Florida Democrats are raising concerns about what they believe is a sustained and coordinated campaign to smear Vice President Kamala Harris’ image in Spanish-language media.
Democratic veterans in the state are alarmed by the ferocity and speed with which the attacks have come in recent weeks from callers and guests on local radio shows. They suspect the participants are part of a larger, astroturf campaign to undermine Harris’ standing among key Latino constituencies in a region where Republicans have made significant gains. Even more concerning for these Democrats has been the lack of opposition from within their own party.
The fears were made public when a Miami-based Democratic pollster took to social media to warn that he’d been hearing arguments against the vice president from talk-show callers that sounded scripted. The on-air criticisms, he and others said, range from claims that Harris is ineffective and unprepared to serve as president to outright sexist and racist suggestions, such as that her Jamaican and Indian ancestry causes her to prioritize Black Americans’ concerns over Latinos’.
There is no conclusive evidence of a coordinated campaign against Harris on South Florida radio, as opposed to organic criticism of her conveyed by regular callers.
Still, Roberto Rodrguez Tejera, a morning radio host in Miami for three decades, said in a phone interview that he, too, has noticed a trend in calls about Harris on his own morning show. He reached the same conclusion as Amandi, that they are most likely coordinated. He didn’t name any suspects, but he speculated that Republicans were behind it.
In previous election cycles, both Republicans and Democrats used the tactics to reach out to Latino voters. And talk radio in particular, program hosts and consultants said, has been a powerful medium to communicate to older and newly-immigrated audiences that by and large prefer it to reading local newspapers because of the sense of connection it gives them.
While Democrats in Florida are concerned about the impact such attacks will have on Harris, they also see the lack of a response as the latest troubling sign that the party is abandoning a swing state that has become a home base for former President Donald Trump and his MAGA movement.
Party leaders and operatives acknowledged that they still have work to do with Latinos in the state, including continuing to refute claims that the party supports socialism.
Some argued that they needed to find a new way to mount their own offensive against Republicans over threats to democracy, a point they believe will gain traction given GOP challenges to the 2020 election results.
The Democratic National Committee has devoted researchers to tracking misinformation and propaganda aimed at Hispanic and Latino communities in both English and Spanish, and it has commissioned polling to assess the impact of misinformation. Officials from the party reiterated their commitment to communicating facts to Latino communities. They’ve also had several conversations with social media companies, particularly WhatsApp, which is owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, to encourage them to take more responsibility for misinformation on their platforms.
Moussa went on to say that Harris has been a “critical partner” to Biden on infrastructure, helping to create millions of jobs and working to find solutions to the immigration system.
The diversity of Florida’s Latino population — from emerging Democratic blocs of people with Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan, Colombian, Dominican, and Venezuelan ancestors to the state’s large Republican-leaning Cuban community in Miami-Dade — remains a major focus of state political campaigns. Miami has long been regarded as a test market for messaging to Latino voters, with more effective content frequently exported to other parts of the country.
Democrats acknowledged that the recent surge of attention on Harris may be a “Made in Miami” phenomenon that garners little traction outside of South Florida, but some believe it could also be indicative of the kinds of efforts already underway under the radar in Spanish-language media in other states or a foreshadowing of what’s to come elsewhere.
Florida Democrats stressed that they weren’t so much worried about hard-core conservatives knocking Harris in their own echo chambers as they are about the possible pickup that their comments could get with less partisan voters and recent immigrants, who aren’t as steeped in the news.