Groups ramp up efforts to mobilize Latino voters in Georgia Senate runoff election

From giving away bingo-like Mexican lotería cards to Taco Tuesdays and World Cup watch parties, Latino voting mobilization efforts are ramping up in Georgia ahead of the Senate runoff election next Tuesday.

Early voting is underway in many counties as Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock faces Republican challenger Herschel Walker once again, after neither candidate cleared the threshold needed to win on Election Day.

Latino voters are expected to be consequential in determining who Georgia will send to the Senate.

Even though Latinos are roughly 5% of all voters in Georgia, they still "could be that key group," said Matt Barreto, president and co-founder of the national firm BSP Research, which mainly focuses on Democratic polling.

“If this is a 1% election, it looks like Latinos could provide that key margin,” Barreto, who has also been tracking Latino voters’ influence in contested races nationwide, told NBC News.

Nearly 18,000 Latinos have already voted early in the runoff election as of Thursday morning, making up 1.6% of all early voters so far, according to Georgia secretary of state’s office.

They're part of the Georgia voters who contributed to record turnout for in-person early voting on Monday and Tuesday, when more than 300,000 voters casted their ballots on each day.

Latino voters provided a roughly 80,000-vote net advantage for Warnock on Election Day, according to Barreto. Now progressive groups like the GALEO Impact Fund and Poder Latinx are looking to harness that advantage in the runoff election.

On the GOP side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is trying to give Walker an edge with Latino voters through its Operación ¡Vamos! outreach program.

In Georgia, Latinos are the third-largest racial or ethnic group, now 1.1 million, according to the 2020 census. Nearly half live in five Atlanta-metropolitan-area counties: Fulton, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett.

The more than 300,000 Hispanic registered voters in Georgia are mostly concentrated in these areas. According to the Georgia secretary of state's office, 88% of these registered voters are considered to be "active," meaning they voted in the last two elections.

Dozens of bilingual canvassers from GALEO in Georgia, a nonprofit focused on voting and Latino civic engagement that's supporting Warnock, have been knocking on doors across homes in Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and handing out “El Pastor” lotería cards inspired by Warnock, who has served as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the former pulpit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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"People in our community really respect pastors, so we wanted to elevate that he was a pastor," GALEO Deputy Director Alejandro Chavez said. The lotería card also shows Warnock with a Bible and a medical bill in his hand to signal his commitment to affordable health care. He's also accompanied by butterflies, symbolic of the "Dreamers," a term often used to describe young undocumented immigrants or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients.

The cards have sparked nuanced conversations between canvassers and prospective voters, Chavez said. The group is also ramping up its advertising efforts on social media and on Spanish-language radio.

Chavez said GALEO has also expanded its canvassing efforts to two smaller counties in northern Georgia, Whitfield and Cherokee, that are often overlooked because they are outside the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Even though they "don't have huge populations, they do have dense areas with Latino, bilingual, Spanish speakers," he said. "It's an opportunity to expand the electorate."

GALEO canvassers. (GALEO)
GALEO canvassers. (GALEO)

Georgia's Latino voting bloc stands out for its youth. Latinos under 30 represent the largest share of the overall Latino electorate in the state, according to progressive voter mobilization group Voto Latino.

Poder Latinx, a progressive voter mobilization organization, opted to go beyond canvassing and phone banking. On Saturday, as Argentina and Mexico faced off in the most-watched Spanish-language World Cup group stage broadcast in U.S. history, Poder Latinx hosted a watch party where attendees were invited to make a pledge to vote.

"A lot of our work is really tailored to our community in a cultural and linguistic way," Yadira Sanchez, executive director of Poder Latinx, said. Combining that with more traditional voter engagement strategies helps make the electoral process less intimidating for young and new Latino voters looking to participate in the runoffs and beyond, she said.

In addition to having dozens of canvassers and phone bankers trying to get Latino voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area to turn out, Poder Latinx had several events scheduled throughout the week, including Taco Tuesday to the Polls as well as others targeting Latina voters and young voters at Georgia State University.

The group also released a public service announcement featuring Latina superhero La Borinqueña, who is Puerto Rican, encouraging Latinos to vote early. It also plans to release another public service announcement featuring the Chicano band Las Cafeteras with a remix of the classic hit "Georgia on My Mind."

Ahead of the Senate runoff election, Voto Latino identified 175,000 Latinos in Georgia who are young, low-propensity voters who participated in the last election. Their participation could be crucial in increasing Latino voter turnout in the runoff election, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino said during a call with reporters two weeks ago. (Kumar is also an MSNBC contributor; MSNBC and NBC News are part of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast.)

The group is reaching out to these Georgia voters through a get-out-the-vote campaign that includes sending text messages as well as digital and radio advertising, according to Kumar.

On the Republican side, Juan Arias, the NRSC’s Hispanic press secretary, told NBC News in an email that Operación ¡Vamos! has 15 full-time staffers in Georgia assisting with efforts to turn out Hispanic voters in support of Walker.

"Latinos are excited for the runoff," Helder Toste, field and coalitions director at the NRSC, said Saturday on Twitter ahead of a Walker campaign event in Georgia.

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Throughout the midterm election cycle, the group contacted over 200,000 Latino voters in the state and attended over 20 events specifically aimed at Hispanic voters, Arias said.

David Casas of the conservative grassroots group The LIBRE Initiative Action in Georgia is aiming to show Hispanic voters the economic policy differences between Walker and Warnock.

LIBRE spokesperson Ciara Kennedy-Mercer said in an email Wednesday that the group plans to do that mainly through media and digital advertising, as well as social media, "to highlight how Herschel Walker’s policy positions would be better to generate economic growth and opportunities."

"Additionally, we are knocking doors with Americans for Prosperity-Action," said another conservative grassroots group, Kennedy-Mercer.

Barreto described Georgia's Latino vote as "an important coalition, ally of Black voters. Black voters are the dominant group, which can determine election results because they're so large and they vote very heavily Democrat."

But Latinos are "providing that critical extra margin in these 1% margin elections," he added.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com