Andres Oppenheimer

Julian Castro says Hispanic turnout will rise dramatically in 2020. Hmmm . . . | Opinion

When I sat down with presidential hopeful Julian Castro for an interview earlier this week, shortly after he arrived in Miami for the first Democratic debates, I found myself shaking my head with skepticism as he cited the reasons why he thinks that Latinos will turn out massively and help defeat President Trump in 2020.

I asked him, Do you honestly think so? Because we were told the same thing in the 2016 presidential elections, and it didn’t happen.

Hispanic turnout in 2016 was disappointing, considering Trump was running an openly racist campaign. Trump had depicted most Mexican migrants as criminals and rapists, and had claimed that a U.S.-born judge was not fit to rule in the Trump University fraud case because “he’s Mexican.”

But Castro, a former Housing and Urban Affairs secretary in the Obama administration and former mayor of San Antonio, cited several reasons why 2020 should be different.

First, he said, Latinos are registering in higher numbers, and in more states than in the 2016 elections.

“What we saw in the 2018 midterm elections was that the Latino vote went up in a big way compared to the last midterms in 2014. And I believe that in 2020, the Latino vote is going to go up a lot versus the last presidential election in 2016,” Castro told me.

Indeed, a recent report by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), based on U.S. Census data, showed that 40 percent of the Latino citizen population turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, up from 27 percent in the 2014 midterms.

Second, unlike in previous presidential elections, “I’m happy to see that the Democratic National Committee is making a commitment to start early” with its Latino voter registration and turnout campaigns for the November 2020, election, Castro said. The Democratic Party must reach out to Latinos 365 days a year, and “not just a few months before the election,” he added.

Third, the Democrats will have an advantage in 2020 among Latino voters, because “Donald Trump is not a theoretical president anymore. He actually has a record,” Castro told me. “He’s not just a potential boogie man, he has actually been a terrible failure when it comes to the Latino community,” he added.

Trump has a record among other things of separating migrant children from their parents, of locking up the children in cages with the lights on all night long, of joyfully throwing paper towels to victims of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria and of denying desperate people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala the right to ask for asylum..

But Trump is working hard to get at least a portion of the Latino vote, especially in Florida, a key swing state. Hardly a week goes by without a senior Trump administration official coming to Miami for staged events with Cuban American and Venezuelan voters, where they brag about taking a much tougher line than the Democrats against their native countries’ dictatorships.

Still, nearly 63 percent of Hispanic voters nationwide plan to vote for whoever is picked as the Democratic nominee. Only 18.6 percent plan to vote for Trump, and 18.7 percent remain undecided, according to a new poll by Univision released this week.

That 18.7 percent of undecided Latino voters is one of the reasons why I was skeptical when Castro cited his reasons to believe that Latinos will turn out massively in 2020. It’s a pretty high percentage, considering the insults Trump has hurled against Mexicans, Central Americans and other people he has said live in “shithole countries.”

And, judging from what I see in Miami, the Trump campaign is much more active than the Democrats’ when it comes to Hispanic outreach efforts. In Florida, a little more than a half of Cuban Americans voted for Trump in 2016.

Castro may be right about Latinos turning out in bigger numbers in 2020, but I will remain skeptical until I see the Democrats making a serious effort to get out the Latino vote. If Democrats continue taking Latinos for granted, like Hillary Clinton did in 2016, the Latino vote will continue to be a “sleeping giant” in 2020, and we will be stuck for another four years with the most morally challenged president in recent memory.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” at 8 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Espanol. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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