MIAMI — If you’re Hispanic and living in the U.S., chances are good that Joe Biden’s campaign knows a lot about you — including your family roots.
Ahead of Biden’s first trip to Florida as the Democratic presidential nominee — a Tuesday visit to Tampa and the heavily Puerto Rican city of Kissimmee — Democrats detailed what they said is a state-of-the-art voter database helping them reach and potentially win over Hispanic voters. They said the data helps them track voters who left hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico for Florida and message on a more meaningful level to Latinos descending from other nations.
“We now have not only a Latino strategy, we have a Cuban strategy. We have a Mexican American strategy. We have a Borinquen strategy. We have a Dominican strategy. We have a Venezuelan strategy, a Colombian strategy, an Ecuadorian strategy,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told reporters Sunday on a call organized by the Biden campaign.
“If you four years ago had met someone named Pérez in Florida, or Alex, or Rodriguez in Florida, and you wanted them to vote for Joe Biden, the only thing our voter file would have told you is that they were Latino,” he continued. “Now because we have invested, we can tell you whether that Pérez is Pérez de Venezuela, Pérez de Puerto Rico, Pérez de Dominicana, or wherever they’re from.”
The DNC committee chairman highlighted the party’s data — including hundreds of thousands of “high quality” cell phone numbers — as Biden prepared to travel to Central Florida for a Tampa roundtable with veterans, followed by an evening event in Kissimmee pegged to the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.
It’s not a new strategy. President Donald Trump’s campaign has, for years, gathered cell phone numbers and other biographical information from attendees at his rallies. The Republican National Committee has its own sophisticated data set detailing voters’ political leanings and personal habits, down to the magazines they read.
But for Democrats in Florida, intent on depriving Trump of a win in his newly declared home state, the data-driven focus on Hispanic voters is critical.
In Central Florida, Puerto Ricans are the most coveted demographic. The majority of Puerto Ricans in Florida, many of whom relocated from the island after Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017, live in the greater Orlando region near Interstate 4, a politically crucial corridor in Florida that runs from Tampa to Daytona.
Democrats need to turn out Hispanic voters at a high level to compete with President Donald Trump in Florida, a state often won by narrow margins that Trump likely must win on Nov. 3 to secure his reelection.
The question of Biden’s ability to do that has been the cause of much hand-wringing, as polls have shown him under-performing among Hispanic voters both in Democratic-leaning Miami-Dade and statewide in Florida. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly appeared before different segments of South Florida’s Hispanic community this year, including a January speech at a majority-Hispanic West Dade megachurch and a roundtable with Cubans and Venezuelans in Doral.
The Democratic Party has already spent millions of dollars this summer on Spanish-language ads, and the Biden campaign is now ramping up its outreach efforts, with Biden and running mate Kamala Harris making personal visits with different segments of the Hispanic community. And on Sunday, billionaire Mike Bloomberg pledged to spend $100 million in the state over the next seven weeks to help Biden, with an emphasis on Latino voters.
Perez, who spoke to reporters Sunday along with some of Biden’s senior Latino advisers, touted “massive investments” in key battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, particularly the regions where the number of Puerto Ricans has been rising steadily, post-Maria. To better track Puerto Ricans who fled the island following the storm, the party purchased cell phone data for numbers in the U.S. mainland starting with 787, the area code for cell phones in Puerto Rico.
Perez said they found nearly 300,000 such numbers in Florida and 80,000 in Pennsylvania, another 2020 battleground where Puerto Ricans — who are U.S. citizens — have settled and registered to vote.
“We wanted to identify Maria refugees, people who had been forced from the mainland, and as many of you know, many people left with their shirts on their back and their proud 787 numbers,” Perez said. “We went to cell phone vendors in Pennsylvania and Florida, and we asked them, ‘Give us all the 787 area codes that have been picked up off your cell phone towers for the last month.’”
Perez said that unlike in 2016, the Democratic National Committee now has the ability to conduct what he called “sub-ethnicity modeling” — a way for the party to figure out Hispanic voters’ specific ethnicities and work to turn them out to vote.
“That is indispensable,” he said. “Our communities … we share a language, but we have a tremendous diversity of experience. And from those experiences we have similar priorities but we also have many unique interests.”
©2020 Miami Herald