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VP Harris to speak at conference organized by group advocating for Latino communities

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Chicago today. She'll be speaking at a conference organized by UnidosUS, a group that advocates for Latino communities. It's part of a broader outreach effort by the Biden administration to Black and Indigenous voters, as well as other voters of color. To learn more about how the Biden administration hopes to gain the support of this critical set of voters, we're joined by Rafael Collazo, executive director of the UnidosUS Action Fund. He joins me now. Good morning.

RAFAEL COLLAZO: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with what you're hoping to hear from the vice president at the conference today.

COLLAZO: Yes. A network of thousands of Latino activists who are in the business of social change are particularly looking forward to hearing Vice President Harris accounting for the policies that the administration has passed and how they benefit the Latino community, but even more importantly, their vision for what the future holds in a potential second term for the Biden administration and how that impacts Latinos on the issues that they care about.

FADEL: Now, Latinos are the second largest group of voters in the country - an important bloc, but not a monolithic bloc. What is the Biden reelection campaign doing to reach out to voters that's working or not working?

COLLAZO: Well, it's particularly important for the Biden administration and, frankly, candidates on both sides of the aisle to share their vision for the future. Latino voters are very particularly concerned about issues related to their economic empowerment, income equity and issues related to their economic futures and their civil rights. So it's clear that the Biden administration is making an effort. Not only Vice President Harris will be speaking today, but throughout the weekend and even today, we'll see a host of administration senior officials like Secretary of HHS Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Education Cardona speaking to what efforts they're making to address these issues of equity and economic empowerment for the Latino community and for all Americans.

FADEL: Now, in 2020, when President Biden was elected, it was voters of color that really made the difference in that election. Sixty-three percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for him then. But in the midterms, Democratic candidates won just 57% of Hispanic voters - a drop. Why do you think that happened?

COLLAZO: Well, when you poll the Latino community, overwhelmingly strong majorities favor generally the policies of this administration and Democrats writ large. What we see is clearly a drop off when it relates to voter turnout, as it relates to a lack of information. Latinos across the country in polling, 40%, 50%, even - sometimes even more, tell us that neither political party has reached out to them. And so that leaves an opportunity for a lack of information and misinformation to muddle up the waters as it relates to voting. It's clear that Republicans have made some inroads in some particular pockets of our community. That's a sign - the Latino voters are telling both parties that they want to hear from them. They want information. They want to be engaged. And they want to hear a vision for the future from both parties as they make their choices in 2024.

FADEL: Is that changing? You said they - often Latino voters don't hear from the campaigns of both the Republicans and Democrats. And you said Republicans are making inroads with Latino voters. Are you seeing earlier and better or bigger efforts by, frankly, both sides to reach out to this important voting bloc?

COLLAZO: Well, we're certainly seeing from an administration perspective that effort to communicate to Latino voters. And today's address by Vice President Harris at the UnidosUS conference is certainly a strong sign of that, with Latino leaders from all over the country here, from various sectors, being able to hear from the administration's message about what they've accomplished in the last few years and what their vision is for the future. We expect an unprecedented investment from both sides of the aisle in engaging Latino voters. So we expect a very engaged electorate and a very exciting cycle in 2024.

FADEL: Is there any specific thing that you want Kamala Harris to address, any specific policy that you think is important for voters to understand?

COLLAZO: Beyond just one issue, the sense I get from talking to activists from around the country over the weekend, particularly Latino activists, is that they're very concerned about what they see as an attack on their future economic opportunities and their civil rights. And they're seeing that - their concern comes from the several Supreme Court decisions over the last few years, from Dobbs to the muting of affirmative action in higher education and the very extreme - what they see as very extreme restrictive policies on the state level in states like Florida. So in particular, Latinos are very concerned about those issues, particularly young Latinas, who make up not only a large portion of the Latino population, but a very big part of the Latino electorate heading into 2024.

FADEL: That's Rafael Collazo, executive director of the UnidosUS Action Fund. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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