Latino vote gains influence in SC ahead of Democratic primary

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BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – Beaufort County has been on the radar of many Democratic presidential candidates in recent months.

Mayra Rivera-Vasquez, Chair of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, says she has spoken to members of the Biden, Sanders, Warren, Yang, Buttigieg, Harris and Booker campaigns in recent months.

With the South Carolina presidential primary in less than a month, many candidates hope to gain the support of the Hispanic community by directly meeting with them.

Juan Benitez owns Las Palmas Bar and Grill in Okatie. His restaurant served as the meeting place for a roundtable discussion with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“The Hispanic community […] respects someone that comes and handles their situation face-to-face,” says Benitez.

Community members say their voices matter now more than ever.

Nationwide influence

For the first time, the Hispanic population represents the largest racial or ethnic minority in the country.

Data from the Pew Research Center is mapping out where the largest concentration of the 32 million voters who make-up the 2020 Latino electorate is located.

The largest share of voters is in states along the border, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. A growing majority of the electorate is also in states like Georgia, New York, Illinois and Florida.

According to Pew Research Data, roughly 40% of the Hispanic or Latino population is eligible to vote in South Carolina.

Down in the Lowcountry, 16,000 of the roughly 21,000 Hispanic or Latino population in Beaufort County are also eligible to vote.

That’s roughly 76% of the total Hispanic or Latino population in the county.

Issues on the ballot in November

Eric Esquivel, the founder of La Isla Magazine and the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, says Hispanic voters are consistent once they come out to the polls.

“Inherently, we’re going to see a huge voter turnout that’s evolving and emerging with that growth,” says Esquivel. “It’s really exciting because it brings a whole new dynamic to the state of South Carolina and to the South.”

A recent report from Univision suggests Hispanics could determine the results in many states across the country.

This larger and more prominent demographic has begun to shift the focus onto other areas in the election.

“Immigration problems, I mean just, that’s number one,” says Benitez. “Plus healthcare for everyone.”

Rivera-Vasquez also says many in the community are worried about good-paying jobs, the rhetoric from the current administration and an answer for Dreamers, or members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Members of the community who spoke to News 3 say identity politics is not playing a role in their decision-making process.

“I will go with whoever gives themselves to the community,” says Benitez. “Not just to the Hispanic community, but to the people.”

“They have to hear our voice,” says Rivera-Vazquez, “and our voice matters right now.”

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