Seeking to seal Padilla’s vote, Ramirez maintains a steady pace in Spanish. When Padilla tells her that her parents are undocumented, Ramirez mentions that her husband is a DACA recipient, then quickly switches to the Illinois law she helped pass as a state representative that provides health care to all low-income immigrants over 55, including undocumented immigrants. Padilla was unaware of the program and Ramirez says his family may be eligible. Next, Ramirez rewinds the conversation to Latino representation in the suburbs, the absence of which she says prevents “hard-working families” from accessing much-needed resources.
Padilla and a dozen other Hispanic men whom Ramirez met in Addison that Saturday morning promised to vote for her. Padilla, a first-time voter naturalized in December 2021, explained to me that immigration is ultimately about the wallet. “My father pays taxes,” he says. “But because of his immigration status, he can’t retire. He cannot benefit from social security. He gets nothing.
“For Latinos,” Ramirez tells me later. “Those who are well-connected get it, and those of us who work really hard often don’t.”
This is Ramirez’s playbook: pounding on Latinos’ thirst for better political representation and connecting her progressive economic platform to her own personal story as the “daughter of two factory-working Guatemalan immigrants.” Ramirez’s parents are how she bonds emotionally and politically with voters. Her mother, she says, “nearly died in the Rio Grande”, pregnant and crossing the river carrying Ramirez, and her 71-year-old father, she says, “cannot retire with dignity” because “he has need another job to pay for her health insurance supplements.
Ramirez does not deny the statistical evidence for the evolution of the Latino vote.
Across the country, Latino voters are abandonment of the Democratic Party. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll from October shows the Democratic lead among registered Latino voters has shrunk by 17 percentage points, compared to their 40-point advantage in 2018. Latino men — especially middle-aged men middle working class like Padilla living in the suburbs – are leading the trend. In June, Republican Mayra Flores unseated her Texas congressional district for the first time in a century. She was called “Democrats’ worst nightmare.”
But the lesson Ramirez learned from the Flores victory was not that Democrats should run in the middle. Rather the opposite.
In fact, nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters support the $15 minimum wage and government involvement in health care, according to the Pew Research Center. An August UnidosUS poll shows that Latino voters in major swing states place affordable housing and the high cost of living at the top of their concerns. “We’ve seen over the past few years the housing issue rise up the priority agenda as its own thing,” said Clarissa Martinez, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS. “In a few states, it’s in the top five concerns.”
Joshua Ulibarri, Democratic strategist at Lake Research Partners, said Democrats have a perception problem with Latino voters who often view them as “weak” and ineffective, while associating “strength” and “getting things done” with the republicans. “That’s not what they see with Delia,” Ulibarri said. “They see a strong campaign focused on affordable housing, health care and education. It’s quite exciting for voters.
Ramirez believes her economic progressivism explains how she beat a moderate Latino in the primary — by 40 percentage points in the city of Chicago and 47 percentage points in the purple suburb of DuPage County. And that’s how she comfortably won the general election.
Jose Padilla ran for Ramirez on November 8, voting for the first time since moving to the United States 21 years ago. Ramirez won by 31 points in a district where Democrats have a 20-point advantage, according to Cook Partisan Voter Index. While the Republicans outperformed them in 2020 (her moderate Republican opponent Justin Burau told me he was “an admirer of John McCain”), Ramirez picked up a 51-49 victory at DuPage, where she won the county’s Hispanic-majority precincts by a 14-point margin, according to analysis based on 2020 census and precinct-level data.