In Milwaukee, Latinos fed up with crime weigh on GOP appeal


MILWAUKEE (AP) — In two decades of street outreach on the South Side of Milwaukee, evangelical pastor Marty Calderon has offered Bible studies, gang prevention, a safe place to stay for those struggling with addiction and assistance in finding employment for people newly released from prison.

But as he saw rising crime threaten these efforts to “clean up” his impoverished neighborhood, Calderon began bringing Republican politicians to his ministry, God Touch.

He hopes the mostly Hispanic working community will hear what they can do for them. — and Conservative candidates will learn about the realities of those voters, including their immigration backgrounds.

“We’ve never seen the Republicans come as strong as they have. … I’m very careful doing this because I just don’t want people to think they’re going to come and vote,” Calderon said in his sanctuary, adding that he doesn’t push specific candidates in his community. “I’m just saying go out and vote, and pray about it.”

Republican candidates across the country are looking to extend recent gains the party has made with Hispanic voters in Florida to the Rio Grande Valley in Los Angeles. What seems to be motivating them are bread-and-butter issues that Calderon’s neighbors have consistently mentioned to Associated Press reporters over the past week — rampant lawlessness, struggling schools, and food prices and gasoline that is beyond the reach of their paycheques.

These consistently matter more to Latino voters than immigration, allowing Republicans to make breakthroughs that amount to a “grand realignment” — if they end up splitting their vote nearly 40% Republican and 60% Democrat instead of “Historically one-third of Latinos vote right,” said Geraldo Cadava, a professor of Latin American history and studies at Northwestern University.

Swinging even a few thousand votes in a state like Wisconsin — which provided tiny margins for Trump in 2016 and for Biden in 2020 — could impact national politics as GOP Sen. Ron Johnson is in a re-election race. tight with the Democratic challenger, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

A month before the midterms, Johnson spoke of the importance of a “renewed faith” when meeting with Calderon and other community leaders at the Republican National Committee Hispanic Outreach Center, two blocks from God Touch.

“We’re showing up,” Johnson said of the party’s outreach to communities like this. “We have a universal message.”

Minutes earlier, Republican U.S. Representative Bryan Steil, whose southeast Wisconsin district is a few miles south, also stopped at the center of the storefront, decorated with street signs, a piñata in the shape of an elephant and American and national flags.

These efforts encourage 21-year-old Hilario Deleon, who grew up on the South Side and, after losing his job as a dishwasher during the COVID-19 lockdown, got involved in the Republican campaign.

“We have failed in the past to be in the community,” he said of the GOP. He added that he likes to see political and religious leaders marching, like Calderon’s weekly food distribution. “I like to see God through people’s actions.”

The Wisconsin Elections Commission does not collect data on race or ethnicity, but immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera estimates there are about 180,000 voters among Hispanics in the state, nearly 40% of whom live in Milwaukee. Most are of Mexican descent, followed by Puerto Ricans.

And 46% of registered Latino voters consider themselves independent, according to pollster Charles Franklin of Marquette University Law School. His aggregate polling data over the past two years shows that Latino voters in Wisconsin fall midway between white and black on political issues — and 71% identify as Christian.

“Political parties cannot take this population for granted,” said Felipe Hinojosa, a Texas A&M University professor who studies the connection between religion and politics among Latinos.

He finds that the centrality of faith in the daily lives of many Hispanics does not automatically make them Republicans, but neither does being an ethnic minority automatically make them Democrats.

No wonder bilingual canvassers went door-to-door last week on the south side of Milwaukee. They came from both Voces, which supports the Democrats, and Operación Vamos (“Operation Let’s Go”, in Spanish), the Republican Party’s new Hispanic outreach organization.

Passing historic taquerias and churches, founded by Central European immigrants and now frequented largely by Mexican worshippers, canvassers stopped at modest single-family homes, many with Halloween decorations but not campaign signs.

Carrying Voces flyers promoting “pro-immigrant, pro-working class” candidates — Wisconsin Democrats running in statewide elections — Deisy Espana, a 20-year-old college student, said the treatment “ unfair” that his undocumented parents suffered motivates his activism.

But “Latinos are rocking because of the lack of promises kept,” she added, particularly on immigration. Founding director of Voces, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, said she fears disenchanted Latinos won’t vote at all.

Vamos canvassers faced a different kind of challenge with unengaged Hispanic voters.

“People on the ground are hearing, ‘Nobody’s ever contacted us before’ or ‘I didn’t expect Republicans to contact us,'” said Ana Carbonell, Hispanic outreach consultant with the Republican National Senate Committee. , which launched Vamos’ efforts this season midway through nine key states, including Wisconsin.

In a late September poll by the Pew Research Center, more Latinos said they felt the Democratic Party “works hard to win the Latino vote” and “cares about Latinos” than the Republican Party.

The historic lack of awareness of the Latino community leaves Hispanic voters to “bundle” their own issues, often based on faith, instead of buying into an “ideological package” of either party, said Ali Valenzuela, professor of Latin American politics at American University. This can benefit Republicans when the focus is on the economy, like in these midterms.

Since April, Vamos in Wisconsin has reached out to more Hispanic voters there than in the past three election cycles combined — voters like the woman who said laughingly to two Vamos canvassers last week, “You’re in the bad neighborhood.

“I can always find out more,” she nevertheless added, taking their flyers.

Nearby, Artemio Martinez, a Mexican construction worker married to a US citizen, said he was grateful Vamos knocked on his door.

As her 2-year-old daughter played with the bilingual flyer listing the statewide Republican candidates under “¡Equipo Ganador!” — “the winning team,” described at first as “pro-faith” and “pro-family” — Martinez said he didn’t plan to vote.

“But if the senator (Johnson) does something about it,” he added, referring to the crime and drug use he sees throughout the neighborhood, “We will lend our support and vote for it. that things can change in the community”.

Working on a new siding for his White House, Noah Ledezma also said he wasn’t sure whether to vote. He has backed Republicans in the past because he feels the party is more aligned with his Christian faith and family values.

But now he believes no matter who is in power, life is getting harder and harder for working-class people like him – born to Mexican immigrants, a father of five construction jobs while his wife is a schoolteacher .

“All they do is bicker,” he said of the politicians. “You have to see the change. You have to see them working together.

Vamos solicitors and their literature did not influence him. But what if Johnson showed up in person to answer “open-ended questions” on a crucial topic like education.

“It’s different when you see them here,” Ledezma said. “Let’s say I ask… ‘Senator, what are you going to do differently?’ … And you hear it from the horse’s mouth … I can say, ‘I’m going to hold myself accountable. Alright, you have my vote.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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