LPO en Texas
"This time the Republicans gave us Democrats a chance to succeed"
Latina consultant Laura Barberena, who worked with the Clintons and Obama, campaigned with Democrats in major states. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, she analyzes the election.

Laura Barberena is a well-known Latino consultant who is based in San Antonio, Texas, and has worked for years for Democratic candidates across the country. The daughter of a Mexican father who crossed the border from Nueva Laredo when he was 18 years old, Barberena joined the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at a very young age. In 2017, she decided to found Viva Politics, a consultancy whose priority is to bring the Latino community closer to politics and does political communication, production and research tasks. In this campaign, she played a multifuncional role in most of the places where the Democratic candidates competed, traveling the country and concentrating on key states such as Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, Barberena says that the Republicans gave the Democrats the chance to win this election, affirms that Latinos continue tu have little space in the power structures of the United States and breathes relief at the defeat of Trumpism's candidates.

After working on several campaigns, you decided to found your consultancy. What is the task you perform in the political campaigns of the Democrats?

At Viva Politics we do political communication, we manage campaigns, we do commercials and everything related to a campaign at the local level, like in San Antonio and Bexar County with judges and councilors. We take charge of making a logo, taking photos and social networks, we also record commercials, do radio production and buy space for ads.

At the national level, I am a focus group facilitator, a professional moderator in English and Spanish, and I do it for the campaigns that think about the Latino vote. I travel a lot to Arizona, Florida and Georgia to do these focus groups and understand how Latinos feel about many issues. Furthermore, I direct commercials, I have had the opportunity to do it for Charlie Christ, the former governor of Florida, who unfortunately lost to DeSantis. In Nevada I directed commercials with Senator Catherine Masto, who just won in Arizona, I worked with the Senate Majority PAC and directed commercials to help Mark Kelly against Blake Masters. Two years ago, in the mid of the pandemic, I ran commercials in Georgia with Senator John Ossoff via Zoom. Ossoff speaks perfect Spanish because of her wife: we won, and I think the Latino vote was part of the success.

What is the focus of your concern in each campaign?

I do everything, but I focus more on communication and talking to Latinos about politics. They always say that Latinos do not vote, that is the history of the world, and here in the United States they talk about the "sleeping giant", that we are asleep and we are not participating, but we are participating. Most of us are voting Democrats as well, although there are some who are voting Republicans.

It is the intersection of political communication and advertising.

Yes, I produce a commercial and then I go and put it in a focus group to see the reactions to it. I love that I can do both in one campaign, and because I have a PhD from UT Austin in political rhetoric, I feel like I am using that education in a very creative way, because I do not know if there are other consultancies that have PhDs and do this work in practice.

They always say that Latinos do not vote, that is the history of the world, and here in the United States they talk about the "sleeping giant", that we are asleep and we are not participating, but we are participating. Most of us are voting Democrats.

What is your first reading of the election result?

At a national level, I would say it was very good for the Democrats. It finally feels like people are rejecting Trump. When he first ran and made fun of John McCain, I said this guy's career is over, he is going to disappear. But he continued. Then he made fun and talked about the Mexicans being animals and I do not know what else. And he went on and on. Then I thought: something is happening here. He represents some people's hatred and they have not had the opportunity to express it openly. That worried me a lot and I said this has to stop, it cannot go on. Then that hooked more people and the Republican Party saw he was the path to power. Although he said crazy things that I could not even imagine, he was always the path to power. And even though some people did not agree with what he was saying, they knew that with him they were going to be successful. Time has come and it is clear that he is no longer the path to power. Because there are people like DeSantis and other who -although for me they are too far to the right-, in any case they do not talk about crazy things like that. I think that in this election the Republican Party saw that the path to power is no longer just on Trump's side. They see there is a chance of winning without Trump.

"If Republicans want to break with Trump, it is time to do it now"

You have worked with Clinton, with Hillary, with Obama. What did the Democrats base their recovery on? What did you do to achieve this result?

I do not know if it was what the Democrats did, but what Republicans did. Taking away the right to choose from women, I think that was very bad for them. Not only that, but they did it in a way that there was no exception, no rape or incest. One thing is to make political promises and not keep them, but if someone has a right and you take it away, you are not going to do well. I mean in 2016, when we had those huge marches here in the United States and that was about immigration that was becoming illegal, all those who were helping people who did not have papers and were here without permission and people went out to the streets. I say "clear impressment danger", there is something that can actually take away my rights and change my life, that is threatening my life and my way of being, and I think that Roe vs Wade was super bad for them. Although the economy is not doing very well, costs are going up... I had the opportunity to travel all over the United States this year, to do the focus groups, I went on behalf of Emerson College to six states to do a study of Latinos. And in every state everyone was talking about food prices, gasoline, well even though Trump was bad and I do not respect him and he was crazy, my life was better with him. Therefore, we thought this red wave was coming.

Barberena in a filming. She is also in charge of directing campaign commercials.

So, what happened?

I think that the Republicans went beyond they should have gone and in that they gave the Democrats an issue in which they could organize and encourage people to go out and vote. Without them, many of the young people who went to vote would not have come out. The reality is that the lives of normal people will continue whether they vote or not, nothing will change, that is how they think. But if you are telling them you are not going to have a chance to continue, they are going to say Medicaid or Social Security, then people say even though the costs of living are going up and my family is not doing well, these are dangerous issues. In the study I conducted, Latinos trust Republicans more to fix the economy, but when it comes to social issues, they think Democrats are always going to do a better job. This time the Republicans gave us Democrats a chance to succeed.

Trump represents some people's hatred and they have not had the opportunity to express it openly. The Republicans supported him because they knew they would succeed with him. But time has come and it is clear that he is no longer the path to power.

The Democrats gave former presidents a very important role in the campaign, Obama seemed like a politician in action. How important do you think they were in the results?

I think it was super important. When we think of Obama, we think of a presidency of hope, success and respect. When we think of Trump, it is all disrespect and violence. I think that having Clinton and Obama on this kind of tour they did was super important to remind Democrats what the Democratic Party stands for. Because I think a lot of people miss the brand of the Democratic Party.

What do you mean?

The Democratic Party always represented workers, people of color, the poor, the opportunity to reach the American dream. Republicans were always the rich, the gringos, the corporations. That was in the past. But when I did my focus groups, I heard people say "they also represent corporations, they do not keep their promises on immigration either, promise after promise and they are not doing it. There were many who said they are for themselves, they reach Congress as poor congressmen, they leave millionaires, they vote for corporations, they are not fulfilling their promise on immigration. Bringing to mind the former presidents is to remind people that the party does take care of our people, there is the good part of what the Party represents, we must not lose sight of the fact that this is the essence. The Republicans do a good job making the Democrats look bad and former presidents are the best way to reply. Under Clinton, the economy was super good, under Obama we had Medicaid and people like me, who did not have health insurance, benefited.

Dos tercios de los latinos votaron a los demócratas y causaron la derrota de Trump en Arizona

What happened in Arizona, where the most loyal candidates to Trump competed?

What happens in Arizona, like in Texas, is that there are barriers, structures, that prevent people from going out to vote. Like here in Texas, if you do not register 30 days before the election, you won't be able to vote in the election. That is ridiculous. I say, one day you have all the rights of a citizen of the United States and the next day you don't. Why? In other states, you can register until the day of the election. Also, there were people intimidating other people, there were people with guns next to the ballot boxes, that was playing dirty. And we are always talking about people who have money and time, but there are people who have two or three jobs, how are they going to go out and vote? In Arizona, there is a lot of racism, (Sheriff Joe) Arpaio was one of those horrible people who attacked our community. Well, he is gone, but the people who supported him are still living there. I think that they do not see the good and think that immigrants come and take away from them. The Republicans continue with the messages that those who come here are robbers, they want to take your job, they are taking over hospital beds, they are in the schools and they are not paying taxes. They continue with that idea instead of seeing the good and beautiful things immigrants bring to this country.

In the focus groups I heard people say about the Democrats: they also represent corporations, they do not keep their promises on immigration either, they come to Congress as poor congressmen and they come out millionaires. That is why we thought that red wave was coming.

You said that there are few Latinos in the mainstream media, not only on Fox but also on CNN and MSNBC. Why isn't there more space for Latinos in power structures?

They do not appreciate how important the Latino vote is and if they think the Latino vote has no impact on what happens in an election, why are we going to talk?

People talk about Latinos all the time, but maybe the same thing is said.

Yes, or they talk about what is weird, and they talk about Latino Republicans, hey, stop there. Those who appear on television are pure Latino Republicans. Most of us Latinos are Democrats and most of those who appear on TV are Republicans. They do not represent our voice. It is about access, it is about relationships that we do not have. This year I am going to write a book on these topics. Latinos are the majority of people here in Texas, yes, we are going to affect the election if we are successful. In Georgia we were doing this study with Emerson and deciding which states to do it in. Georgia, I said. Georgia? There are no Latinos in Georgia. Yes, there are, there are thousands and these elections are going to be so tight that Latinos are going to make a difference. If Latinos do not vote, Raphael Warnock does not vote. We must educate on the importance of the Latino vote. We have the ability to determine the winners of an election. We have that power. We are young. We live in very important states like Georgia, Pennsylvania,Michigan, Wisconsin. Latinos can make a difference, the important thing is that Democrats do not take them for granted. Speaking to Latinos, invest in communication for Latinos, invest in organizations that are on the side of Latinos. If we speak to Latinos only on Election day, we are not going to win.

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