SACRAMENTO — California’s Latinos, who have borne the brunt of Coronavirus deaths and the pandemic’s economic toll in the state, are a critical voting bloc for Gov. Gavin Newsom as he fights for his political life in a likely recall election driven by criticism of his handling of the health crisis.
Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group in California and their share of the population is increasing faster than others. Their voter turnout is also rising, but it’s still disproportionately low, leaving politicians room to grow support.
With a special election on whether to keep or replace Newsom now a near certainty for the fall, Latino advocates say their communities will be looking for engagement and a more robust policy response to address the effects of the pandemic.
“If Newsom fails to re-engage that group and give them reasons to vote for him he will lose,” said Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, chief executive officer of the Latino Community Foundation. “People are exhausted, they want answers, to be seen, be heard and be addressed.”
Newsom, a first-term Democrat, launched his anti-recall campaign last week. He is painting the effort as a partisan attack by pro-Trump Republicans on the state’s progressive values, including what Newsom called the “browning of California.”
The initiative’s lead proponent, Orrin Heatlie, once posted online that immigrants should be microchipped, something Newsom references often. Heatlie says it was hyperbole but acknowledges he was inspired to pursue a recall after hearing Newsom speak on immigration.
“The real impetus of the recall goes back to my advocacy on behalf of our diverse communities,” Newsom said Thursday in Santa Ana.
He chose the predominantly Latino Southern California city — the second-most populous in the political battleground of Orange County — to make a significant announcements on vaccinations: In three weeks all Californians 16 and older can begin getting shots. He also emphasized his commitment to ensuring equal vaccine access for Latinos.
Luis Alvarado, a Republican strategist, said if a GOP candidate can separate themselves from the Trump brand there is an opportunity to make the case to Latino voters, particularly small business owners, that Newsom’s actions have harmed them.
“If they’re successful in doing that then certainly the Latino vote could be persuaded to vote for the recall,” Alvarado said.
One of the leading Republican candidates for governor is Kevin Faulconer, a former mayor of San Diego, which is about one-third Latino. He doesn’t speak Spanish — nor does Newsom — but chose the local affiliate for the Spanish language network Univision for his first talk about his candidacy.
The issues on which Faulconer is targeting Newsom — school closures, the shuttering of businesses and job losses — matter to Latino voters, campaign manager Stephen Puetz said.
“Latino voters are incredibly important to our campaign, to Kevin personally, and to our pathway to victory,” he said.