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An exclusive look at how Latino Democrats in Washington plan to target key races

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Latino Democrats in Washington, D.C., are launching a first-of-its-kind Spanish and Spanglish war room for the 2024 election, and they plan to target at least a dozen key races around the country. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has an exclusive look at the program called Our Lucha War Room.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: As the youngest candidate elected to Congress last year, Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost thinks Spanglish was key.

MAXWELL FROST: Yeah. You might be nervous doing a full ad in Spanish and maybe sounding, you know, like a gringo or whatever, and you don't want to sound that way.

GRISALES: That's Frost at his Capitol Complex office on a recent afternoon.

FROST: But if you do Spanglish, you know, maybe that's more of an entry kind of thing for you that can push you as a candidate and elected to dive into learning Spanish so you can more effectively speak with all your constituents.

GRISALES: Frost is part of a new ground-breaking project this election cycle for Latino House Democrats who are launching Our Lucha War Room or fight for Hispanic representation. They're looking to expand on efforts like this one from Frost, who released an ad in his last campaign that used Spanglish, meaning he went back-and-forth between Spanish and English.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FROST: (Speaking Spanish). My abuela taught me early on to always look out for my community because everyone deserves dignity and opportunity.

GRISALES: Studies from Pew Research show a majority of Latinos now use Spanglish. With this in mind, the Lucha War Room is part of Democrats' larger mission to defeat Republican candidates, starting with a dozen key races around the country with ads on YouTube and other social media platforms. Here's Victoria McGroary, director of the BOLD PAC, which is a campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

VICTORIA MCGROARY: We want to make sure that all of the content that we are creating, right down to the logo and the name, that every piece of what we are doing is designed with the Latino audience in mind.

GRISALES: California Democratic Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, who is chairwoman for BOLD PAC, says the war room will quickly respond to misinformation and disinformation. She points to the recent fake robocalls impersonating President Biden in the New Hampshire primaries as an example of what would trigger a rapid response from the Lucha War Room.

LINDA SANCHEZ: We think this is long overdue. We're making a sizable investment in this, and that's just a down payment on, you know, further investment and making sure that we are making sure that voters have accurate information.

GRISALES: Florida Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is an endorsed BOLD PAC candidate running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Senator Rick Scott. Mucarsel-Powell, a former House member, has battled disinformation in her home state for years, testifying before members of Congress about its spread on Spanish language media. She says the new Lucha War Room will be a boost in her race.

DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: This is more critical than ever as we continue to see disinformation being spread and targeted to Latinos, and we know that they're going to be over 35 million Latinos that are eligible to vote in these November elections.

GRISALES: The war room will target Senate races in Florida, as well as the battleground state of Arizona, where BOLD PAC endorsed Representative Ruben Gallego. Back at Congressman Frost's office, he remembers his first Spanglish ad with nostalgia.

FROST: We received a lot of texts and DMs from, like, young Latinos who are in college or etc. who saw the ad and reached out and said, I loved that ad. It wasn't just Spanish in, like, you know, the subtitles at the bottom as an afterthought, it was part of the ad, and it wasn't just Spanish, it was Spanish and English.

GRISALES: The ads will also target GOP incumbents in swing House districts, where Latino votes could make the difference for a new majority.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.