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Ahead of midterms, Colorado Democrats try to stop GOP gains with Latino voters

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Among the new congressional districts around the country this year, there's one in Colorado where Democrats face a problem in the midterm elections trying to stop Republican gains with Latino voters. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: I met up with Sonny Subia at a bar in Greeley, Colo., where he was worried there might be too much noise to record.

SONNY SUBIA: Well, I just played this song on the jukebox, so...

KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter) What song is it?

SUBIA: It's "Desvelado" by Bobby Pulido.

KURTZLEBEN: Is this one of your favorites?

SUBIA: This is the favorite song.

KURTZLEBEN: Subia is a school expulsion officer and also the volunteer state director for LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. He's also a committed Democrat, and he's worried.

SUBIA: This congressional district is the largest Latino population of any district in this state, and it's a toss-up. How is that? It just doesn't make sense.

KURTZLEBEN: That district is Colorado's 8th, which stretches from Denver's northern suburbs, up 45 minutes north to Greeley. It's a new district, so there's no incumbent. It's set to be one of the tightest House races in the country, and it's also the most heavily Latino district in the state. Chuck Rocha is a strategist working with Democratic candidate Chaz Tedesco.

CHUCK ROCHA: This 8th seems like such a different race, but it's actually represents where all the growth has really been in every city around America, where you have this booming Latino population outside of Charlotte, Philly, Atlanta, and you can just go on down the line.

KURTZLEBEN: The 8th is a new district and a fast-growing area, so housing is a big issue. Yadira Caraveo is a pediatrician and Democratic candidate.

YADIRA CARAVEO: It's getting increasingly more expensive, and it's changed a lot in the last 20 years. And so, you know, parents talk to me all the time about how many jobs they're working to be able to afford to live here, how much their rent costs.

KURTZLEBEN: That also came up with voters. I met Emilio Valdez, who works in financial planning, at a meeting of local businesspeople.

EMILIO VALDEZ: My daughter, for instance - her and her husband just bought a house, and they paid a half a million for it. And when that house sold eight years ago, it was 230,000. So, you know, a big difference in what the housing prices are doing.

KURTZLEBEN: Valdez is a Republican, and he came out to see Jan Kulmann, a GOP candidate and the mayor of Thornton, another suburb. She says that turning voters out may be a unique challenge in a new district.

JAN KULMANN: Every year that I'm knocking on doors and talking to people, it's always new voters, over and over again. So I think the bigger challenge is really making sure that they know that there's another election coming because it feels like there's one every single year, because there is (laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: A Colorado Sun analysis found that the 8th has the lowest share of active registered voters of any district in the state. That means motivating people who don't always vote, like Alfredo Gonzalez. He's a cook at a hotel and an independent who didn't vote in 2020. I asked him what he hopes to hear from candidates this year.

ALFREDO GONZALEZ: (Through interpreter) What we need is support with our documents, so our immigration is in order.

KURTZLEBEN: The economy is his top issue, even while he personally isn't suffering.

GONZALEZ: (Through interpreter) In fact, I have a good job. I'm doing fine. I mean, what matters to me is having a job and security.

KURTZLEBEN: One major key to winning in 2022 is winning the working class, says Republican strategist Mike Madrid. The GOP, he says, has gained among Latinos in part by getting away from Donald Trump's racist 2016 messaging.

MIKE MADRID: All they need to do is get out of their own way and continue articulating their own populist economic messages that are resonating with white, non-college-educated workers because they are increasingly working with Latino non-college-educated workers.

KURTZLEBEN: Chaz Tedesco, a Democratic candidate, believes that his is the party of working people and that it needs to do a better job communicating that.

CHAZ TEDESCO: I want to make sure that when we look at legislation or we put legislation in, that it has a clear and defined direction towards working families, and we can outline that, and we can express that and we can explain that

KURTZLEBEN: That's exactly what President Biden has been trying to do. But Sonny Subia, back at that bar in Greeley, needs results.

SUBIA: I voted for Biden. I listen to Biden, and it's like, wait a minute. You can't even get your own party to back your plans. How are you going to motivate me to go out and recruit and get people to vote and talk to my family?

KURTZLEBEN: Biden has just over nine months to give Subia some new selling points.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.