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The Battle for Latino Voters in the Rust Belt

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Democrats should be worried about losing Latino support—and not just in the obvious places.

About the author: Geraldo Cadava, a history professor at Northwestern University, is the author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump.

MILWAUKEE—On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in May, I visited the evangelical pastor Marty Calderon at God Touch, his church in Milwaukee’s Lincoln Village neighborhood. A gentle, quiet presence, Calderon has become one of the most sought-after Latino endorsers for Republican office seekers in Wisconsin, having spent years working to build Latino support for the GOP here. It hasn’t been easy. Until recently, to his great frustration, national Republicans all but ignored Milwaukee and its Latino population, he says.

But these days, Calderon is at least “cautiously optimistic.” In 2020, the Trump campaign opened an office on Milwaukee’s historically Latino South Side, doling out signs and selling Latinos for Trump hats; Calderon offered a prayer that year at the start of a Trump rally in Waukesha. Last September, the Republican National Committee set up a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee, along with others in South Florida and Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. And in April, the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced a seven-figure initiative—“Operación ¡Vamos!,” or “Operation Let’s Go!”—to court Latino voters in Wisconsin and eight other swing states.

The immediate goal is to build on growing Latino support for the GOP through ground-level outreach ahead of the midterm elections this fall. The efforts are still in their early stages. “If the Republican Party stays true to its word and stays long-term, things could change,” Calderon told me, with a note of skepticism. But the trend lines among Latino voters suggest that Democrats should be worried about losing Latino support—not just in Texas or Florida, the usual states for Latino outreach, but across the country, including here in the Midwest.

The Republican Party’s Wisconsin outreach is part of a larger push to capitalize on former President Donald Trump’s 10-point gain among Latino voters from 2016 to 2020, and attract more of those voters to the GOP in the long run. If it comes to pass, the Latino “awakening” in Wisconsin could mean the defeat of Democratic Governor Tony Evers and the reelection of Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who are both expected to face tight races this fall. More broadly, Latino voters in Wisconsin represent the coming together of two of the most important themes in U.S. politics over the past decade: the fight over Rust Belt states that have gone from blue to purple, and the growing importance of the Latino vote. In Wisconsin, these conversations are one and the same.

Geraldo L. Cadava: There’s no such thing as the ‘the Latino vote’

The Latino population in Wisconsin, like in just about everywhere else around the country, is on the rise. In the 2020 U.S. census, Latinos for the first time were Wisconsin’s largest minority group, making up 7.1 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent in 2010. The growth rate of the Latino population from 2010 to 2020 was nearly 10 times faster than that of the state’s........

© The Atlantic

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