Anna Luna, a 32-year-old Mexican American who is running for the 13th Congressional District of Florida as a Republican, still remembers when she told her mother she would vote in 2016 for the GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
Her mother was so upset – and loud – about her feelings that Luna had to hold the phone away from her ear. “She didn’t have it,” Luna recalls.
She added, laughing, that her mother had created a Facebook page called “Mothers of Daughters Who Voted Trump.”
Ever since Luna’s grandparents moved from Mexico to the United States – where Luna’s mother and father were born – the family have voted Democrats, as have the majority of Latinos, historically. But two generations later, young Luna makes her second attempt to make one of Florida’s congressional blue districts blush. In her first round, she lost to Democratic incumbent and former Florida governor Charlie Crist.
His story shows the intertwined religious and political changes in the Latino community that some say will resonate in American politics for decades to come. The data suggests that Latinos’ estrangement from the Democratic Party is propelled, in part, by a wider estrangement from Catholicism. While the fastest growing Latino religious group is not affiliated with any church, many of those leaving Catholicism are also turning to evangelism. And with this realignment of their faith comes a realignment of their political affiliation: Evangelism’s emphasis on a personal and unmediated relationship with God – independent of institutions – and individual rather than systemic responsibility is closely aligned with Republican thought. and conservative.
When asked if the GOP might be forced to move to the center to woo the Hispanic vote, Luna and others – including some Latino evangelical pastors – insist that the conservative agenda and values of the Latino community are already the same. What is new, they argued, is that Latinos are starting to understand that the Republican Party offers many in their community a natural home.
“Latinos are waking up and they are finally realizing that our values do not fit the Democrats’ platform,” Reverend Adianis Morales said. Associate pastor at an Orlando church, Reverend Morales has also served as the Latino Engagement Coordinator for Trump and Religious Initiatives Liaison for the Florida Republican Party.
She said when she arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico, she registered as a Democrat. Her decision, she said, was symptomatic of widespread “indoctrination” that tells us “because we are Hispanic, we are Democrats.” As she knocked on doors in central Florida during various campaigns, she added, she heard this idea repeated over and over again by Latino voters.
“But when you learn the platforms and see the differences between the platforms,” Reverend Morales said, “the Republican Party reflects our religious values and beliefs.” Like most political conservatives, Latinos are particularly concerned about religious freedom, she said, as well as abortion and traditional marriage.
Faith and culture
While 2020 did not reveal a large Latino shift towards Trump, the former president garnered more support from Latino voters than he did in 2016. And the GOP made modest gains with Latino voters in Florida, Georgia and Texas, while then Democratic candidate Joe Biden received less Latino support in Ohio than Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The popularity of Republican candidates with evangelicals and a Latin American shift to Protestantism explain some of the party’s gains with this group. Luna, in some ways, embodies this change: Although she was born and baptized Catholic, her family attended Calvary Chapel, an evangelical denomination, when she was young. Today, Luna and her husband attend a Baptist church.
But Reverend Morales said the affinity for the Republican Party transcends religion and is rooted in deeply rooted cultural mores.
Even Latinos with no religious affiliation are widely opposed to abortion, she said. The data suggests that Latinos are slightly more conservative about abortion than white and black Americans, with people born in Latin America saying they are more opposed to abortion than Hispanics born in the United States. Latino millennials are widely opposed to abortion, with a majority of Catholics and Protestants saying it should be illegal, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
Reverend Morales said religious freedom is important for Latin American families because they want the right to raise their children with certain faith-based values.
Reverend Morales and Luna spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference in June, where the Latino presence was so strong that simultaneous English to Spanish translation was offered. Reverend Morales helped recruit the 500 Latino pastors who attended. And there were also speakers and panels that revolved around issues relevant to the Hispanic community – suggesting that Latino Republicans – especially those of faith – are indeed a force to be reckoned with.
But Reverend Gabriel Salguero, founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said the issue of Hispanic evangelicals’ march towards the Republican Party is not so settled. Leading by example, he explained that a large number of Latinos identify as independent. Latino evangelicals, he said, are “the swing voters par excellence”, stressing that they represent the convergence of “two realities” in America: that of Latinos, who tend to vote Democrat, as well as evangelicals. , who lean for Republicans.
“George W. Bush has won the Hispanic evangelical vote every time he ran,” said Rev. Salguero, “Barack Obama has won the Hispanic evangelical vote every time he ran… we are not a monolith. “
He also stressed that Latinos are not one-question voters. Many – whether Catholic or Evangelical – have a pro-life stance that goes beyond abortion, cradle-to-grave and includes concerns such as poverty, prison reform, and affordable housing.
“We are at the crossroads of all kinds of social, immigration and economic issues,” Reverend Salguero said. “We think all of these things are priorities.”
Many Latinos are socially conservative but politically liberal and support the idea of a social safety net. These Hispanic voters, he noted, might feel alienated from the Republican Party.
Still, he said, Republicans could have an advantage as they have aggressively pursued the Hispanic evangelical vote for “decades,” Reverend Salguero said.
“The Republican Party understood early on that the Hispanic evangelical vote was up for grabs,” he said, adding that conservative groups like the Faith and Freedom Coalition “did not start reaching out yesterday.”
Taken for granted
While Democrats still seem to have a lock on most Latino votes, political consultant Chuck Rocha – who was a senior advisor to Bernie Sanders – explained that the numbers could give the party a false sense of security. He cited Texas as an example: “You had places like Hidalgo County that show they are all registered Democrats… (and) 53,000 voters came forward and voted Republican.
Many of those voters who were registered for one party but voted for the other, he added, “had not voted for two cycles”.
Rocha said the last election was a “wake-up call” for Democrats who have long called Latino voters a “grassroots vote, not a persuasive vote.”
Evangelical Latinos like Reverend Morales are a much-hyped minority but don’t really represent the majority of Latino voters, Rocha said, acknowledging that the Democratic Party has work to do if it wants to keep Latino voters. To that end, he said, Democrats are already making unprecedented efforts to reach out to Latino voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election “by talking about what they’re doing to improve their lives.”
“The president and his super PACs are doing more work sooner than I’ve ever seen a president,” Rocha said.
He added that the concerns of Latino voters are not unique. They look a lot like working class whites. “Jobs, the economy, COVID relief, education – that’s what drives people right now,” he said. “Price of gas, price of bread. They are really worried that their children will not be able to go back to school because working class families have to find child care. “
Because the Latino demographics are young, Rocha said, with an average age younger than the white population, Democrats need to step up their game when it comes to communicating with Hispanic youth.
If they don’t, young Republicans like Luna may well beat Democrats to the fist.
While Luna’s candidacy for Congress for 2020 failed, garnering 47% of the vote against 53% for Crist, this time she is focusing her action on young Hispanics like herself as a strategy. With Crist stepping down to bid to be governor of Florida again, Luna’s chances of landing the vacant seat in 2022 look even better.
Young, tenacious and outspoken, his victory would be a coup d’etat reminiscent of Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who in New York state held a seat in Congress held by a white man from his own party. Anna Paulina Luna, or APL as it’s sometimes called, would turn this neighborhood from blue to red.
And Luna, unlike AOC, is decidedly conservative.
While her mother still hasn’t got on the Trump train, Luna said coming to see her speak at political rallies opened her eyes for her mother and helped her expand her ideas about who is – and who can. to be – a Republican.
“She came to a few Turning Point events,” Luna said, referring to the grassroots conservative organization, “and saw that there were women and men and black and white and Hispanics.… And she obviously knew that I was not a white supremacist.