Latino surrogates of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton opened the Democratic presidential candidates’ battle for Hispanic votes in Florida and Illinois Tuesday, pushing Sanders’ upbringing and economic plans versus Clinton’s work and immigration votes.
And the sides slung mud.
Sanders’ surrogate US. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., painted Clinton as an opportunist who does not appreciate immigrants’ lives, dreams and interests like Sanders. Sanders’ surrogates also criticized Clinton for voting against allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver licenses.
Clinton surrogate U.S. Rep. Luis Guitierrez, D-Ill., portrayed Sanders as someone who abandoned immigration reform 10 years ago while Clinton did not. Her surrogates also criticized Sanders for voting in 2006 for a bill protecting the “Minutemen” movement that had armed civilians patrolling American borders.
At stake, of course, are the hearts and votes of millions of Hispanics, large numbers of whom are Democrats, living in the two huge two states holding primaries next week, Florida and Illinois.
And yet, in dueling telephone press conferences Tuesday, neither camp addressed any Puerto Rico issues that are critical to an estimated million Florida residents who are Puerto Rican, and who are more predominantly Democrat than Cuban-Americans. The issues include the commonwealth’s economic collapse, its overwhelming debts, its residents’ limited access to American social programs, its residents’ inability to vote for president, or the island’s political status.
The two candidates, Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, and Clinton, the former secretary of state, are likely to take up the battle themselves at the Democrats presidential debate Friday at Miami-Dade College, hosted by Univision and the Washington Post.
The Sanders record pushed by Grijalva, former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and two Sanders’ campaign officials, Arturo Carmona and Jeff Weaver, was that he has an authentic understanding of what it is like to grow up in a poor but hard-working and proud immigrant family because he did. And from there they focused on his economic proposals, including for a $15 per hour minimum wage.
“The issue of being authentic in this campaign is resonating very, very strongly in the Latino community,” Grijalva said. “The message of Bernie’s campaign that speaks to opportunity, speaks to the American dream without walls, to self-sufficiency and achievement, and the investment our country has to make in jobs, in reforming our criminal education system and education.”
Clintons’ backers, Gutierrez, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former Department of Labor official Millie Herrera, painted her as someone who has been consistent in working for Latinos her entire career and who has been a strong backer of immigration reform, even when Sanders was voting against it in 2006 and ’07.
“The question Latinos in Florida and around the country have to ask themselves is: where was Sen. Sanders when we needed him? Where was he before he was running for president?” Gutierrez said. “The truth is at the moment when we needed someone to stand up, when immigrants were being demonized, Sen. Sanders was playing for the wrong team. And it’s clear Hillary is the only one we can trust.”
Herrera also denounced Sanders’ claims to be a socialist, saying the word inspires dread among Cuban and many other Hispanic Americans.
Sanders team pointed to his victory in Colorado and close finish in Nevada to declare he has shown strong appeal to Hispanics.
Clinton’s team pointed to Texas, where she trounced Sanders, and to polls showing she has far more support than he.