Latinx voters weigh in on recall election, campaign efforts

The Latinx population is a crucial demographic in California elections. The recall election proved this yet again.

Fernando Venavides said he could not believe that “millions of dollars” were wasted on an election that was “simply not needed.”

“I voted for Newsom like most other Latino people, but I do not understand why the election took place,” he said, while shopping at the Olvera Street Market in Downtown Los Angeles. “They could have just let him finish his term and elect someone else after that.”

The 62-year-old retired factory worker was among 7.9 million eligible Latinx voters in the state-wide gubernatorial recall election. The state’s Latinx voting bloc, of which the Mexican population accounts for the largest share, is strategically crucial for elections in California.

The recall election that took place on Sept. 14 cost taxpayers an estimated $276 million, while the candidates’ campaigns took a few million more.

With 62.7% of the voters saying “no” to the recall, Newsom was able to defeat the attempt to recall him from his job as California’s governor. In 2018, 64% of Latinx voters helped elect Newsom. This year, 60% of Latinx voters cast their ballots in favor of Newsom, according to an NBC exit poll.

The strong Latinx population in California meant that the two leading candidates were incentivized to design persuasive campaigns around mobilizing Latinx voters. Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate who hailed himself as the “sage of South Central” still sought to lock down Latinx voters with his criticism of the current government’s policies on education and housing. Though many in the community disagreed with this characterization, his campaign strategies said otherwise.

Some Latinx voters were not swayed by robust speeches and, instead, made judgement calls based on their own experiences and perceptions of each candidate.

“Democratic politicians owe us as we [Latinx population] are the ones who put them there,” said Olivia De La Riva, who has been working at the El Pueblo Historical Monument on Olvera Street for over 20 years. “A lot of people are smarter now when it comes to voting, especially in the state of California, like who to vote for and what they are going to get out of that person.”

During the special election, Newsom had to deal with one of the state’s largest electoral issues: homelessness. He drew sharp criticism from voters who believe his plans failed to adequately address the housing crisis. In July, Newsom signed a housing package as a part of his $100 billion California Comeback Plan to create “affordable housing.” Some L.A. residents, however, feel that the issue has existed in the state for years and is not unique to Newsom’s tenure.

“They think someone who is Democratic is going to clean the house. It is going to wipe out the homelessness issue one day and bring jobs,” said Esparanza Castaneda, a customer care supervisor at a water management company in L.A.. “You see an abundance of homeless people on Venice Beach or Skid Row or anywhere Downtown L.A. but there are also a lot of shelters that opened up under his name during his time, before the recall.”

But Elder ultimately lost the election with 47.9% of the vote among those who selected a replacement candidate if Newsom were to lose. According to Roberto Suro, a journalism professor at USC Annenberg, Elder failed to draw a significant number of Latinx votes because Republican candidates have often been “openly hostile to Latinos.”

“This was not a real election and was a no-brainer plan from the Democrats,” said Suro, former director of the Pew Hispanic Center. “The Republicans’ campaign was a disaster from start to finish as Larry Elder was a terrible candidate, which served the Democrats well.”

With a total of more than 9 million votes in the ballot box, Democrats cannot afford to take Latinx votes for granted. However, campaigns often treat Latinx voters as a homogeneous entity, ignoring differences in opinion based on the age, education, religion, gender and experiences of each individual.

“I voted for and wanted Larry Elder to win but it did not happen; that is unfortunate because our people are suffering and hypocrites are running the show,” said Andre Upazila, a real estate investor in L.A. “Governance should support small businesses and give back to the community. They should hire people to take care of families instead of taking from people who want to work, and giving it to the people who want to sit on their butts and collect welfare.”

While the special election shed light on various political concerns, including the legitimacy of recall referendums and the expensive nature of these elections, the slow erosion of Latinx support, which Democrats might have taken for granted over the years, emerged as a key concern.

According to David Solorzano, manager of Olvera Street’s La Luz Del Dia restaurant, Newsom’s job may have been “saved by the pandemic.”

“I have always been on the team of science and vaccination against COVID-19 which the Republicans ignored but had it not been for the pandemic, Newsom would have faced a tougher race to win,” he said. “He mismanaged billions of dollars to address the problem of homelessness and at some point he should realize that you cannot throw money at the problem. The residents of California cannot clean the streets for him.”