Senate candidate Ruben Gallego could save Biden in Arizona, poll reveals

By The Guardian (World News) | Created at 2024-07-10 13:10:25 | Updated at 2024-07-21 20:28:36 1 week ago


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After a dismal debate performance that has thrown the viability of Joe Biden’s candidacy into question, Democrats worry he will drag other candidates on the ballot down with him. But in Arizona, there is hope that the strength of the US Senate candidate Ruben Gallego will have the opposite effect, boosting Biden.

Equis Research, a Democratic group started by Obama administration alumni, privately released a poll in May that showed Gallego, who is facing the former TV anchor and Trump acolyte Kari Lake in the Senate race, had the highest support among Democrats running for Senate in six key states compared to the president, outperforming Biden by 13 points among Latinos.

The previously unreported poll, shared with the Guardian by a source who was briefed, showed Biden’s Latino support at 54%, lagging his 2020 showing of 63%. Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his plans to deport millions should he lead the country in 2025, has continued to see a rise with Hispanics that began in 2020, and was up by about 10 points since then, the poll found.

The poll of 2,339 registered voters covering 12 battleground states, with 250 respondents in Arizona, offered similar findings to a poll of Latino voters released in June by Voto Latino.

It surveyed 2,000 swing state Hispanics, including 400 in Arizona. It found one in five Latino voters are considering a third party candidate, and similar to previous Equis polling, it showed that Robert Kennedy Jr could harm Biden’s path in battleground states. In Arizona, Biden was at 45% support with Latinos, compared with 33% for Trump, and 13% for Kennedy.

Biden has sought to turn the page and stabilize his candidacy in the wake of the debate, receiving support on Monday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair, Representative Nanette Díaz Barragán, and deputy caucus chair, Adriano Espaillat.

While Equis found Gallego, a US representative first elected in 2014, well-liked among Latino voters in terms of favorability, it also found that Lake had the lowest net rating among GOP Senate candidates polled. Voto Latino similarly found her viewed poorly by Hispanics, with her net favorability at -32 points.

This dynamic in the state leads some to believe that it could be Gallego that lifts Biden’s boat.

“Gallego is going to drag Biden across the line in Arizona, I’ve been saying that for a while,” said Mike Madrid, a longtime Republican consultant and author of The Latino Century. “Where Blacks in South Carolina saved Biden’s fortunes in 2020, Arizona Latinos could save his presidency in 2024.”

A new Democratic group is coming to Arizona to aid those efforts, bringing with it a data-focused approach. Mi Vecino announced its $1m campaign exclusively to the Guardian, a push it says will not duplicate what other groups are doing, but is instead a surgical strike in four counties that aims to boost Biden and Gallego. While Biden won Arizona by less than 11,000 votes, turning the state blue for the first time since Bill Clinton in 1996, Mi Vecino aims to target a universe of 194,000 Latino voters to double down in some rural and harder to reach counties.

Asked how Biden and Gallego’s fortunes are linked, Alex Berrios, one of the group’s co-founders, argued that it is not only possible but “essential” that Gallego’s popularity helps Biden in the state.

“What is likely to happen as we move closer to the election is the gap between Gallego and Biden is likely to close,” Berrios said. “The work we do will help determine whether Biden brings Gallego down or Gallego brings Biden up.”

In its target counties, the group is eyeing 41,000 Latinos in Yuma, 14,000 in Cochise, 121,000 in Pima, and 18,000 in Santa Cruz.

Rural Yuma, for example, was nearly two-thirds Hispanic in the 2020 US Census, serving not only as Arizona’s largest majority-Latino county, but also the 8th largest majority-Hispanic county in the nation by population.

Gallego, who once touted progressive bona fides, has this cycle sought to remake his image, leaning into his biography in television ads Democrats and Republicans see as effective.

The former US Marine and Iraq combat veteran who was raised by a single mom is asking voters to see him as an Arizonan first, one who fights for issues they care about – not for Biden and his mixed record. On the trail, Gallego has been highlighting affordability on everything from housing to drug prices, as well as “water security” in a state affected by the receding Colorado River.

While the Gallego campaign declined to discuss the polls, it stressed that from abortion to defending democracy and election security, its message is that Gallego defended those freedoms in Iraq, and Lake wants to take those rights away.

Lake’s campaign declined to comment, but it is planning ads attacking Gallego over Biden’s health, the Washington Post reported.

Gallego, who is of Colombian and Mexican descent, has leaned into his Hispanic background and military service, believing his values resonate with Latino voters who too are looking to achieve their American Dream.

Berrios, a Puerto Rican and Cuban former boxer, who has spoken to Gallego about the state of the race, said Mi Vecino believes it can mobilize 13,000 new Latino voters for Gallego in Yuma alone.

woman holds mic on stage in bar-sized venue
Kari Lake hosts a Latinos for Lake campaign rally in Tucson on 26 June. Photograph: Rebecca Noble/Reuters

“Gallego is overperforming the president right now, while President Biden is struggling with Latinos,” he said. “We’re seeing slippage in Yuma county; the specific concern is men.”

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Democrats have eyed erosion of support from Hispanic men for years, but this cycle was the first time the Democratic party acknowledged its issue with them.

Between the Arizona Senate election and the presidential race, a furious push to reach Hispanic men through sports and prizefighting is well under way. Gallego marked Cinco de Mayo with a watch party for the Canelo Alvarez fight against Jaime Munguía, with big-screen TVs and a truck serving birria tacos. Lake held a Latinos for Lake event on 26 June featuring the former UFC champion Tito Ortiz at a town hall in Tucson.

The former president, who recently launched “Latino Americans for Trump”, has targeted young men and men of color in public and under-the-radar efforts that Democrats worry they haven’t effectively countered.

Days after being found guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in his hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, Trump attended a UFC fight in New Jersey, drawing cheers from the crowd and a shoutout in the ring from the fighter Sean Strickland, who posed for a selfie with him.

“President Trump, you’re the man, bro,” he said. “It’s a damn travesty what they’re doing to you.”

Devon Murphy-Anderson, a Mi Vecino co-founder, says Trump “is using the type of strategy with men that Democrats cannot compete with because Democrats are not in the same places Trump is. They’re being very strategic and very innovative in how they’re connecting with male voters.”

With an eye towards Latino men, the Biden team began an early commitment to paid media campaigns airing alongside NFL Sunday Night Football on Telemundo and Liga MX soccer on Univision in Spanish and “Spanglish” across seven critical battleground states last fall.

It unveiled a seven-figure ad blitz around the popular soccer tournament Copa América, which includes watch parties, Biden jerseys, and other swag.

Biden campaign leadership in Arizona said what separates the campaign in the state is the resources being brought to bear in the community. Among the eight field offices, one is in the heavily Latino Maryvale area of Phoenix and another is in Nogales, a more rural community. Future offices will be in South Phoenix and Yuma.

The campaign, which said it had identified more than 30,000 Arizona voters who prefer to be engaged in Spanish, said it had been using the Reach app since late last year, allowing supporters and volunteers to reach out to their friends and family to boost Biden.

Sean McEnerney, the Biden Arizona state campaign manager, said the president was fighting to lower the cost of housing, groceries, and gas.

“Latinos want a strong leader creating jobs and fighting for safer communities, not a white-collar criminal like Donald Trump who has sold out working people his entire life,” he said.

Mi Vecino will try to add to existing infrastructure, such as the well-respected community group Lucha Arizona, which fought the state’s anti-immigration bill SB1070 a decade ago.

Lucha told the Guardian it had been in the field since March, with a $1.5m digital program and plans to knock on 1m doors.

“If there is concern about Latinos and Biden and Arizona being part of the path to 270 [electoral votes],” said Alejandra Gomez, Lucha’s executive director, “we need to see the investment in Arizona.”

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