WASHINGTON — A Trump-versus-Democrats showdown was taking place Tuesday in a Georgia congressional district and Latinos had a part to play.
Polls opened Tuesday morning for the much-hyped and very tight special election in the deeply red Republican congressional district. Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff have been waging intense and expensive campaigns to replace Tom Price, who has joined the Trump Cabinet as Health and Human Services secretary.
Although there is no Latino in the Georgia 6th Congressional District race, Latino Victory Fund, which supports progressive candidates and those it determines support policies benefiting Latinos, put some resources into the race to help get out the Latino vote, said Jorge Silva, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based fund.
The group spent $20,000 on a digital program to reach young Latinos through Facebook and Pandora, and also contacted nearly 10,000 Latino voters by cell phone, Silva said.
In addition, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, one of the highest profile Latinos in the country, traveled to the district to rally supporters for Ossoff. On Tuesday, the campaign planned to release a video featuring Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, also trying to help boost turnout.
Latinos supporting Ossoff’s campaign say his race is an opportunity to start chipping at Trump’s agenda that they consider to be anti-Latino.
“This is such an important race and we believe that this will send a message to Trump and his radical agenda,” Silva said. “The growing Latino community in the district will make the difference in a tight race proving that every vote matters. We believe that Ossoff will fight against Trump and his anti-Latino policies in Congress and truly represent the needs of all of the population in District 6.”
The Hispanic vote has been considered enough of a factor that a Republican PAC affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan paid for a Spanish-language ad that linked Ossoff to House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
For the race, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “strongly encouraged” Ossoff’s campaign to use minority vendors, said Javier Gamboa, a spokesman for the DCCC. Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, whose consulting firm was Latino owned-was hired by Osoff’s campaign.
“I have been working on congressional special elections since Ciro Rodriguez in 1996 and I have never seen as much money spent on people of color consultants and firms. There was dramatic and intentional spending on African-American media and digital spent on this race, along with a robust Latino program,” Rocha said in an emailed statement to NBC Latino.
Rocha said his firm was hired for work not only with Latino but also white communities. “That is proof things are changing and I think it is because of the leadership at the DCCC demanding things change in these races,” he said.
Gamboa said making sure the DCCC also uses diverse vendors and encouraging campaigns to do the same is a priority of the DCCC’s Dan Sena, executive director, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., chairman. The DCCC created an office of diversity to help identify minority vendors for the 2018 election cycle. The majority of vendors in the race working for the DCCC on behalf of Ossoff were minority-owned firms, he said.
The district has larger Latino and Hispanic populations than the state as a whole. Latinos make up about 13 percent of the population of the district and Asians are about 9.3 percent. About 21 percent of the Latino population is eligible to vote, and they are about 4 percent of all eligible voters.
With such a tight race, there is hope that minority voters in the district will help put Ossoff over the top. Hispanic early voting is up, with about 3,006 voting early, according to NBC’s Analytics Lab.
Giving the campaign additional hope in a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat in nearly three decades is that Trump squeaked by Clinton in the district by about 1 percentage point, although Price was easily re-elected.