How Democrats Missed Trump’s Appeal to Latino Voters

Fellow Democrats complained about the Biden campaign’s sluggish Latino outreach for months, though the campaign eventually spent a record $20 million on Spanish-language television and radio advertising, more than double the Trump campaign’s $9 million, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. And both campaigns tried to target voters based on regional and national origin — there were advertisements featuring Cuban, Puerto Rican and Mexican accents.

Indeed, the regional differences illustrate both political shifts and the way Latinos see themselves. In Arizona, for example, a historically Republican state shifted because of young Latinos who were politically activated by Senate Bill 1070, a 2010 state measure that was known as the “show me your papers” law and that critics called legalized racial profiling.

“People pretty much tend to attack us,” Alma Aguilar said at a small Black Lives Matter demonstration in the Phoenix suburbs this summer. “We are not treated the same way as white people.”

Even as votes were still being counted, many Democrats credited young Latinas such as Ms. Aguilar for their success in the state. Local activists noted that while the Democrats celebrated, organizing voters began long before the national party invested in the state.

“We did this,” said Alejandra Gomez, the co-executive director of Lucha, a voter engagement group that was established in response to anti-immigration state policies a decade ago. “We organized when nobody else was paying attention. It’s weird to say, but without that, I am not sure we would have flipped the state.”

Yet one lesson of Arizona — that political identity is often built in the face of persecution — did not bear out in Texas, where over a year ago a gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, the largest anti-Latino attack in modern American history, after the authorities said he wrote a manifesto that echoed much of the president’s language.

Texas didn’t even come close to flipping to the Democrats this year. Roughly 25 to 30 percent of Latino voters nationally have chosen Republican candidates for decades, but many Democrats said they were particularly alarmed by the loss of support in the Rio Grande Valley, where Mr. Biden won some border counties by significantly smaller margins than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.