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Political News

Iowa's Latino Sanders Supporters: What They're Doing Now

Bernie Sanders stands among several of his supporters.
Luís Gomez
Bernie Sanders (center) poses with seven of his supporters in Iowa. Luís Gomez stands two to the right of Sanders. Gomez supported Sanders even before he could vote. "I thought, I don't have the power to vote, to give my voice and make my voice count, but I know people who care about me, who care about the same issues and feel the same way as me that will vote and will listen to me because they care," Gomez said. "That's what kind of pushed me to go out of my comfort zone."

Latino voters in Iowa favored Bernie Sanders in the Democratic caucuses, but now that Joe Biden is the party’s nominee, they’re split over whom to support in the upcoming presidential election.

Latino voters in Iowa overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders during the caucuses. But now Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, even though he didn’t garner the passion in Iowa Sanders did.

A food truck named "Railroad Bill's Dining Car" has a poster saying "Register to VOTE here" over the windshield.
Kassidy Arena
The Des Moines League of Women Voters parked the "voter mobile" at an outdoor farmer's market on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. They chose a truck because it could drive to new locations every weekend.

The Des Moines League of Women Voters created a "voter mobile" out of a food truck to travel to underrepresented areas in the state to register new voters. They focus on immigrant communities of Black and Latin Americans. And it is a good thing too—because ever since a soul-crushing defeat of their favorite candidate, some Latino voters have lost the passion for civic engagement.

Luís Gomez, a father of two, supported Sanders during the caucuses. His cousin encouraged him to start learning about the Democratic candidate even though he was not yet a citizen and therefore could not yet vote. Gomez said after Sanders narrowly lost the Iowa caucuses to Pete Buttigieg, he noticed only a small portion of the Latino community continued political participation.

“But the other three-quarters of our community are probably just going back to work and being like, man, that would have been nice, but you know, that’s politics, and that's how it goes. And, you know, the countries where we come from, that's how it is," Gomez said.

Gomez said for many immigrants, that is a very normal reaction to an election.
Gomez is a soccer coach and well-connected with his community. So when he reached out to people to talk about Sanders, he learned what the Latino community valued in a candidate. Sanders seemed to fit their ideal.

But then Sanders narrowly finished second to Buttigieg in Iowa delegates (though roughly 2,000 more people caucused for him). In early April, Sanders dropped out of the presidential race.

Gomez's parents lost faith in the political process because it reminded them of Mexico, where they often did not feel like they had a say in political leaders.

"So they're like, oh, yeah, see, I told you, it's all corrupted. So it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that you went out there and talked to all these people and did all this work, because at the end of the day, [the establishment is] just going pick whoever they want," Gomez said. "So they're back to like checking out which is scary."

According to the Pew Research Center, Iowa has 67,000 Hispanic people in the state who are eligible to vote. University of Iowa doctoral candidate Rachel Torres said the possibility of losing that population’s vote can be scary.

"It's problematic in that kind of normative democratic sense of if our demographics shift to be more Latino, but Latinos are not engaged voters, then they're not represented," Torres said. "And so you have a huge portion of your American citizens who do not have a voice in politics.”

She said Sanders knew just how to woo Latino Iowans and included them in his campaign. Sanders was known to organize events in majority Latino areas of Iowa. His campaign was also always available to voters in multiple languages. Torres said it is not the same for the party’s nominee.

“Biden, you know, hasn't really done that. He really has taken more a broad general approach at this point. And so it makes complete sense that they have apathy for him, he has not really reached out to them," Torres said.

Even Gomez hasn’t decided whether or not he’ll vote Democratic or at all. For his first vote, he really wanted to fill in the bubble by Sanders’ name. He described himself as being between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between two candidates he did not think were right for the job.

“It goes back and forth because it’s like okay do I do that and just continue to play the game? Or do I just make a vote with my moral standard and say like no, I’m not gonna vote for this guy because I don’t believe in anything he says," Gomez said as he tilted his head left and right.

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Luís Gomez
Bernie Sanders supporters gathered for a meeting before the Iowa caucuses. Arbuckle worked with Sanders' campaign. "So Biden is terrible. And we all know this. So, Trump is, unfortunately, also terrible," Arbuckle said. "So we've got a choice between those two. Here's the plan. We elect Biden. And then we pressure him extremely."

Many other Latino Sanders supporters understand Gomez’s dilemma. The ones who are voting for Biden said they are doing so reluctantly. Like students Diego Rivera and Hector Arbuckle.

“There was a lot of mental gymnastics I would say that went into this kind of transition of candidates and kind of figuring out what was best for me and my ideology," Rivera said.

“It's entirely a pragmatic decision. In fact, I feel relatively little emotion besides just frustration and almost numbness at this point," Arbuckle said.

The number of registered Latino voters has tripled since 2004, from 13,000 to 45,000. Gomez said this could be in large part due to a combination of Sanders’ outreach in the Latino community and his platform regarding immigration and climate. Some immigrants said they are having a hard time forgiving Biden due to his role in the Obama administration, which had the highest amount of deportations for any administration. Since Biden is the nominee, political scientists like Torres are hesitant to say for sure how many of those voters will ultimately show up at the polls.