A Progressive Latina Thinks Democrats Are Blowing It with Hispanic Voters

Looking to sew up Padilla’s vote, Ramirez keeps up a steady patter in Spanish. When Padilla tells her his parents are undocumented, Ramirez mentions that her husband is a DACA recipient and then quickly pivots to the Illinois law she helped pass as a state representative that provides health care for all low-income immigrants over 55, including the undocumented. Padilla did not know about the program, and Ramirez says his family might be eligible. Then, Ramirez rewinds the conversation back to Latino representation in suburbs, the lack of which she believes keeps “hard-working families” from accessing much-needed resources.

Padilla and a dozen other Hispanic men whom Ramirez met in Addison that Saturday morning promised to vote for her. Padilla, a first-time voter naturalized in December 2021, explained to me that immigration is ultimately a pocketbook issue. “My father pays taxes,” he said. “But because of his immigration status, he cannot retire. He cannot get social security. He gets nothing.”

“For Latinos,” Ramirez tells me later. “Those who are well-connected get it, and those of us who work really hard oftentimes don’t.”

This is Ramirez’s playbook: hammering on Latinos’ hunger for better political representation and connecting her progressive economic platform to her own personal story as “the daughter of two Guatemalan immigrants working factory jobs.” Ramirez’s parents are how she bonds emotionally and politically with voters. Her mother, she says, “nearly died in the Rio Grande,” pregnant and crossing the river carrying Ramirez, and her 71-year-old father, she says, “can’t retire with dignity” because “he needs to get another job to afford his Medicare supplementals.”

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Ramirez doesn’t deny the statistical evidence of the shift in Latino voting.

Across the country, Latino voters are abandoning the Democratic Party. An October Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows that the Democratic lead among registered Latino voters shrunk by 17 percentage points, compared to their 40-point advantage in 2018. Latino men — especially middle-aged working-class men like Padilla living in suburbs — are leading the trend. In June, Republican Mayra Flores flipped her Texas congressional district for the first time in a century. She called herself the “Democrats’ worst nightmare.”

But the lesson Ramirez took from Flores’ victory was not that Democrats should run to the middle. Quite the opposite.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters favor $15 minimum wage and government involvement in health care, according to the Pew Research Center. A UnidosUS poll from August shows Latino voters in major swing states put affordable housing and the high cost of living as leading concerns. “We have seen over the last few years the housing issue rising in the priority agenda as its own thing,” said Clarissa Martinez, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS. “In a couple of states, it is among the top five concerns.”

Joshua Ulibarri, a Democratic strategist at Lake Research Partners, said Democrats have a perception problem with Latino voters who often view them as “weak” and ineffective, while associating “strength” and “getting things done” with Republicans. “That’s not what they see with Delia,” Ulibarri said. “They see an assertive campaign orientated around affordable housing, health care and education. That is pretty exciting for voters.”

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Ramirez believes her economic progressivism explains how she defeated a moderate Latino in the primary — by 40 points in the city of Chicago and 47 percentage points in the purple suburb of DuPage County. And it’s how she won comfortably in the general election.

Jose Padilla turned out for Ramirez on Nov. 8, voting for the first time since he moved to the U.S. 21 years ago. Ramirez won by 31 points in a district where Democrats have a 20-point advantage, according to Cook Partisan Voter Index. While Republicans did better than they did in 2020 (her moderate Republican opponent Justin Burau told me he is “a John McCain admirer”), Ramirez eked out a 51-49 victory in DuPage, where she won the county’s Hispanic-majority precincts with a 14-point margin, according to the analysis based on 2020 Census and precinct-level data.

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