National pundits often overestimate the current role of Latinos in North Carolina’s electoral transformation. Many of them seem to assume that growing Hispanic, African-American and upmarket white populations is an essentially universal formula. Here, the first two factors–along with generational change–predominate. Latinos currently constitute only 2% of registered voters in the state, although that number is quickly expanding.
Which brings us to the next three months. Democratic campaigns need to make it a priority to reach, register and turn out eligible Latino voters in 2016. This year provides a golden opportunity to harness growing Latino strength. Donald Trump’s racism is an impetus for Latinos to come out and vote like never before. State and national Democrats have the ability to both facilitate and benefit from this possible phenomenon.
Latino voters are currently concentrated in urban counties. 66% of them live in core metros and an additional 18% live in those places’ “satellite” counties. That makes for a total of 82% concentrated in the metropolitan areas, where turnout is most cost-effective. The NCDP and Roy Cooper can do some heavy lifting there, with help from Hillary for America. (HRC’s North Raleigh office will find many pockets of Latinos.) Mobilizing these voters will help knock off vulnerable incumbents like Gary Pendleton and run up the score in crucial Wake County, which Trump may lose by 30%.
The remaining 18% represent both a greater challenge and an even greater opportunity. Often drawn by agricultural jobs, a number of Latinos live in rural areas. For example, there is a thriving Hispanic community in little Yancey County. A successful outreach program could provide a boom in Democratic registration and tip competitive rural districts. (It’s possible that strong Hispanic turnout could flip Yancey’s HD-118.)
It must be said: Activating rural Latino voters would not be easy. Low-income rural residents are usually spread across the countryside in marginal communities. In the case of Hispanics, linguistic barriers heighten the difficulty. But Hillary has the resources for bringing them into the political fold. She already has “forward operating bases” in every region of the state, and it would be trivially easy to hire bilingual organizers. They can do it.
Registering Hispanic North Carolinians now would provide a major payoff down the road. That demographic is growing steeply and bringing in under-30 Hispanics would establish them as a Democratic voting bloc for decades. Both the NCDP and Hillary for North Carolina should strike while the iron’s hot.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.