Biden Cortez Masto Lujan Grisham
CNN  — 

Joe Biden is facing pressure from Latinx activists and political leaders to choose a Latina as his vice presidential nominee.

Doing so, they say, could help the former vice president make inroads with a community he hasn’t had much of a reach with. Choosing a Latina could also set up a symbolic comparison with President Donald Trump, whose hardline positions and harsh rhetoric on immigration have been a cornerstone of his administration.

Biden committed to picking a woman as his running mate during a CNN Democratic debate in March. Since then, there has been a vocal push by many Democratic leaders and politicians for Biden to pick a woman of color.

“Part of what the Biden campaign has been thinking, and thinking very deeply about it and grappling within, is how do we bring more Latinos into the fold?” said Mayra Macías, the executive director of Latino Victory, a progressive political action committee that works to get Latinos into political office.

Macías said she’s spoken to the Biden team about choosing a Latina vice president.

“In addition to obviously us helping bring some folks into the fold, I think having a Latina on the ticket is a way, and a very visible way, of bringing Latinos into the fold.”

At least two Latina candidates who are likely to be considered for Biden’s vice president short list: Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Both have already made historic strides: Cortez Masto is the first Latina to serve in the Senate, and Lujan Grisham is the first Latina to serve as a Democratic governor in the US.

Lujan Grisham, in particular, has been in the spotlight in recent weeks for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis in New Mexico. She was among the first governors to issue a stay-at-home order and close schools statewide as the coronavirus outbreak spread throughout the country.

Latino voters could play a role in choosing the next president of the United States, accounting for 13.3% of all eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Additionally, 62% of Latino registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party while 34% say the same about the GOP.

“The Latino community is an important part of a winning coalition not only in states like Florida, Arizona, and Texas, but also in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Strong support from Latino voters is essential to defeat Donald Trump in November,” Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told CNN in a statement. “Latina leaders deserve to be fully vetted and seriously considered — this process should not just be a check-the-box exercise or a substitute for substantial community investment.”

José Dante Parra, the CEO of Prospero Latino, a strategic communications firm, said that having a Latina vice presidential nominee “would mean we have arrived.”

“There’s a feeling out there that it’s just about lip service to the Latino community. When it comes to actually delivering for the Latino community, it isn’t that top of mind. But it would mean that we are considered a top priority for the presidential ticket. And I think that could send some reverberations through the community and really excite people,” Parra said.

Parra also said that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken over the news cycles, causing the 2020 election to be out of mind for many voters across the country. Parra said that Biden picking a minority woman to be on the ticket could generate more excitement ahead of November.

“I think nominating a member of a minority group would help Biden also break through the noise, break through the news cycle. And I think it would be several new cycles worth of analysis and earned media that they would get by nominating a member of a minority community.”

Latina VP options come with support and ties to Biden

Both Cortez Masto and Lujan Grisham have said they are honored to be considered for the post.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a close ally of Biden’s, previously held the seat now filled by Cortez Masto and told CNN in a statement she would be an “excellent choice.”

“Selecting a Latina running mate like Senator Cortez Masto would certainly help to energize Nevada voters,” Reid said.

In a fundraising email for Biden from late last month, Cortez Masto mentioned her relationship with Beau Biden, the late son of the former vice president who passed away from brain cancer in 2015. Before winning her Senate seat in 2016, Cortez Masto served as the Nevada attorney general and worked with Beau Biden, who had been Delaware’s attorney general.

“I’ve known Joe Biden for nearly 10 years, but he wasn’t the first member of the Biden family I met. It was actually his late son, Beau, a fellow state attorney general, my partner in many important fights and a dear friend. Beau was a fearless public servant, a staunch advocate for justice, and a man who led with courage and compassion,” Cortez Masto wrote in the email. “As I got to know Joe personally, it was clear the apple had not fallen far from the tree.”

Lujan Grisham, who has been New Mexico’s governor since 2019, served as a congresswoman from New Mexico’s 1st congressional district from 2013 to 2018. She also previously served as the health secretary of New Mexico from 2003 to 2007.

The governor also has a similar experience to the former vice president – her sister died of brain cancer, like Beau Biden. Lujan Grisham has previously said in interviews that her sister’s illness and death motivates her work toward affordable health care.

Support for Biden within Latinx community

Biden’s trajectory to the nomination depended heavily on African-American voters, who strongly supported his candidacy and propelled him to the top after his overwhelming win in the South Carolina primary.

But he’s struggled to create and sustain the same enthusiasm with Latino voters, who in the primary widely supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.

That was made clear after the Nevada caucuses, which was the first state in the primary process to have a diverse Latinx voting bloc. There, Sanders won a stunning 53% of Latino voters, three times as much as the next closest competitor — Biden at 17%.

Biden has received endorsements from Latino organizations including the Latino Victory Fund, but his campaign acknowledges there’s work to do to gain more Latino support and points to the lack of in-person campaign events in recent weeks as to why he’s been unable to break through.

A source within the Biden campaign told CNN they attribute it to a total conversion to virtual events amidst the pandemic, arguing that it is difficult to break through in coverage during a public health crisis when Biden’s opponent, the incumbent President Trump, is on television nearly everyday holding briefings on the coronavirus.

But despite the lack of enthusiasm from the Latinx community, one campaign aide told CNN that a Latina running mate isn’t necessarily needed to spur enthusiasm among Hispanic communities.

“I don’t think that it will have that much impact. I think the community just wants someone who understands them,” the aide told CNN.

Macias said she hopes that Biden’s campaign seriously considers a Latina to be his running mate, rather than just have the women as names on their checklist.

“I think the bigger harm is if the (Latinx community) is not even on the short list, right? Because I think there’s still a long way to go I think for us. The bigger harm is that we’re not even considered or on the short list,” she said. “Because again, that reaffirms a message, or a false narrative that the Latino vote doesn’t matter. Which I think as a community and as an organization, who works to mobilize and excite Latinos, is something that we constantly hear.”

Covid-19 and 2020

While Covid-19 has halted in-person campaigning, both Cortez Masto and Lujan Grisham have been making appearances on cable news to support the former vice president’s candidacy.

In an interview with Telemundo earlier this month, Cortez Masto was clear she was “100%” with Biden.

The Nevada senator also formally endorsed Biden last week, saying in a statement: “Joe Biden is the leader our country needs right now. His experience leading through moments of crisis and his trademark compassion and empathy are the leadership qualities that are needed as the American people face an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about being on Biden’s VP list, Lujan Grisham said she wants “to be the governor of New Mexico” and dodged directly answering the question.

“Well, I will do this. I think that you want a vice president that was much like former Vice President Biden. He knew how to govern. He had done a ton of work as a senator and in local government as well, and I think that those are incredible attributes. I want to be the governor of New Mexico. I will do whatever it takes to support a Biden administration, and I’m looking forward to a federal administration that can do a national strategy in good times and in bad times both.”

CNN’s Sarah Mucha and Dan Merica contributed to this report.