3rd District Candidates Reaching Out to Minorities
LAWRENCE -- With a clipboard in hand and a “Juana Matias for Congress” sticker on her shirt, Ashley Lopez strode up a driveway toward a group of women huddled in the yard, enjoying the air on a balmy Friday evening.
“Hello,” Lopez, a 22-year-old field organizer from Lawrence, said in Spanish. “I’m with the Juana Matias campaign.”
One of the women reacted enthusiastically. She told canvassers, Lopez later explained, that she had voted for Matias’ successful state representative bid two years ago, but that she had moved since then. That meant she would need to re-register if she wanted to cast her vote for Matias again, this time in the upcoming 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary.
Lopez informed the woman, who did not want to give her name, how to register at her new address before the upcoming deadline, and walked away having reached what campaign officials describe as exactly the kind of person they need to win: minority voters who want to be engaged politically but who, because of language barriers or lack of representation or other factors, have historically been left out of the process.
In an already-diverse congressional district with growing minority populations, candidates -- particularly Matias and Bopha Malone, who both came to the United States as children -- in the crowded Democratic primary have sharpened their outreach efforts into a core strategy.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re talking to all voters, even voters that haven’t demonstrated a history in being engaged in a primary of this nature,” Matias said. “It’s about reaching out to people and not taking them for granted and making sure they’re engaged in the political process.”
Their strategies have taken several forms. Matias and Malone are the only two candidates whose campaign websites are available in both English and Spanish, and Malone’s is also published in Khmer to help connect with the district’s substantial Cambodian population. Multilingual canvassers specifically target communities with significant minority populations, hoping to educate those who are not aware of the upcoming election or its significance. They bring campaign literature in multiple languages and forms to help residents register to vote.
The Matias campaign even spent a recent weekend canvassing in nightclubs across Lawrence with voter-registration forms in hand, hoping to reach young residents who might not be familiar with the race.
“We’re meeting people where they’re at,” Matias said. “We’re going to be going to local coffee shops, local lounges in the city of Lawrence, engaging these young millennial voters so they understand there’s a huge opportunity to have someone (in Congress) who understands their life experiences.”
The 3rd District as a whole is still majority white, but demographic trends indicate it is steadily becoming more diverse. The overall white population has decreased over the past decade, while the number of Asian and Latino residents grew by roughly 30 percent each. Lowell, the district’s largest city, is majority-minority, containing one of the largest Cambodian-American populations in the country and thousands of Latino residents. More than 75 percent of Lawrence, the district’s second-largest city, is Latino.
In 2009, whites made up about 76 percent of the population in what is now the 3rd District, according to Census data. By 2016, that figure had fallen to 69 percent, while Latinos grew from representing 14 percent of the district’s total population to 18 percent. (The state’s congressional districts were redrawn in 2013, but these numbers track total figures in the 37 communities that are today part of the 3rd District.)
However, eligible minorities typically turn out to vote at lower rates than whites do. The reasons are various, ranging from historic voter suppression to voting materials not being offered in multiple languages, but candidates are making concentrated efforts to help potential voters overcome those obstacles -- something they hope that, in addition to the social benefit, will then bring them support in the September primary.
“What I find is that, on the campaign trail, many people want to be engaged, many people want to be educated, they just don’t know the resources,” Malone said. “For us, to be able to go into their homes, their businesses, on their time when it’s convenient for them, to have a translator for these things you’re filling out -- we’re making it as easy as possible for you to be able to achieve your dream.”
Matias claims some experience relying in part on newly engaged voters for victory. She upset three-term incumbent state Rep. Marcos Devers in the 2016 primary for her Lawrence district, and today Matias estimates that about 10 percent of the votes she secured in that race came from residents who had never before voted in a primary.
In July, Matias hosted two sitting Latino congressmen, Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York and Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, to help her canvass with voters in the district.
A win for either Matias or Malone -- or for Beej Das, the son of Indian immigrants, or for Dan Koh, the descendent of Korean and Lebanese immigrants -- would be a significant milestone in Massachusetts’ minority representation. The state’s entire congressional delegation is currently white.
Dan Rivera, Lawrence’s mayor and a vocal Matias supporter, said he believes that strategy will be not only key in the 3rd District race, but “good for democracy” as well.
“People made a big deal about Trump voters being marginalized and that’s why they came out to vote,” Rivera said. “But the reality is Democrats and progressives have people that feel the same way. All you need is someone to knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to fight for health care or be the leader in fighting for climate change’, and you can move somebody who hardly votes.”
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