Sanders’s push for Pennsylvania Latinos too little too late

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has closed the gap on front-runner Hillary Clinton’s lead among Pennsylvania Latino voters, but that may not be enough to win the demographic, let alone the state.

Clinton holds a commanding lead over her rival Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s primary election in Pennsylvania — 55 percent to 40 percent according to some polls — support that holds true among the state’s growing Latino community. 

More than half of the 835,000 Latino residents of the Keystone State are eligible to vote, and a majority support Clinton, mirroring Latino support for her nationwide. 

Of the five states holding primaries, Pennsylvania is the biggest prize, with 210 delegates up for grabs.

Clinton has been winning comfortable margins among Latinos in other states, and Pennsylvania is expected to be no different. Puerto Rican voters, who have consistently supported Clinton, constitute the largest percentage of Latino voters in the state. She won Pennsylvania in 2008 with wide support among Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. 

Philadelphia is home to the country’s second-largest population of Puerto Ricans after New York City, and two other Pennsylvania cities — Allentown and Reading — are in the top 12. 

“If you look at where Puerto Ricans are, Clinton does very well among that group,” says Pennsylvania political consultant Norman Bristol, himself a native of Puerto Rico. “Not only is she well known, also Puerto Ricans really like her. She was good to the Puerto Rican community in neighboring New York when she was senator, and her husband is a former president who is well liked in the community.” 

While Pennsylvania is a closed primary, it is less restrictive than some other states, including New York. Pennsylvania residents had until 30 days before the primary to register with a party, and state law allows 17-year-olds to vote on April 26 — as long as they will be 18 by Election Day in November. 

Sanders enjoys growing support among Latino millennials in the state, but Bristol believes the Sanders campaign came late into the game and that will hurt him on Tuesday.  

“Latino millennials in Pennsylvania are heavily mobilizing for Sanders just like you see elsewhere around the country. But he’s lagging behind. Clinton started earlier, and she has the support of a former governor who is considered a rock star in the Latino community — Governor Ed Rendell. Sanders on the other hand was largely unknown to Latinos here in Pennsylvania, and he didn’t get his campaign going until much later than Clinton.

“He’s gaining some momentum but I don’t see him winning tomorrow. He has been campaigning in some of the heavily Latino areas, and that’s good that he did that, but it was late in the game and at this point it’s just not enough.” 

But the presidential primary is not the only race in Pennsylvania where Latinos could play a key role. Pennsylvania is considered a swing state, and while the Latino vote is small compared to other states such as California and Texas, it could very well have a decisive role in close races. One such race is the Senate battle, in which four Democrats are vying to unseat first-term Republican Pat Toomey, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary although his approval ratings are hovering below 50 percent. 

Both sides have been pouring millions in that race. 

While the Republican Party has conducted outreach among Latino voters in the state, most still self-identify as Democrats and say that Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric will get them to the polls and hurt the GOP.

“Pennsylvania is ground zero for the intolerance that he is voicing. All the anti-immigrant activity started in the city of Hazelton,” says Philadelphia City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, a Clinton supporter. Hazelton passed a controversial ordinance in 2006 that among other things prohibited landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. The law was later struck down in federal court. 

“We lived through all that and we’re seeing it again in what Donald Trump is saying. This is making more people to go out and vote and they’ll be voting to reject what he stands for,” says Quiñones-Sánchez.

Patricia Guadalupe is a contributing writer for LATINO Magazine.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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