PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine on Thursday delivered what may be the first presidential campaign speech entirely in Spanish as part of Hillary Clinton’s push into traditionally Republican Arizona.
The senator from Virginia spoke entirely in Spanish for about half an hour to a small crowd in a largely Hispanic area of Phoenix. He touched on immigration reform, the economy and the importance of being inclusive. He also criticized Republican Donald Trump’s comments about Latinos and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration raids.
“With so much at stake for the Hispanic community, it’s important that our campaign use the language that so many families around the country use,” Kaine said with a slight accent to a group of about 150.
The speech comes as Democrats court Latinos in Arizona in hopes of a historic win there Tuesday. Only one Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton in 1996, has won the state since 1948. Nearly a third of the state is Hispanic, and it’s home to 11 electoral votes.
Hearing a candidate for national office deliver an entire speech in Spanish was effective for some attendees in a year in which Trump has proposed a crackdown on immigrants who lack legal status; promised to build a border wall Mexico would pay for; and called Mexicans illegally coming over the border rapists.
“It means a lot because I think in the future every politician in this country who tries to reach Hispanics will have to speak Spanish,” said Maria Elena Gutierrez, an elementary school teacher. “It’s almost like a prerequisite.”
Lydia Hernandez, former state lawmaker, said she loved that Kaine made the effort to communicate with the largely Hispanic community in the Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale.
“He spoke a lot better than a lot of us,” Hernandez said, adding that the approach was effective. “I feel like it’s catering to me. It gives me the chills.”
Shirley Vigil, a retiree, said it wasn’t that important to her that Kaine speak in Spanish because she speaks both languages fluently. But she was impressed with his level of skill.
“I think he speaks better Spanish than I do,” Vigil said.
Kaine learned Spanish while a young missionary in Honduras. His language skills have come in handy for Hillary Clinton, who is hoping to cement support among Hispanics, and he has conducted about 50 interviews in Spanish since joining the ticket.
About two-thirds of registered Latino voters identify as Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote in 2012.
But turnout has been disappointing among Latinos in Arizona because they have been reluctant to register to vote. Only 52 percent of Latinos eligible to vote in Arizona in 2012 actually registered, according to Latino Decisions. Those who were registered showed up in large numbers, with 78 percent of registered Latinos having cast a ballot. In all, 40 percent of eligible Latino voters cast a ballot that year.
Activists hope that will change after a major registration drive this year that netted 150,000 new voters from mostly Latino neighborhoods.