ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — Exactly one year ago today, Donald Trump kicked off his successful bid for the GOP nomination by attacking Latino immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and promising to build a wall between them and American soil. Now, the same community Trump targeted may be the one erecting a wall between him and the White House.
This week, in a small Salvadoran restaurant in Northern Virginia, a group of prominent local and national Latino officials predicted that Latino voters across the country will do in November what millions of GOP voters, hundreds of reporters, and many foreign leaders have so far failed to accomplish: stop Donald Trump.
“There are about 57 million Latinos right now in the United States. About 27 million are eligible to vote, but only about 11 million turned out in the last presidential election,” said Walter Tejada, a former Arlington County Board member and leader of the Immigrant Rights Coalition of Greater Washington. “So, you do the math. If everyone voted who was eligible, the decision would be in our hands.”
Several new polls released this week bolster his argument, showing Trump’s support among Latino voters sinking to historic lows. A Washington Post-ABC poll found that 89 percent of Latinos have a unfavorable view of Trump, with two-thirds reporting a “strongly unfavorable” impression. Another poll by Fox News Latino found Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly forty points with Latino voters.
“Like Americans, Latinos are not a monolith,” said Alfonso Lopez, first Latino Democrat ever elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. “But when you have 90 percent of anything in politics, that’s a significant message being delivered. And it’s a recipe for electoral disaster.”
But Trump’s support among virtually every other demographic is evaporating as well: liberals, conservatives, Republican women, Democratic men, independents, and even white Americans without a four-year college degree. Overall, seven in 10 voters view him unfavorably, with a 56 percent majority saying they feel this way “strongly.” Another poll, by Bloomberg, found that 63 percent of women saying they will “never” vote for Trump.
This spells trouble for Republicans, especially in swing states like Virginia where local and federal election results have been decided by just a few thousand votes, handing Democrats several narrow wins in recent years.
“Virginia will be in play in the upcoming election,” said Tejada. “And Latinos have a history in Virginia already, in tight elections, of deciding who wins. The road to the White House has to run through the Latino vote.”
Lopez, who represents diverse Arlington County, nodded fervently. “As Virginia goes, so goes the country. And as Latinos vote in Virginia, so goes Virginia. We are the future.”
Though long a deep red state, Virginia was key to President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories, and is now considered a toss-up. The state also has more than 270,000 eligible Latino voters, and tens of thousands more Latino youth will turn 18 and become voters in the next few years.
Trump narrowly won the Virginia Republican primary, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was close behind him. A majority of the state’s Republicans — 59 percent — reject Trump’s calls for mass deportations, saying when polled that undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. should be “offered legal status.”
Despite Trump’s dismal polling numbers, Latino advocacy groups on the ground in Virginia and other swing states are taking nothing for granted. The organization People for the American Way launched a massive Spanish language ad campaign this week, telling voters in Nevada, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin: “A person who is incapable of respecting others is unfit to be president.”
Other groups, including Voto Latino, Mi Familia Vota, the Latino Victory Project, America’s Voice, New Florida Majority, and others, are aiming to help tens of thousands of naturalized immigrants become citizens, and register as many Latinos as possible to vote.
Labor leader and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta has been traveling across the country this election season to get out the Latino vote and shore up the community’s opposition to Trump.
“I’m 86 years old and I have never seen a candidate for the presidency of the United States who is so overtly discriminatory,” she told ThinkProgress on Wednesday. “Immigrants are the glue of America and they need to be respected, not attacked. So it’s we, the voters, have to stop Donald Trump. We cannot have someone like him in the White House.”