Nevada and where the Latino population is spread across the state.

During his 2016 primary run against Clinton, Sanders got only 33% of the Latino vote in Texas, according to a New York Times exit poll.

But since then, Sanders has built out his support among Latino voters by keeping organizers on the ground to push his message, his campaign said. He’s used Spanish-language ads and has reached out to working Latino families attracted to his fight against corporations that exploit their employees.

In 2016, Sanders’ appeal was personified by “Bernie Bros” -- young white men who were overly aggressive on social media. But his campaign now boasts of a “multi-generational, multi-racial coalition.”

“The main reason many of those communities don’t vote is because nobody asked them to participate,” said Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sanders. “If you talk to them, if you reach out to them, they will show up.”

A new poll by Univision news showed that Sanders had doubled his support among Latino registered voters in Texas since September. The poll published Friday showed Sanders had the support of 31% of Latino registered voters with 81% of them supporting his signature Medicare for all policy.

Bloomberg came in second in the poll with 23% of registered Latino voters, with Biden in third at 19%.

Unlike traditional campaigns, Sanders is not relying on endorsements from the state’s established politicians. Instead, he relies on neighborhood organizers to put on block walks that sometimes net hundreds of volunteers, said Austin City Council member Greg Casar, who supports Sanders.

“That authenticity means a lot, especially to voters of color who are use to hearing from politicians who make promises and don’t stand up for communities of color throughout the rest of the year,” said Casar, who recently block-walked in his working class district which has a large immigrant population. “It took me a while to believe [a Sanders win] was possible but that everyday working people believed, that’s when it becomes easier.”

Not everyone is convinced.

Salvador Salinas, a veteran from Brownsville who is almost 70, is voting for Biden. He said Sanders hasn’t adequately explained how he will pay for his health care plan and worries that he describes himself as a Democratic Socialist.

"I am a Democrat, I vote Democrat,” Salinas said. “He hasn’t proved to me that he isn’t a socialist.”

Anchía, who also supports Biden, said he too is concerned about how Sanders would pay for all of his ambitious policies.

“How do you pay for it?” he said. “Even Sen. Sanders has had difficulty explaining how we meet that price tag.”

And Anchía, a fierce defender of immigrant rights at the statehouse, said Sanders has glossed over his vote against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, which Biden and then Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supported.

“We could have made so much progress,” he said. “That wasn’t helpful.”

With a still-crowded race heading into next week’s Super Tuesday with 14 states holding primaries, some Democrats may be waiting for the results of South Carolina’s election on Saturday before casting their votes. Biden is expected to perform well there, giving a boost to a more centrist candidate to challenge Sanders for the nomination to provide what they think may be a better match-up against Trump in the general election.

But Stella Rouse, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who studies Latino politics, said she does not foresee Sanders having trouble winning the Latino vote if he ultimately becomes the nominee.

“If he solidifies his front-runner status, there will be a segment of older Latinos who will say, ‘I’ll vote for anybody that’s not Trump,’” she said.

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