On a sunny, breezy day, Taylor Sanchez knocks on doors in a neighborhood on El Paso’s west side, campaigning for presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. Most of those answering the door have seen the flood of campaign ads airing on local television. Her mission now is getting people to the polls.
“El Paso doesn’t vote and we lack a lot of representation,” Sanchez said.
At a rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Downtown El Paso, Victor Gonzalez had the same goal: galvanize people to vote, especially young people like him.
“Unfortunately, young voters, people around my age, don’t go out to vote because they don’t find it interesting,” he said. “I don’t believe in that because every vote matters. Every vote is your voice on an issue.”
In this tight Democratic primary race presidential candidates are going after every vote in El Paso, a Democratic stronghold on the edge of Texas.
The effort to lure voters to the polls includes a nonstop blitz of television ads as well as help from local surrogates like Sanchez and Gonzalez, who urge fellow voters to flex their muscle at the ballot box.
Ahead of the Super Tuesday primary two Democratic presidential candidates, frontrunner Sanders and Bloomberg, are spending big money and making personal appeals in television ads and in person at rallies in El Paso. Bloomberg has far outspent his rivals.
Across Texas, the billionaire accounts for roughly 80 percent of the $26 million spent on TV spots tracked by Advertising Analytics cited in several media reports. The spending spree has especially benefited Spanish-language television with an estimated $4.3 million spent on ads airing statewide.
In El Paso alone, Bloomberg has spent more than $1.9 million, according to records TV stations and cable companies are required to file with the Federal Communication Commission. Sanders comes in second in terms of campaign ads at more than $170,000. Both men earmarked a third of their television ad budgets in El Paso for Spanish language television during February.
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer spent about $39,000 on El Paso ads in November and December, and Pete Buttigieg spent about $59,000 for the last few days ahead of the March 3 primary.
Other Democratic candidates, focused on Saturday’s South Carolina caucus and other areas participating in the March 3 Super Tuesday primary, have not devoted significant effort in El Paso.
The attention from some Democratic presidential candidates is welcomed by many voters in a city that’s been a focal point of the Trump administration’s border enforcement policies, as well as the August 3 mass shooting that targeted Hispanics and Mexicans.
“We’re getting some attention finally, the attention that we do deserve,” said Uriel Posada, regional news director of a territory that includes Spanish language stations that stretch from San Angelo to Midland to El Paso and beyond to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Bloomberg has spent more than $370,000 alone at Channel 26, the El Paso Univision affiliate. “If we ever flex our muscle, elections can change,” Posada said.
The station, along with other Univision affiliates, has a campaign that urges people to become citizens, register to vote and cast ballots – without promoting any particular candidates. Increasing turnout means engaging voters, Posada said.
Name recognition is also powerful and Bloomberg is banking on that strategy. Posada has seen the influence firsthand in his own family.
“I was talking to my mom. This is going to be the second election she’s going to vote in. She’s thinking about voting for Bloomberg,” Posada said. He told her, “Wait, hold on. You can vote for whoever you want but you have to learn what the other candidates are thinking and are proposing.”
Both Bloomberg and Sanders held campaign rallies in El Paso. Both candidates also paid their respects to the victims of the Walmart shooting by visiting the site of the massacre.
Bloomberg launched his Latino initiative in El Paso. During his recent campaign stop in El Paso Sanders gave his one local interview to a reporter at Posada’s Spanish-language station.
The recent Sanders’ rally in El Paso drew a large, enthusiastic crowd of young Latino supporters, including Nubia Laguarda, who listened to live music blaring on speakers as she waited in line to get into the rally venue.
“I think what is special about Bernie is he does move people to come out and vote,” she said.
But attending a rally is one thing, voting is another and campaign volunteer Gonzalez wasn’t taking any chances. Armed with a clipboard he took advantage of the time people spent waiting in line outside to tout Sanders record and make sure they were registered to vote. He told young voters to join a march after the rally to the nearest early voting polling place, the El Paso county courthouse.
Sanders also urged El Pasoans not to sit on the sidelines this election year. “Your vote is your power,” Sanders boomed. “Not good enough to complain that your earning starvation wages, not good enough to complain you can’t afford housing, not good enough to complain about racism or sexism or xenophobia. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to get involved in the political process.”
After the Saturday afternoon rally, the march to the polling place did not materialize. But several small groups of voters were motivated to head to the county courthouse to vote.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing, yeah,” said Adrian Ordoñez, 27 as he stood outside near the Bernie T-shirt stands chatting with 18-year old Dominque Martinez.
Martinez is excited to be voting for the first time but said he understands why some of his friends don’t participate. He said tells them, “your feelings are valid because if you spend your whole life being told to stay in your place and that you don’t know better. But definitely do it (vote) because it’s the first step to start speaking up for yourself.”
Engaging young voters is a challenge. Most campaigns reach out to people who have voted in the past and may fail to reach newly registered or first time voters including naturalized citizens. In El Paso, one in five people eligible to cast votes in the 2020 primary registered after the November 2016 presidential election.
“I think one of the biggest links is someone knocking on your door, is someone coming to you, explaining why you should register, the policy issues for which you should be concerned about and connecting with those voters,” said Stephen Nuño, senior policy analyst with Latino Decisions, a national research and political opinion firm.
“Latinos are very young. Places like California, Arizona and Texas, the median Latino voter is less than 25 years old,” said Nuño.
The biggest challenge for voters Super Tuesday may be the crowded field of Democratic candidates. Many of those Bloomberg campaign worker Sanchez talked to while door-knocking were undecided. So were some of those leaving the Sanders rally.
“My name is actually Bernie,” said Bernie Morales, 39. But he was not ready to vote for Sanders yet. “I’ll see what everybody else has to say. He said he was also considering Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.
His companion Edith Blanco, 40, had narrowed it down to two choices. “My top two candidates are Bernie and Pete.”