In this July 15, 2020, file photo Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., puts on a face mask as she walks with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., right, at UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta.
( AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
Tanzina Vega: Two runoff elections in Georgia next month will decide control of the US Senate. In November, neither Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, nor Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, secured enough votes to win the election, and a second senate race between Republican David Perdue, and Democrat Jon Ossoff, is headed to a runoff as well. Now, political organizations are trying to woo voters in the state, particularly, Latino voters, the number of which is growing. Although the majority of Latino voters in Georgia voted for Democrats in the 2020 election, conservatives are pushing to win over those voters for the Republican candidates.
Marcela Valdes is a contributing writer for The New York Times magazine, and she joins me now. Marcela, thanks for being with us.
MarcelaValdes: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina: What's the population of Latinos look like in Georgia? Who are we talking about here?
Marcela: There are about a million Latinos now living in Georgia, and about 8% of Georgians now speak Spanish in their home.
Tanzina: Are we talking about, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans? Who are we talking about?
Marcela: In Georgia the makeup of the Latinos is actually mostly Mexican-American. Which makes it very different from Florida, which is mostly a Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and South American population. In Georgia, we're talking about people who have come in from other parts of the United States, or directly from Mexico usually to work either in the agricultural industry, especially the poultry industry, or in the carpet industry, or in construction.
One thing that might be important to know about this population is that, they really recruited a lot of them to come to Georgia for working in jobs. There was recruitment in Mexico, companies recruiting people from Mexico to come finish construction jobs particularly, for example, before the 1996 summer Olympics in Georgia, and also to come work in the poultry factories.
Tanzina: Was this a vote that was decisive in 2020, in the presidential election, now that the Georgia votes have been counted?
Marcela: It's possible, the margin between Biden and Trump was less than 13,000 votes, and there were 160,000 Latino votes cast in Georgia. How those broke off, you can't ever definitively say all these 13,000 votes were Latinos, or they were African-Americans, or they were Suburban mothers, but there's a chance that a lot of those were Latino votes that made the difference.
Tanzina: We're talking about the upcoming elections in Georgia with Marcela Valdes from The New York Times magazine. This is The Takeaway. Marcela, politics in Georgia in the South, how do they differ from where Latinos have fit historically in the political realm of the United States?
Marcela: One political scientist I spoke with in Georgia said to me, in the south, for hundreds of years the history of politics has really been a Black and white story, and this influx of Latinos into the state mixes that dynamic up a bit. Historically, the large majority of whites and Georgia have voted Republican, and the large majority of African-Americans have voted Democratic. Latinos are a little bit less predictable. Although the majority of them voted for Biden, you can look at their primary participation because Georgia has open primaries.
You can see, for example, in 2016 about half the Latinos voted in a Republican primary, and about half of them voted in the Democratic primary. That's a 50/50 split, so how they can vote in any particular election, it's hard to get a bead on exactly where they would vote. I think that means the voter outreach efforts and persuasion efforts are particularly important.
Tanzina: Let's talk about some of those. The one of those outreach efforts is coming towards a conservative, and potentially Republican Latinos in the state, and that's from the LIBRE Initiative. Let's talk about what they're doing on the ground, Marcela.
Marcela: The LIBRE Initiative is a National Organization that was built with help by the Charles Koch Institute. They are now essentially the Latino-Spanish-speaking arm of Americans for Prosperity. They have had an office in Georgia for a couple of years now, they've gotten particularly more serious about it in past year and a half or so. During the 2016 general election, that office was not particularly active. They didn't endorse any candidates; LIBRE didn't. Americans for Prosperity did, but LIBRE didn't.
Now in the runoff, LIBRE has endorsed Perdue, and they are sending staffers and volunteers from all their other national locations, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, for example, coming in to knock on doors and to make phone calls that target Latino conservatives to help turn them out for the runoff election in January.
Tanzina: How effective, it'll be hard to tell until there's actually election here, but do those efforts appear to be gaining any traction right now?
Marcela: It's too soon to say whether these efforts are gaining traction, but what I can say is that I think that in the past their efforts have made a pretty significant difference. They were very active in Florida this year, calling conservatives in the Miami Dade area in the southern Florida area. Also, up near Orlando, their efforts helped elect several people, they were in the Florida State House. I think that they have a very good track record of one identifying Latinos who would be sympathetic to their message. Which is very important because those Latinos might be less than a majority, so finding the right people that they want to hear their message, and then motivating those people to actually go out and cast votes.
Tanzina: Marcela, I know we've been talking about the LIBRE Initiative, the conservative efforts here to get Latinos out to vote. What about liberal and progressive groups in the state, what have they been doing?
Marcela: In terms of targeting Latinos, the other organizations that I looked at in Georgia were non-partisan organizations. LIBRE is technically a non-partisan organization, but they are conservative issues oriented one. These other two non-partisan organizations that I was looking at, the Latino Community Fund, and the Georgia Association of Elected Officials, don't have any policy platforms that they're trying to push, and so they are really working hard to turn out Latinos. In fact, they are a big part of the reason why so many Latinos are registered to vote in Georgia now.
Since 2008, the number of Latinos registered to vote in Georgia has more than doubled, and that is in large part because of these efforts of these two organizations, but they are not trying to turn out either progressives or conservatives. They're just trying to increase Latino participation in Georgia politics.
Tanzina: Marcela as we know, with increased participation particularly of communities of color, there often comes voter suppression. Have we seen that in the state of Georgia with Latino voters in particular?
Marcela: I did hear especially about one law that was really affecting Latinos in the state. Whether it's intention was discriminatory, I can't say, but it's effect certainly is. It's the exact match procedure for voter registrations in Georgia. For example, that means that if you have to last names, as many Latinos do, if your last name is say, Valdes Lopez, and on your driver's license it says Valdes' Lopez, and when you register to vote you just write Valdes space Lopez, then your voter registration could be rejected because of a hyphen means that it's not an exact match. That law then has a disproportionate effect on people who have non-standard American last names.
It's gotten to the point that Kaleo, for example, now goes to naturalization ceremonies, and they get people to register to vote, and they staple their copies of their naturalization papers with their voter registration, so that they can't be rejected because they have proof of citizenship there.
Tanzina: Marcela Valdes is a contributing writer for The New York Times magazine. Marcela, thanks so much.
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