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Monday, July 13, 2020

Sanders’ adviser Chuck Rocha pens ‘road map’ to reaching Latinos

A former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders' failed presidential bid has a forthcoming book detailing the campaign’s strategy to win over Latino voters — and his own excruciating decision to turn down an offer to run the campaign.

Chuck Rocha, who served as an adviser to Sanders’ bid this year and in 2016, ran the campaign’s efforts to turn out Latinos, including in the senator’s early and overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucus.

The book, titled “Tío Bernie: The Inside Story of How Bernie Sanders Brought Latinos Into The Political Revolution," which will be released Aug. 19, describes Rocha’s journey into politics, his experience advising Sanders and his work to diversify one of the top Democratic presidential campaigns.

“I wrote this so there would be a road map for any politician or political organization to know how to reach out to our community and prove once and for all that if you invest in our community we will vote,” said Rocha. “I never, ever wanted to hear Latinos don't vote again after reading this book.”

In an excerpt provided to POLITICO, Rocha writes that in late 2018 he was put in charge of the talent search for Sanders’ forthcoming campaign. Jeff Weaver, a longtime Sanders adviser, gave Rocha parameters and wanted a woman or person of color to manage Sanders’ effort.

Rocha produced a diverse list of more than 100 senior political professionals, he writes. The list was comprised entirely of people of color or women. Those who made it past an initial screening over the phone would meet for a “secretive” lunch interview with Weaver and Rocha — on the Q.T. because Sanders had yet to announce his candidacy.

“Halfway through this process and after interviewing several possible campaign managers, Jeff came to me and said, ‘Would you consider the job? I trust you, Bernie trusts you and you would be perfect for this job,’” Rocha writes. “I was not expecting this.”

After weighing it for weeks, Rocha turned down the offer. He decided he didn’t want the demanding and sometimes negative public aspects of the campaign manager role.

Faiz Shakir, who previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, ended up taking job, and Rocha described him as the “perfect manager.” Shakir was a “very level-headed calming figure,” whereas Rocha writes he would have been a “hair on fire” leader.

Rocha became a senior adviser to the campaign, building out operations in each state, hiring staff and running the Latino outreach program.

Learning from 2016, Rocha made Latino outreach a major focus of the campaign. Latino staffers were hired across the campaign rather than just under the banner of a Latino outreach division.

Sanders’ campaign held fútbol tourneys to reach voters and participated in Lotería nights. Every news release the campaign put out was viewed by at least one Latino staffer.

In an interview with POLITICO last October, Sanders said Latino voters were “enormously important” to his presidential bid. “The challenge that we face is that, historically, voter turnout in the Latino community is not very high,” said Sanders. “So we are doing everything we can in a variety of ways to organize.”

Rocha’s strategy proved successful in Iowa and Nevada. Latino voters were credited with keeping Sanders' campaign alive after Joe Biden surged back on Super Tuesday, boosted by a win in South Carolina days earlier. Sanders won a majority of Latino voters in California and staved off Biden for a victory in the state. Sanders won a plurality of Latinos in Texas but lost the state on Super Tuesday.

Rocha is now aiding Biden’s bid by focusing on turning out Latinos in November. In a joint effort between his Nuestro super PAC and Weaver’s America’s Progressive Promise, the former Sanders’ aides launched a seven-figure TV and digital buy last week that will run in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina, in Spanish as well as in English.

“I'm super encouraged by everything I'm seeing from the Biden campaign, but still super worried [about] everything down-ballot from there,” said Rocha, pointing to Senate and House races in Colorado, Florida and North Carolina.

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