Republicans open community center to draw metro Atlanta’s Latino voters

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at the opening of her party's new Hispanic Community Center in Gwinnett County. Miguel Martinez / Miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at the opening of her party's new Hispanic Community Center in Gwinnett County. Miguel Martinez / Miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

“A lot of Latinos are more Republican than they think.”

National Republicans are setting up shop in metro Atlanta’s diversifying and Democratic-leaning suburban communities.

On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee opened a new Hispanic Community Center in a strip mall in Suwanee, a Gwinnett County town that became majority-minority for the first time in 2020, according to data from that year’s U.S. Census.

The new GOP outpost is part of a multi-million-dollar outreach effort to build on the party’s growing appeal among Latinos, and engage with minority voters ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

Although Joe Biden handily won the Latino vote in Georgia in 2020, Republicans posted significant gains relative to their 2016 performance, with Donald Trump increasing his vote share in the state from 27% to 37%.

“We are here to have a conversation. This is not us saying, ‘We expect your vote. You owe us your vote.’ This is us saying, ‘We want to earn your vote,’” said RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who was on hand for the center’s opening. “We are here because it’s a symbol of our commitment to reach out to every voter because we are the party that makes life better for every single American.... This is why we are seeing the gains that we are seeing across the country but especially with the Hispanic community.”

Republicans hope the center becomes a setting for grassroots connections, with phone-banking sessions and candidate meetings scheduled alongside movie screenings and family game nights.

“Basically this is supposed to be an open space where people feel that they can come and talk to one another … and learn about what the Republican Party stands for,” said Garrison Douglas, the RNC’s Georgia press secretary.

During the opening ceremony, speakers also sought to tie their political opponents on the left to the specter of socialism, a strategy that helped produce a rightward shift among some of the country’s largest Latin American diasporas, most notably in South Florida.

“The opposition, all they talk about is the free stuff they are going to give you … If you’re from Nicaragua, if you’re from Venezuela, you know where that road leads,” said insurance commissioner John King. King became Georgia’s first Hispanic statewide constitutional officer following his appointment to the job in 2019 and is running for election this year.

The Hispanic Community Center in Suwanee becomes the third brick-and-mortar outpost the RNC has opened targeting minority voters in metro Atlanta, with Republicans having previously opened a Black American Community Center in College Park last October, and an Asian Pacific American Community Center last September, also located in Gwinnett County. According to the party, Atlanta is one of just two metro areas nationwide to also have community centers targeting Black, Hispanic, and AAPI voters (the second is Las Vegas).

For Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, this level of minority outreach from the RNC reflects the Atlanta area’s diversity. It’s also an indicator of “the competitiveness of Georgia and the idea that neither party can take any vote for granted.”

In a statement, a Democratic Party of Georgia spokeswoman touted the Democrats’ own outreach efforts in the Hispanic community, including the creation of a voter protection hotline available in Spanish and investment in Spanish-language media.

Gillespie explained that Republicans’ efforts to reverse their fortunes with minority voters in Georgia could lead to electoral success even if a relatively small numbers of votes are flipped as a result.

“It’s the type of thing where just eroding democratic support amongst communities of color by a few percentage points in a highly competitive electoral environment could be the difference between winning and losing an election,” she said.

Among the people eager to make use of the new Hispanic Community Center in Suwanee is Maria Verde, a Venezuelan immigrant who has lived in metro Atlanta for roughly 30 years. She says that, up until recently, her conservative views were stigmatized in Atlanta’s Democratic-leaning Hispanic community.

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Maria Verde, an immigrant from Venezuela, attends the opening of the RNC's new Hispanic Community Center in Gwinnett County.

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Maria Verde, an immigrant from Venezuela, attends the opening of the RNC's new Hispanic Community Center in Gwinnett County.

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Combined ShapeCaption
Maria Verde, an immigrant from Venezuela, attends the opening of the RNC's new Hispanic Community Center in Gwinnett County.

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

Credit: Lautaro Grinspan

“I think Democrats just have really deep roots in the community … I’ve never felt welcome.”

Verde says her early support for Trump had acquaintances calling her “racista” and “traidora.” Traitor.

“I would put on the [Make America Great Again] cap and people would say, ‘Ay, Maria. Ay, Maria. Be careful.’”

But the stigma is fast wearing off.

The new RNC center is “an opportunity for us to raise our voices and join forces to fight for our country … Being here, it’s like, wow, there’s hope. There’s people that think like me.”

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