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Opinion Let’s hope the DNC’s inexplicably weak Latino lineup is not a fatal mistake

Eva Longoria introduces Michelle Obama on Monday during the first night of the Democratic National Convention, an online event hosted from Milwaukee. (Democratic National Convention handout/EPA-EFE)

On Monday, as the Democratic Party began its national convention in an unprecedented virtual format, the first face viewers saw was Eva Longoria’s. The actress and longtime Democratic activist emceed the night and introduced a long list of speakers. Unfortunately, very few of them were Hispanic like her. It was clear the Democratic National Convention’s initial session left one of the party’s vital coalitions notoriously underrepresented. “There are as many Republicans speaking on night one as there are Latinos speaking the whole week,” Sawyer Hackett, who advises former presidential candidate Julián Castro, told me.

Things are unlikely to change at this stage. The official schedule of the convention lists only three prominent Hispanic speakers. On Monday, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), the first Latina U.S. senator in history, spoke for two minutes. On Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) will have a chance to deliver a 60-second message. Her supporters rightfully complained about the time constraint, but AOC took it in stride. She has been gracious, but it doesn’t erase the mystery of having arguably the most popular young Hispanic politician in the country, and the party’s most visible rising star, speak only for a minute. On Wednesday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will take to the screen. It remains to be seen whether Lujan Grisham, the only Latina thought to have been on Joe Biden’s list of vice-presidential nominees, will be given more than 120 seconds to tell her story.

Other equally prominent Latino or Latino-friendly voices have been left out of the convention entirely. Beto O’Rourke, who gained a visible role as a Senate contender, presidential candidate and, a year ago, as a powerful voice in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, won’t be giving a speech. The case of Castro is even stranger. Castro was the only Latino to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. More importantly, after dropping out, Castro has emerged as a leading advocate in various issues, including the country’s policing crisis. Just eight years ago, in a historic first, Barack Obama’s campaign selected Castro to deliver the 2012 convention keynote address. Castro spoke movingly about his family’s immigrant experience in Texas, where he grew up alongside his brother, Rep. Joaquín Castro. Just eight years later, Castro has been snubbed.

The decision makes no sense: Latinos are poised to be the biggest nonwhite voting bloc for the first time in history. “I think a lot of young Hispanic voters are asking why vote for Biden in November,” Julio Varela, who runs the news site Latino Rebels, told me. “Someone like Castro could have been a symbol that represents that group of voters. I think it was a mistake not to include him.”

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Varela is right, specially considering Biden’s recent history with Latinos, who voted in large numbers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the Democratic primary. For Juan Escalante, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary and immigrant advocate, the slight on Castro “is reprehensible.”

“We have seen Republicans chosen to address the party. The party’s Latino wing? Not so much,” Escalante told me. “Why can’t we hear from people who have been persecuted by this administration? Why not include Castro, the only Latino to run for president? It’s a real shame.”

By leaving out O’Rourke and Castro, the Biden campaign might be wasting an opportunity to tighten the election in Texas. A recent Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll found that Latinos in Texas favor Biden over Trump by a clear margin. With a historic Democratic victory in Texas still a possibility, relegating the state’s two most relevant politicians for Latinos seems inexplicable.

National polls among Hispanics favor Biden, but the numbers are far from overwhelming and should give Democrats pause. Although polling among Hispanics can be difficult and even inaccurate (language and other barriers can obscure results), Biden seems to be underperforming compared with Hillary Clinton’s share of Latino votes in 2016. While part of this might be due to Sanders’s enduring appeal among younger Latinos, the fact remains that the Democratic presidential candidate faces a real challenge among one of the country’s crucial demographics. Featuring such a low number of Latino speakers at one of the few remaining inflection points in the campaign was unwise.

There is one possible explanation, though. Perhaps the Biden campaign has chosen to ignore most of the Hispanic electorate to focus on the party’s long-sought electoral holy grail: the ever-elusive Florida Latino voter. That might explain the campaign’s decision to entrust former Republican strategist — and very public Trump foe — Ana Navarro with the Biden camp’s Latino outreach rather than hire an experienced campaign operative with a proven track record with the Hispanic electorate, such as Sanders’s remarkable Latino director, Chuck Rocha.

Navarro, who grew up in Miami, seems to have one goal: convince Florida voters that Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), are not communist Trojan horses. “We live in a time in which many Latinos believe the lie that the Democratic Party is full of socialists,” Escalante told me. “Maybe Ana, a Hispanic woman who is also a Republican, can erase those lies.” If Navarro can deliver Florida’s Hispanics, Biden’s strategy with Latinos will be vindicated.

But if Trump wins more than 30 percent of Latino voters and Hispanic turnout stays low, the Biden campaign might look back at its Democratic convention lineup with mucho arrepentimiento.

Read more:

Lizette Alvarez: Latinos can be racist, too. My community shows how.

Stephanie Valencia, Joaquin Castro, Ana Maria Archila, Cristina Jiménez, Luis Miranda and Luis Miranda Jr.: Hispanics in America are under attack

DeNeen L. Brown: Black people are tired of trying to explain racism

Megan McArdle: How to explain systemic racism to non-liberals like me