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Politics & Government

Group Sets Out To Increase The Numbers Of Latinos In Office

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Whoever wants to win the White House in 2016 needs to consider the Latino vote and how to mobilize it. Political action committees, like the Latino Victory Project, are working to boost traditionally low voter turnout and to build a donor base. The group's president, Cristobal Alex, says his PAC is modeled on liberal groups like EMILY's List, which promotes Democratic women. Alex says his PAC is nonpartisan, albeit with a caveat.

CRISTOBAL ALEX: Well, we are nonpartisan. It just so happens that to date, our candidates that we have endorsed have been Democrats. But what we look at is not party affiliation but really the core values that the candidates stand for and whether or not they represent Latino values, which are American values - access to opportunity, at least a minimum wage, immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Those are the things that we look at when we select our candidates. And in September, we'll release our endorsements for 2016.

MARTIN: Are you endorsing any Republicans or trying to encourage more Republican Latinos to run for office?

ALEX: Right now we're looking very carefully at that question. Our focus in '16 will be to be as strategic as we can and to make a difference in battleground states where Latinos have a sufficient number to basically make the decisions as to who's going to be in the Senate, who's going to be the next president of United States. And in those states, including Nevada, Colorado, Florida, it's going to be - it's going to come down to the Latino vote.

MARTIN: You talk about particular states and how this election, a lot of it will turn on whether or not Latinos turn out to vote. But those numbers haven't been great over the years. The number of Latinos who actually show up on Election Day is probably not what you would like to see. What's been the challenge in mobilizing Latino voters?

ALEX: You're exactly right. Our numbers aren't what they need to be. Last presidential cycle, in 2012, about 11 million Latinos turned out to vote, almost 10 percent of the electorate. But even more Latinos - almost 12 million - stayed home on Election Day. And we think that if you get a good strong Latino running for office that represents the community and has the right support and backing, including financial backing, they can win and, in the process, increase Latino turnout. It's a virtuous cycle.

MARTIN: How do you get people to become donors? Is that harder than mobilizing voters?

ALEX: Well, I've got to say it's not easy. Politics is not inexpensive. And if we want to make change in this country, we're going to have to invest politically in our own community. And so we've set out to do that by creating a donor pipeline. And one of the exciting things about it this year is we're launching a program called the Firsts. In a lot of Latino communities, you've got - in families you've got the first to hit educational and financial milestones, the first child to graduate from high school, the first to go to college, the first lawyer, doctor, etcetera. And we're going to target these folks, who are generally apolitical, and bring them into the political process and ask them to donate.

MARTIN: But I imagine you get pushback when they say, but, you know, we don't have the candidates. Who am I giving the money to?

ALEX: A good question, and what we come back to is, do you want to stand with the community? That messaging is really important for the Latinos because what we see in different parts of the country - and even if you don't have a Latina running for the United States Senate, you want to give to help the political change in this country in places where we do. So for example, we've got the chance to make history in 2016. We've never had a Latina United States senator. We have a shot to do that in Nevada. We've got a shot to do that in California and a number of other places where we can break a glass ceiling. In fact, we might even see the first Latino vice president this time.

MARTIN: Cristobal Alex is the president of the Latino Victory Project. He joined us here in our studios in Washington. Thanks so much for coming in.

ALEX: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.