PHOENIX/COMMERCE CITY, Colorado, May 2 (Reuters) – Ricardo Aguirre sits by his two taco trucks and laments soaring prices for tomatoes, onions, meat and cilantro,
whose price has doubled in recent months, hammering his Phoenix-based restaurant business.
Aguirre, 43, usually votes for the Democratic Party. But with inflation hitting a 40-year high in February, he has a stark warning for Democrats as they seek to retain control of the US Congress in November’s election.
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“If the Republican Party has something better to offer us, I’ll vote Republican,” Aguirre said. According to him, Republicans are generally better economic stewards who might be more successful in cutting prices.
Aguirre leads Tamales y Tacos Puebla from Phoenix’s heavily Hispanic Alhambra neighborhood, where talk of record gas and food prices dominated conversations in gardens, shops and restaurants while visiting Reuters.
Of 35 Hispanic voters Reuters spoke to in two sweepstakes in Arizona and Colorado, 20 – including Aguirre – said soaring inflation made them seriously consider voting Republican. The majority of them said they usually vote Democrat.
Many said they didn’t necessarily blame Democrats, but had lost faith in their ability to solve inflation and were increasingly willing to let Republicans try.
Even a small loss of support among Hispanics — a key part of the coalition of Democratic voters that carried President Joe Biden to power — could mean the loss of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate for Democrats.
According to Mike Madrid, a California-based Republican strategist, four of Congress’ top 15 targets for Republicans are races with large Mexican-American populations.
Inflation is now the top concern for Hispanic voters, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll released in March. A Quinnipiac University poll released April 13 found just 26% of Hispanic voters approved of Biden’s job performance, the lowest rating of any demographic group.
It could be a further sign of what pollsters say is a long-term erosion of support for Democrats among Latinos.
While Biden won 61% of Latino voters in the 2020 presidential election, there was an 8% swing to his Republican opponent, Donald Trump, the Democratic polling firm Catalist found in 2021.
Hispanic voters are a large and diverse segment of the electorate and are not uniform in how they vote. In Florida, for example, many are more conservative Cuban-Americans. In the American Midwest and West, a majority are of Mexican descent, traditionally tend to vote Democratic, and live in swing states, including Arizona.
Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly faces a tough re-election in Arizona, where Biden won by just over 10,000 votes and Kelly by just 2.4 percentage points in 2020. Republicans see the state, which is at 32% Latino, as one of the best lucky pick-ups in their bid to regain control of the Senate.
In the Maryvale neighborhood of Phoenix, retiree Jose L. Mendez, 66, stands with his wife Maria, 63, next to a shopping cart filled with rice, pinto beans, tacos and paper towels.
Mendez, who has voted Democratic every year since 1988, had driven 45 minutes to hunt for bargains. He thinks Democratic spending partly caused the price hike and thinks Republicans could do a better job.
“Inflation has affected us a lot. I am ready to change my vote,” he said.
Of the 18 Hispanic voters in Phoenix who spoke to Reuters, all said inflation was by far the most pressing issue for them. Record gasoline prices and the doubling and tripling of food costs strained family budgets.
“Grocery is skyrocketing and gas prices are rising!” ran a Republican ad against Kelly on Spanish-language television in Arizona in March.
Not everyone changes their vote. Daniella Villa, 36, who arrived at the El Super grocery store in Maryvale, said inflation was tough and gas prices were “crazy” but she will still support Kelly and the Democrats in November.
Kelly urged the Biden administration to take more action to reduce gasoline prices and introduced a bill in the Senate to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax.
A White House spokesman blamed the high prices largely on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said Latin American families had benefited from the US bailout law of 1, $9 trillion from Biden in 2021, which expanded the child tax credit, sent direct cash payments to most Americans and bailed out businesses.
“President Biden knows how much higher prices can impact a family budget,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why he fights every day to lower gas prices and reduce kitchen table costs that are crippling Latino families across the country.”
Most economists say inflation is caused by a number of factors, largely beyond Biden’s control. Blockages in the global supply chain were a major cause of rising prices, while oil prices soared even before the war in Ukraine. Many economists also say the Biden administration’s spending on COVID relief fueled the price hike, but note that failure to bail out the economy would have led to a recession.
A Republican National Committee spokesperson said the party will highlight what they call Democrats’ “reckless spending” as a factor in rising inflation.
They will tell voters that Republican-controlled states such as Florida and Texas that have kept schools and businesses open during the pandemic will be used as a model for Hispanic voters who they say want to work and earn more wages. students.
Jaime Regalado, a political science professor at California State University in Los Angeles and an expert on Hispanic voting patterns, said inflation was a nightmare problem for Democrats.
“We are entering a midterm cycle that rarely favors the ruling party, even in better times. Throw inflation into the picture, not knowing if it will end soon, it shows the peril the Democrats have in 2022 with Latino voters,” he said.
Hispanics make up nearly 39% of the electorate in Colorado’s 8th congressional district, north of Denver, a newly created House seat that is evenly split between Democrats and registered Republicans.
In the district town of Platteville, 19-year-old Daniela Castro Tobar worked the storefront of Rosalee’s, her family’s restaurant. She considers herself a liberal and voted for Biden in 2020. But the economic pain that inflation is causing her family is causing her to reconsider her support for Democrats.
“I’m very open to either side right now. We’re all hurting right now, we’re all dealing with inflation,” Castro said.
Americans from all walks of life say inflation is a concern. But a 2021 Bank of America survey found that people of color, particularly black and Latino households, spend proportionately more of their income on staples prone to price hikes like food and gasoline and that inflation hits them the hardest.
Julian Verdugo was still dressed in his dusty oilfield work clothes when he took over behind the counter at the small Mexican confectionery his family owns in Commerce City, a heavily Latino area near Platteville.
As the 24-year-old helped a customer decide which treats she should stock up on for a party, he explained why he was considering voting Republican, breaking with family tradition.
“I was raised as a Democrat. But then I started working in the oil and gas industry, and I realized the Democrats were really against it,” he said. “Now, with fuel inflation, we’ve had to raise prices at this confectionery three times in the last three months because our products are shipped from Mexico.”
Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist involved in Latino outreach efforts in the 8th Ward, said he sees the district as a 2022 indicator because of its large Hispanic population.
“If the Democrats lose Colorado 8, they’re almost guaranteed to lose their congressional majority,” Rocha said. “Because if we can’t win a 50-50 seat in Colorado which is 40% Latino, then they’re going to lose seats nationwide.”
(This story corrects to fix the election year in paragraph 35)
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Reporting by Tim Reid in Phoenix and Brad Brooks in Commerce City; Editing by Ross Colvin and Rosalba O’Brien
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