Pennsylvania Latinos were pivotal for Biden in the state

As many as 6 in 10 Latinos in Pennsylvania supported Biden, according to exit polling.


Voters wait in a long line outside of the Heinz History Center to vote on Election Day in Pittsburgh.Michael Swensen / for NBC NewsNov. 7, 2020, 1:07 PM ESTBy Suzanne Gamboa

Latinos are a small part of Pennsylvania’s electorate but came out strong for Joe Biden and were pivotal in helping deliver the state he needed to become the winner in the presidential race on Saturday.

Exit polling showed Latinos were about 4 percent of all voters who showed up at the polls this election. As many as 6 in 10 Latino voters cast their ballots for him. President Donald Trump got 35 percent of Latino votes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won about three-quarters of the Latino vote in Pennsylvania and Trump got 22 percent.

A little more than half a million Latinos — about half of the state’s Hispanic residents — are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania. Puerto Ricans are the dominant Latino group, followed by Dominican Americans and Mexicans.

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“We already knew that since the last presidential election, there were 300,000 new Latino voters in Pennsylvania, and we know that based on the results we have seen that without those folks coming and participating, maybe the result wouldn’t have been the same,” said Thaís Carrero, Pennsylvania director of CASA in Action, a progressive group that does political organizing around Latino and immigrant rights advocacy, which endorsed Biden in August.

The group knocked on doors, held “caravanas” (car caravans), carried out phone banking and targeted misinformation that mostly were centered on voting and registration processes. Its work did not get a lot of outside investment and was largely grassroots, she said.

The group also provided translation and language services to voters who are in counties that have not had many people who are more comfortable voting in Spanish and so are not required to provide bilingual materials.

“We’ve been building for the last four years this movement, making sure the folks know that this presidency is bad and dangerous for our communities, and that they had all the tools they need to come out,” Carrero said, “whether by mail or in person to vote.”

Pennsylvania has seen large Hispanic population growth, a 274 percent increase from 2010 to 2019, while its white population has declined.

Some of that growth has included Puerto Ricans who fled the island’s drought, financial crisis, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and the still active earthquakes. The relocations have even led to some Latino presence in the state’s Amish country in south-central Pennsylvania.

“I have been in Pennsylvania — I’m Puerto Rican — for five years and this is my first presidential vote ever,” Carrero said.

Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and not a state, Puerto Ricans who live on the island cannot vote in the U.S. presidential elections. But like Carrero, Puerto Ricans who relocated to the 50 states are able to vote, and the Democrats and groups like CASA focused on turning them out for Biden, as did his campaign.

Carrero said her organization and its members made the “mistreatment of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria” and “abuse toward our immigrant community and the criminalization of immigration” their focus as they did outreach.

The impact of Covid-19 also was a priority, including in the organization which saw some of its members or their family members die after contracting the virus. Carrero said that helped connect the dots for voters with long-standing inequities in schools, health care coverage and employment, and to connect them with people in power.

Latino leaders had expressed worry about the Biden campaign’s Hispanic outreach in the state. The Biden campaign focused its work in Lehigh Valley, the area that includes Allentown, but also in the Reading and Harrisburg area, largely through virtual and digital events, the campaign said.

Biden also won the endorsement of popular Pennsylvania Latino radio host Vic Martinez, known on the airwaves as VJ Mar. The endorsement for Biden was the first the radio program has given in its 17 years, Martinez told NBC News.

His shows broadcast on a network of stations in Reading and Allentown, where they are known as La Mega and in Philadelphia, on the station known as La Calle—all areas with sizable Latino populations.

Groups such as Make the Road and Mi Familia Vota also targeted young Latino voters in the state.