By Marcelo G. Wheelock
Atlanta, Dec 30 (efe-epa).- Democrats want to repeat the formula that led them to victory in the Nov. 3 presidential election in Georgia and they are relying on the local Hispanic vote in the crucial runoffs for the state’s two US Senate seats in early January, races that will decide which party holds the majority in the upper house.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have redoubled their efforts to secure the decisive support of the Latino community, which – along with African Americans in Georgia – formed a coalition that helped Joe Biden defeat President Donald Trump in the state and nationwide.
And they know that the numbers are in their favor: 160,000 Hispanics voted in the November election in Georgia, an unprecedented figure in the southeastern and, for decades, traditionally Republican state, and almost 70 percent of them cast their votes for Biden, according to data compiled by the Latino Decisions political research firm.
In the runoff elections on Jan. 5 – which have captured nationwide attention because if Democrats manage to win both races, ousting the Republican incumbents, they would acquire control of the Senate – estimates are that there are more than 250,000 Latinos registered to vote in Georgia, a political force that could spell the difference in contests that all voter surveys indicate will be tight.
“Definitely, the Democrats are relying once again on the support of the Hispanic population, which is a determining vote, in contrast to what occurred in Florida, where we have groups of Hispanics who definitely are part of the tough nucleus of Republicans and Trump,” political observer and international consultant Tatiana Benavides told EFE.
The campaigns of Ossoff and Warnock, who are seeking to unseat the GOP’s David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively, have organized assorted events with the Hispanic community and with Latino political figures, including someday presidential hopeful Julian Castro and former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, as well as with local politicos like state lawmakers Pedro Marin and Brenda Lopez.
In recent weeks, Georgia has also seen an unending parade of Latino stars like actresses Kate del Castillo, Eva Longoria and America Ferrera trooping around the state, along with musicians with La Original Banda El Limon, who a few days ago sponsored a party in Norcross, right in the heart of the Hispanic community, to call upon them to get out and vote Democratic in the runoffs.
“The strategy here is not only to count on the African American vote, which was key in the presidential elections, but also on this community, which has been growing enormously. I think that this could be a newly strategic combination for the senatorial election in January,” Benavides said.
On Wednesday, Ossoff took part in a campaign event in the parking lot of an Hispanic supermarket in the city of Marietta, in the northwestern part of the Atlanta metro area, where he responded to questions from members of the Hispanic community, most of them young people.
At the event, which was attended by about 100 people, Ossoff – an investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker – promised that if he wins his race to support the so-called “Dreamers” (migrants brought to the US illegally as children) and to work in Congress to push for comprehensive immigration reform with a “path to citizenship” for undocumented migrants living in the US.
The Republican candidates, on contrast, seem resigned to not garnering Hispanic support, given that they have made no visible moves toward that community and their campaigns do not even have Web pages in Spanish, although the Democratic ones do.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, has been one of the few national Latino figures who has campaigned for Perdue and Loeffler, although on his trip to Georgia, the Cuban-American lawmaker did not direct his remarks toward the local Latino audience.
“It’s a mistake not to take Hispanics into account, but I think that it’s part of Perdue and Loeffler’s strategy. For them, Latinos are not a priority. Their priority is the Republican base, which is anti-immigrant,” Latino Decisions policy director Albert Morales told EFE.
Jerry Gonzalez, the founder and executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), said that the Latino vote will be “decisive” in these elections, as it was in November.
“The Latino vote will be rather powerful. We have 250,000 voters,” Gonzalez told EFE.
That figure is significantly greater than the 88,000 votes that separated Perdue from Ossoff in the first electoral round, in which Warnock obtained some 350,000 votes more than his Republican rival, although that was a tight race in which some 20 candidates participated.
Voter surveys show that both races are too close to call at present, with less than a week to go before the crucial showdown at the ballot box.
So far, more than 2.3 million voters have cast early ballots or voted by mail, significantly more than the 2.1 million who voted during the entire second round of the 2008 US Senate runoff elections in Georgia, the last time that was necessary because no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.
The heavy participation of ethnic minority voters on Nov. 3, especially Latinos and African Americans, was the key to Biden’s victory in Georgia, a state that has been a Republican bastion since the early 1990s.