California Recall Stokes Dem Fears of Latino Defection

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.) speaks at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, Calif. September 14, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

While Governor Gavin Newsom survived the California recall election Wednesday, winning in a landslide, exit polling suggests Latinos in the state are gradually moving away from their traditional home in the Democratic party.

While the majority of Latinos turned out for Newsom, rejecting the recall 60 to 40 percent, his margins decreased from the 64 percent of Latinos he won in his first gubernatorial run and now mirror his support among white voters.

The decline in Latino support for Democrats isn’t limited to California: former President Trump dramatically expanded his vote-share among the group in South Florida and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in 2020.

Sixty-three percent of people of color selected “No” on the recall question, whereas 59 percent of white voters answered the same, the New York Times reported. The narrowing gap should serve as a warning sign for California Democrats, according to some activists.

While many pollsters dismissed the Latino defection to Trump in 2020 as a fluke, the California recall election offers further evidence for the emergence of a larger pattern. Fifty-four percent of Cuban Americans voted for Trump in 2016 and 62 percent voted for Trump in 2020, Politico reported. Many Cuban-Americans either escaped or are descendants of those who lived under the Castro communist regime.

One Democratic strategist says that he doesn’t believe the shift can be attributed to the Republican platform suddenly resonating with Latinos, but he recognizes this group may be experiencing some degree of political realignment.

“Donald Trump got a historic number of Latino votes in 2020, and you can claim it was because of this or because of that, but it’s not like Larry Elder broke through for these folks. There is something else going on,” said Michael Trujillo, a Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist told NBC News. 

Latinos’ waning support for Democrats may suggest the party is missing this group’s priorities. Nearly a quarter of small businesses in California are owned by Latinos, according to the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.

The recall movement was born in protest to Newsom’s mismanagement of the pandemic, which brought prolonged lockdowns and invasive COVID restrictions that were especially hostile to California’s small businesses. Disgruntled residents also demanded a referendum on Newsom’s leadership for the deterioration of the state at large, marked by rampant crime and homelessness, exorbitant cost of living and taxation, and generally declining quality of life.

Republican candidates in certain minority-heavy districts have ramped up their appeals to voters of color, accusing Democrats of taking ftheir support for granted, pandering to them with flattering rhetoric and government benefits while ignoring their opposition to certain progressive priorities on issues like abortion and school choice. With the recall election, it appears some of the Republican wake-up calls are registering with Latinos.

“We’re seeing something happen in blue state California, where a certain segment of the Latino population is trending in the wrong direction,” Trujillo said.

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