How Latinos contributed to Colorado Democrats’ big wins in 2022, including sending the state’s first Latina to Congress

· Nov. 11, 2022, 10:27 am
U.S. Representative Elect Yadira Caraveo. Nov. 10, 2022.U.S. Representative Elect Yadira Caraveo. Nov. 10, 2022.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
U.S. Representative-Elect Yadira Caraveo. Nov. 10, 2022.

A day after her opponent conceded, Dr. Yadira Caraveo addressed the media from a podium set up in the backyard of her childhood home in Adams County. Watching from nearby, her mother Elsa Caraveo said this isn’t a day she ever imagined. 

“We expected all the kids to go to college and have an education, but we never expected to have a congresswoman-elect,” she said. “So it's very proud.” 

Caraveo’s parents immigrated from Mexico to make a better life and settled in Colorado to raise their family. Caraveo went to medical school and became a pediatrician, following a dream her mother also had as a child.

“I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the resources,” said Elsa Caraveo. “And then when she became a doctor I was so happy. But I always told them, ‘You can do whatever you want to be, but don't be a quitter. Don't quit.’”

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
Congresswoman-elect Yadira Caraveo holds a press conference outside her childhood home in Adams County on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

That kind of persistence was critical in the race for the new 8th Congressional District, where the campaign attracted huge amounts of outside funding but also came down to plenty of door-knocking and old-fashioned voter outreach. 

Caraveo believes her Mexican-American identity helped her connect with voters from the northern Denver suburbs into Weld county, including in towns like Thornton and Greeley. The district has a larger Latino population than any other seat, comprising nearly 40 percent of the residents. 

“I had so many people pull me aside, give me hugs, give me kisses on the cheeks and say, ‘It's so great to finally see somebody like us not just running for Congress, but possibly representing us.’”

Caraveo was hardly the only Democrat to benefit from Latino support in this election. A new exit poll indicates Latinos overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in Colorado, contributing to the party’s historic sweep of statewide races and pick up of legislative seats. However, Latinos in Colorado were less likely to support Democrats in 2022 compared with 2020.

The pollsters say on average, Latinos supported Democratic candidates by a 2-to-1 margin, but the precise percentages varied across the political contests. 

Starting Oct. 24 and continuing to election day, BSP Research spoke with 531 Latino voters – more than a third of those living in the 8th District. The firm did the survey on behalf of the Colorado Latino Agenda, an initiative of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Voces Unidas, and Protégete, an environmental advocacy group. The groups generally endorse progressive candidates, though the polling is designed to be nonpartisan.

Caraveo had slightly higher support among those polled in her district than other Democrats on the ballot. While 73 percent of the voters in the 8th District said they supported Sen. Michael Bennet, 75 percent backed Caraveo. 

Another indication of how much Latinos turned out for Caraveo: that 75 percent support contrasts with 63 percent of Latinos polled in the 1stCongressional District, which covers Denver, who voted for Democratic Rep. Diana Degette.

Overall, Latinos were 7 percent less likely to support Democrats in Colorado in 2022 compared with 2020, according to BSP Research’s Gabe Sanchez. 

“Seven percent might seem like a lot, but when we look at some other states — thinking about Texas, thinking about Florida — that shift among Latinos was much more dramatic. So at the end of the day, yes, we definitely should confirm that there was a shift towards Republicans, but it was nowhere near what a lot of people projected that it would [be],” Sanchez said. 

A majority of Latino voters polled said they have not changed their political ideology since 2020. But among those who say their views have shifted, nearly a quarter of the Latinos polled got more conservative in their ideology, while 19 percent got more liberal. 

Yadira Caraveo parents Elsa and HectorBente Birkeland/CPR News
Elsa and Hector Caraveo with their daughter, Congresswoman-elect Yadira Caraveo during a press conference outside her childhood home in Adams County on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

Organizers across the political spectrum knocked on a lot of Latino family doors in the 8th District all year, trying to mobilize them to vote.

Community organizers from both political parties understood what a critical role Latino voters would play in this election, especially in the state’s newest, most politically divided district, where the margin between winning and losing was always expected to come down to a handful of votes. As of Friday, Caraveo leads Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer, who conceded, by about 2,000 votes.

The Republican National Committee opened a Hispanic Community Center in Thornton in the hopes of building stronger relationships with the district’s Latino voters. 

“It's important for us to focus on [Latinos] solely so that they understand that their vote really matters, and it's important for them to go out and vote,” said Angel Merlos, a senior advisor for Libre Action in Colorado. The fiscally conservative group supported Kirkmeyer and was not involved in the exit polling. Merlos said despite the outcome, his work in the district will continue.

Get-out-the-vote groups focused on the 8th District early; the district has the fewest registered voters of any Colorado congressional seat.

Stacy Suniga, head of the Latino Coalition of Weld County, said she tried to convince Latino voters that, with the redrawn lines, their votes mattered more than ever. Prior to redistricting, all of Weld County was in a solidly Republican seat represented by Rep. Ken Buck. The other parts of the 8th District were in a safe Democratic seat.

“It's going to take a little more education to understand the opportunity that CD-8 brings. And I think with the Caraveo win, that'll open some eyes and say, ‘Hey, I should be participating in this,’” Suniga said.

In polling and in interviews, Colorado Latinos say they are particularly impacted by high prices. Merlos said that knocking on doors, he heard people say they felt like they were paying more for everything in their lives, including taxes, and not seeing results in terms of things like better roads or higher pay for teachers. 

“It was like they were having trouble understanding how they're paying so much and receiving little,” Merlos said. “I think there is a lot of confusion on, ‘Why are politicians not utilizing the money they're supposed to?’”

The desire to address the high cost of living is reflected in Latinos’ support for three statewide ballot measures — Proposition FF, Prop. 121 and Prop. 123. According to the exit poll from BSP Research, Latinos supported the measures at much higher rates than Coloradans overall. 

On Prop. FF, which imposes higher taxes on top-income earners to fund universal free school meals, 82 percent of Latino voters who were asked said they supported the measure. Overall, 55 percent of Coloradans voted for it. 

“Food insecurity among Latinos is incredibly high, unfortunately, across the state of Colorado,” said Sanchez, the pollster. “So anything that could be done to support that, specifically, as we think about for our youngsters, that was going to get strong support.”

Likewise, 78 percent of Latinos in the poll supported Prop. 123, which requires the legislature to spend more on affordable housing, with some of the money coming out of tax refunds. As of Friday morning, it was too close to call, with the vote tilting to the ‘yes’ side by a few points. And the income tax reduction, Prop. 121, passed statewide with 66 percent support, compared to 76 percent of Latino voters polled.

Both Merlos and Suniga hope that in Congress, Caraveo and others will be able to help address household economic challenges.

The increasingly high cost of living is one reason Caraveo said she decided to get into politics in the first place, and it was a central focus of her campaign for Congress. 

“The suburbs were an area where people from Denver moved when Denver became unaffordable. Now they can't afford to live here, and they're moving to places even further afield, like all the way up to Greeley,” she said in an interview with CPR News during the campaign. 

Caraveo, who lives in Thornton, said her father was able to support their family of six on his wages as a construction worker, something she finds hard to imagine today. 

“I could have easily stayed in my clinic and continued to take care of patients, but I saw the difficulties that families all over this district were having to live the dream that I have been able to dream,” she said. 

Caraveo said she hopes to join the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and said she’d continue to work on healthcare policy and advocacy for patients.

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