OPED: Will minority voters get behind Bernie?

Tribune News Service
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and his wave Jane acknowledge the crowd as he arrives for his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • 52 percent of Latinos who were eligible to vote in the last election did not do so
  • Bernie Sanders has an opportunity to attract minority voters
  • The Sanders campaign has invested millions in outreach to the Latino community

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders recognize that getting the Latino and African-American vote is key to winning the Democratic nomination and, ultimately, the presidency. Clinton has been polling better with these groups so far, but Sanders may be positioned to gain momentum.

That's because many Latinos sat out the last presidential election.

"12.1 million — 52 percent — of the 23.3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote did not do so," a staff article on the Center for American Progress' website says.

And Sanders' campaign, which has appealed to people who have not previously participated in the political process, has a great opportunity to attract these voters.

Sanders has boldly stepped up to defend Central American immigrants. He made a poignant appeal to President Barack Obama to not arrest and deport innocent women and children back to the region, where death awaits many of them.

The Sanders campaign has invested millions of dollars in outreach to the Latino community — including in Nevada, where Saturday's primary is important for both Democrats.

Nevada and South Carolina — the latter unofficially dubbed "the black primary" — will be testing grounds for Sanders, who consistently lags Clinton in polls of black and Latino voters.

Name recognition alone is a big factor, and Sanders is gaining ground in that department.

In addition to his progressive immigration policies and his participation as a youth in the civil rights movement, Sanders has led efforts in Congress that advocated for the poor and the invisible in our society. He slowly created a persona that can lead people of color, who are struggling in this country, to believe that he is one of us.

Bottom line, Sanders has captured the imagination of millions. He has lived up to one of Albert Einstein's famous quotes: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." We have to give credit to Bernie: He does have a vivid imagination — he envisions himself being the first openly democratic socialist in the White House.

Over the next few weeks we will find out whether Latinos and African-Americans can imagine him as their champion as well.

— Randy Jurado Ertll is author of the book "Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience."