The battle for Latino voters in the Rust Belt

Democrats and advocacy groups such as Voces de la Frontera argue that programs like the RNC community centers and Operación ¡Vamos! are largely for show, and do not really demonstrate Republican care for Latino concerns. When I visited the RNC community center in Milwaukee, it was sleepy—just me and a lone worker there, a young Black man from Arkansas who had moved to Kenosha to do Republican outreach before the 2020 election and then moved to Milwaukee to help mobilize Republicans this year and in 2024. He told me that I happened to visit during a lull between Milwaukee’s special mayoral election in April and the summer months, when GOP organizers would gear up again for Wisconsin’s August primary. I took some pictures of the signs in the windows, pocket Constitutions published in Spanish, bumper stickers promoting conservative candidates and causes, and bookshelves stocked with conservative titles and topped with a ceramic family of elephants. With no one else to talk with, I left.

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But Preya Samsundar, the Midwest regional communications director for the RNC, told me that the center in Milwaukee has been active since it opened, hosting candidate meet-and-greets, panels with community leaders, and food and toy drives. Such activities are part of what Jaime Florez, the Hispanic communications director for the RNC, described as the “two-way relationship” the centers aim to establish with Latino communities: encouraging partisan allegiance while listening to Latino voters about what they think the Republican Party should do. The community centers are already succeeding, Florez argued, as demonstrated by the Republican candidate Mayra Flores’s recent victory in a special congressional election in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley; an RNC Hispanic community center opened in the area last October.

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