The silence was deafening. For years, Latinos have been threatening to withhold support for candidates or sit out elections as a result of their frustration with stalled policies and their disappointment with elected officials. Many political strategists and elected officials dismissed these antics as empty threats, and assumed that Latinos would continue to vote in historic numbers as they had done so for the past several elections. They were wrong.
Elections have consequences not just for people, but for the politicians and the political operatives who set the electoral strategy. Latino leaders have been warning candidates and elected officials for several months that the lack of legislative action on comprehensive immigration reform, and the willingness of politicians to continue to use it as a political football, has angered Latinos. This anger wasn’t only about being forced to wait longer for action on comprehensive immigration reform, but about being disrespected by the way the subject was discussed and handled.
I should make it very clear that Latinos did not move to the Republican Party or even express support for the policies of the Republican Party in Tuesday’s election. This sit-out was a direct message to leaders in the Democratic Party, that Latinos are tired of the rhetoric and lack of leadership on immigration reform. Strategists who thought they could save a few Democratic seats by marginalizing Hispanics put other seats in jeopardy by doing so, and in the end, failed to elect those they were trying to save.
I will note, for those who are unaware, that I serve as the Vice-Chair for the Hispanic Caucus of the Democratic National Committee. In that capacity, my role is to help set the strategy for how to engage Latinos and build support among them for the Democratic Party. This position allows me to have a more detailed view of what happened during the last election cycle between members of the Democratic Party leadership and the Latino community.
This election cycle will serve as a loud wake-up call to my Party that we need to re-evaluate our approach to both governing and campaigning, if we want to regain support and trust from the coalition of voters who have invested so much in our Party. This is not the beginning of the end of the Democratic coalition, but rather a beginning of the end to old campaign and political ideology that will no longer work in this era of American politics.
The DNC and state party headquarters throughout the country are littered with signs that say, “When Democrats Vote – Democrats Win.” It’s no secret to any astute political strategist that we need to mobilize our supporters to win elections. We need candidates to campaign in a way that will mobilize our supporters, and we need elected officials to govern in a way that will mobilize our supporters. We failed to do that this cycle, but we have the chance to adjust for 2016. Once we do, Democrats will vote, and when Democrats vote – Democrats win!