The effort to defeat President Donald Trump in Florida and mobilize the Hispanic vote for former Vice President Joe Biden has led to some strange bedfellows.
An anti-Trump political committee, The Lincoln Project, run by current and former Republicans, announced Monday it has joined with three Democrat-leaning groups, including a veteran Latino outreach coordinator for Bernie Sanders, to target Hispanic voters and counter the messaging of the president’s campaign.
The team of former rivals includes Mi Familia Vota, UnidosUS Action Fund, and Nuestro PAC, which was founded by Sanders’ former political adviser, Chuck Rocha. The four groups will host a bipartisan virtual town hall on Wednesday as part of their voter mobilization effort and multimedia marketing campaign.
Together, they say, they can correct the mistakes that each has made over the past 30 years working with Hispanics in Florida, and replicate their successes. Their top message: The disproportionate impact of the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Latino communities and the economic pain that has wrought, said Mike Madrid, co-founder of The Lincoln Project and a veteran of the Jeb Bush and George W. Bush Hispanic outreach efforts.
“The statistics are overwhelming that it’s people of color, Latinos and African Americans specifically, that have taken the largest brunt of the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic,’’ he said. “He’s treating essential workers as less than essential human beings” and “the No. 1 economic issue facing Latinos right now is the pandemic.”
Although Biden maintains an advantage among Hispanic voters across the country, in Florida the margin is in the low single digits according to recent polls, as Cuban-American voters have coalesced in support of Trump.
Madrid said his previous work with more conservative Latinos will also help fill the gaps with segments of Latino communities in Florida who might not see the appeal of Trump’s attacks on Biden, but have not historically seen their interests represented in the Democratic Party.
“I’ve watched from afar. I’ve seen what works and I’ve seen what hasn’t,” he said.
One goal of the campaign, for example, is to counter the president’s messaging to Cubans and Venezuelans on former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
“We believe that if you put up a boogeyman of Fidel Castro, and a real life example of the pandemic which was exacerbated by Trump’s mismanagement, and the economic devastation, for which he has no plan, we’re gonna do quite well with this constituency,’’ Madrid said.
Accompanying the announcement Monday, the Lincoln Project released a new digital ad, “Le Creímos,” — “We believed him” — that underscores the effects of the president’s handling of the coronavirus on Hispanics, uses audio excerpts of the president calling COVID-19 “more deadly than your strenuous flus” and saying: “I wanted to always play it down.”
It is a similar message to that being pushed by Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA and Latino Victory Fund, which announced last week they will air $6 million in Spanish-language ads funded by New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg to target Hispanic voters in Miami, Tampa and Orlando.
And the anti-Trump super PAC Republican Voters Against Trump announced Monday that it will start airing a Spanish language TV ad this week in Florida, comparing the president to Maduro, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Castro.
But this one, a bipartisan effort, puts Republicans like Madrid and Hispanic-American marketing executive and political consultant Lionel Sosa at the same table as Rocha, the former Latino outreach director for Sanders and founder of the largest Latino SuperPAC in the nation.
“If you want to know how bad I want to beat Donald Trump, I’m willing to sit down with guys like Mike Madrid to build a coalition,’’ said Rocha, who worked on U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s successful Miami campaign in 2018. He said to win Florida “takes a multi-layered, multi-lens approach to a very complicated electorate.’’
“We put together a team that looks like the electorate in Florida,’’ he said. “So you have conservatives, liberals, moderates, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and all these different folks who now have come together for a common goal.”
Madrid said that although they’ve “been battling each other for a long time, now we’re sitting down and and sharing ideas.”
For Rocha, that means “reaching Latinos that have never been asked to participate” because both Democrats and Republicans decided “they weren’t a Latino Prime Voter,’’ he said.
“Democrats have got their ass kicked in Florida on a daily basis by Republicans because Democrats don’t even go ask certain sectors of the Latino community,’’ Rocha said.
Targeting infrequent voters
So this year, Nuestro PAC is “dumping 2 million pieces of mail to persuadable Latino voters” in Florida, as well as targeting them with bilingual digital and radio ads, Rocha said. The universe of potential voters includes every infrequent voter and any Latino who registered in the last two years.
“I can’t promise you they’ll read every word, but I know they will at least touch it long enough to take it from their mailbox to their trash bin,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Madrid and the Lincoln Project are focused on messaging to Cubans and Venezuelans. To that end, Sosa has developed half a dozen digital and TV ads the Lincoln Project now has in rotation, Madrid said.
He said some of the ads “are softer touches” but others, such as those targeting Florida’s Cuban community, will adopt the Lincoln Project’s signature irreverent approach, a strategy its organizers say they often use to unnerve the media-savvy president.
It’s an approach that, Madrid suggests, “candidly, I don’t think Democrats can do.”
Madrid said the Hispanic mobilization campaign also focuses on talking to Puerto Ricans by pushing media in both Florida and on the island, where residents don’t have the right to vote in the general election.
“We learned that they’re in touch with each other, more than most folks,’’ said Rick Wilson, the former Republican political consultant turned anti-Trumper who is one of the founders of the Lincoln Project. “You begin to understand, what happens on the island still strongly drives behavior of Puerto Rican voters here on the mainland.”
The effort to push presidential candidates on the island was a strategy also used by Bloomberg who blanketed Puerto Rico with TV ads when he was a candidate ahead of the presidential preference primary election, which island residents can participate in. Biden has published op-eds in the island’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Día.
The key is to find the niches and target voters through radio and television but also through their phones and laptops, Wilson said.
For the last month, the Lincoln Project has been dropping $3.1 million in digital ads in Florida as part of a micro-targeting campaign aimed at voters it believes will decide whether Biden wins Florida: Latinos across the state, suburban women who live around Orlando and Tampa, and Puerto Rican voters mostly in Central Florida, he said.
Similar efforts are underway in three other swing states: Arizona, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
They are also carefully targeting voters considered “softer Republicans” who voted for Trump in 2016 but for Democrats in 2018. But the approach is anything but soft as the ads work hard to pierce news filter bubbles by exploiting anxieties many conservative voters have about Trump.
“An awful lot of this really comes down to the reality that he did not deliver what he promised and Florida voters have been paying a very high price for that,’’ Wilson said.
Working the margins
The investment is modest, compared to the $100 million Florida-focused TV campaign announced earlier this month by Bloomberg’s political committee, and the announcement Monday comes on the same day Bloomberg told the Miami Herald that he’s giving $4 million to grassroots organizations across Florida to help promote Biden by talking with voters in minority communities.
But the approach is to “work the small numbers,” Wilson said, and snatch thousands of persuadable voters in decisive areas with an Electoral College strategy.
“They’re not hard-core progressives. They’re not hard-core Republicans. They are an under-served market that many of them made the choice and voted for Trump in ‘16,’’ he said. “But the cruelty and the incompetence and the COVID and everything else that has sort of shown over time, as a definitional nature to the Trump administration, has driven them away.”
One of the most effective messages, he said, is to talk about the impact of the pandemic on their lives.
“It is the most dominant political issue I’ve seen in my long career,’’ Wilson said, “and it’s reshaped the battlefield at a fundamental level.”
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at email@example.com and @MaryEllenKlas