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Latino Democrats host forum for U.S. Senate candidates in Maryland

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In their first shared stage in the vote-rich suburbs of D.C., the three Democratic candidates seeking Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat pitched themselves to the state’s growing Latino population on Sunday, each arguing they could best represent the diverse community’s long-overlooked needs.

The promises made during a forum at a high school in Bladensburg frequently overlapped: to seek wholesale immigration reform, to expand voting access for undocumented people, to deliver better health care for noncitizens and to provide a better voice for representing communities that are reshaping the state and nation.

“If we can’t vote, we can’t have power. And the Latino community needs power,” Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) said.

He added later: “There’s absolutely no question about it: the Latino community in this country has been marginalized, has been left behind, and in many cases left out — not having a seat at the table. Latino communities have got to have a seat at the table.”

His chief rival, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks called it “high time” for comprehensive immigration reform and pledged to work on it.

And the newest contender in the race, telecom executive Juan Dominguez delivered parts of his comments in Spanish and noted that, as the son of Cuban immigrants, he would be the first Latino Maryland ever sent to Congress.

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The candidates also pitched building better educational and economic opportunities, pressuring the federal government to pay for more of D.C.’s Metro system or moving aggressively to combat climate change. They each offered slightly different explanations for how they would be tough on repeat violent offenders.

Dominguez repeatedly pitched his plan for a “Robinhood tax” to reduce income inequality by taxing the wealthy to pay for programs that broadly benefit society.

“I will advocate for not only Latinos — all people of color, working class, middle class — to have the opportunities that they deserve that they don’t have readily today, because, again, our communities have been stripped of their wealth due to the tax code,” he said.

Maryland’s rare open Senate seat, prompted by the retirement of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), produced a highly contested race that has sent Democrats hunting for any advantage.

So far, the May 14 primary has largely been a contest between three-term congressman Trone, a self-funded business executive, and two-term Alsobrooks with her phalanx of the state’s Democratic establishment. Dominguez, whose campaign launched months after that of his opponents, so far lacks the funding and name-recognition of his well-established rivals.

Sunday’s two-hour forum marked the first time the Latino Democrats of Prince George’s County hosted any campaign forum event — both live-streamed and translated into Spanish — signaling the growing political power and organization of a voting bloc that has often been taken for granted nationally by the Democratic establishment.

“We are tired of being invisible,” said Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, a Prince George’s Democrat who, as chair of the House Government Operations Committee, is the highest-ranking Latino in the Maryland Legislature.

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“People want our vote, but when they get into office, they don’t listen,” she said at the end of the event. “We should be thought of better than ‘the people who clean your bathrooms.’”

Maryland is now the most diverse state on the East Coast, according to the 2020 census, with Latinos representing more than 1 in 10 residents — a population growth of 55.1 percent over the past decade.

Even as political data researchers say they make up just a sliver of voters in the state Democratic primary, Latino voters are receiving early and concentrated attention from Senate candidates this cycle.

“In a two-person race, it becomes a fight to get as close to 50 percent as you can,” said Mileah Kromer, a political scientist at Goucher College, saying that even three percent of the electorate could sway the outcome.

“As the voting bloc grows, the focus on Latinos will become incredible important,” she said.

According to the Democratic data analytics firm Catalist, Latino voters made up nearly 4 percent of the state Democratic primary electorate in 2020, up from 2.75 percent in 2008.

Even though census data shows Hispanics make up 18.75 percent of voters, many are either not old enough to vote, ineligible because of immigration status or disinclined to participate for other reasons, according to Catalist researchers.

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Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by a 2-to-1 margin, so the Democratic primary often determines who wins the General Election in statewide races.

On Sunday, the two presumed front-runners threw so many jabs at each other, the underdog seated between them joked he should step back out of the line of fire.

“I thought the rules said it was hands-off the other candidates,” Dominguez said after the event ended. “Next time I’ll come prepared.”

Alsobrooks accused Trone’s business of contributing to Republican candidates who had a bad record on abortion; he retorted that his record on reproductive rights is impeccable. She leaned heavily on her message that Congress needs more “people who live like and who think like the people they represent,” a jab at Trone’s multimillion dollar wealth.

Trone cast Alsobrooks, who has been in public office since 2011 and a county official before that, as a “career politician” at a time when Maryland needed a change-maker who had accomplishments outside of government. Alsobrooks shot back that it was “intellectually dishonest” for a three-term congressman seeking another six years in office to denigrate her public service.

Trone, meanwhile, suggested Alsobrooks lacked a substantial record on reproductive rights or on helping the Latino community when she represented them.

And he hit a point that has raised much ire from Latinos in Prince George’s over the years: During her first term, zero of the 39 cabinet positions in her administration were occupied by Latinos, even though they make up about 20 percent of the county’s population.

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(An Alsobrooks spokeswoman noted after the event that there is now one Latino in the cabinet.)

Latinos find little room in majority-African American county

Trone has already used his deep campaign chest to woo Hispanic voters, releasing his first television ad in Spanish last week and in October hosting events for his Latino Advisory Board. Trone’s ad focused on economic issues, detailing Trone’s rise from the son of a farmer who lost the land to the bank and benefits he extended to workers in his own business.

Both Trone and Dominguez have Spanish-language campaign websites. Before Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (D) dropped out of the race in October, he did too.

Alsobrooks, whom Jawando endorsed along with a lot of heavy-hitters in Maryland’s political establishment, has a website only in English.

Trone, the founder of the national liquor retailer Total Wine & More, has poured cash into the early stages of the race, but there’s a dearth of public polling about where the candidates stand.

Trone has aired multiple television ads so far and sent mailers statewide. He had spent $9.7 million by Sept. 30, compared to Alsobrooks’s $1.15 million, according to the most recent campaign financing reports. (At that time, Dominguez’s campaign had launch 25 days earlier and spent $210,000.)

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Source: Washington Post

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