If Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to earn the Latino community's vote, she has more work to do

SASHA PEZENIK

If Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to earn the Latino community's vote, she has more work to do originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sat down with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Oct. 17, for a candid conversation to pitch "what's she's all about, up front, in a private setting," as sources told ABC News.

The closed-door talk lasted about an hour and the room’s energy was friendly, sources said. And as Warren takes steps to grow her base of supporters, this was her "first step in a longer conversation" with members of the Latino community.

Warren was one of two 2020 presidential candidates in the still-brimming field to meet with members of the CHC: the other, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Her meeting came just after the fourth Democratic debate, where the congresswoman got the first taste of what it really means to be a presidential frontrunner with sharp questions slinging at her from all sides of the stage.

Despite Warren's rise in the polls overall, she's lagging behind Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders when it comes to a key voting bloc: the Latino community.

(MORE: Warren takes fresh heat in scattered Democratic debate: Analysis)

Recent polls, such as the one published by Quinnipiac University on Oct. 14 - conducted right on the heels of the third democratic debate - and right before the fourth - show her almost neck-and-neck, even leading Biden on some issues, amid the general vote. But she's losing out by double digits when it comes to Latino voters.

One stark example: the Public Policy Institute of California’s survey, puts Warren, Biden and Sanders all in play: 34% for Warren; 19% for Biden; 9% for Sanders. But a breakdown of support shows a gaping margin: among Latinos, where Sanders takes 39%; Biden has 21%; and Warren with just 5% of the support.

For perspective: Latinos are on track to be the largest nonwhite ethnic group eligible for the 2020 ballot box.

It’s a deficit she’ll have to make up, both in community outreach and infused throughout the lifeblood of her campaign, experts say if she hopes to take winning aim at an early state like Nevada -- or delegate rich Super Tuesday states like Texas and California.

“If a candidate is looking to move up in a state like that, the Latino electorate is a big, big portion of the Democratic electorate. And that has potential - if a candidate catches on and there's a lot of enthusiasm,” Mark Baldassare, president of PPIC, tells ABC. “So, I would think for Elizabeth Warren, this is you know something of a particular interest and concern.”

And Warren clearly seeing the work cut out for her - now sets about it. Sources tell ABC she has so far been circling her courtship of the Latino vote - but courting nonetheless. She’s the only non-Texas candidate who’s hired a state director, organizer Jenn Longoria; and she’s netted key endorsements like Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in San Diego, longtime labor leader, and chair of the state’s Latino Caucus.

And - sitting down with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“It's very smart for her to do this now... these are all good signals that she's moving in that right direction,” pollster Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions. “She’s hopefully getting advice from them, and then hopefully she implements it.”

That advice, Barreto says, centering the issues important to Latinos in her platform - and ensuring they have more than a token seat at the table within her campaign.

“I think she’s in that transition right now - it's an extremely important constituency group for her. And so she doesn't want to make it look like an afterthought,” Barreto said. “My advice to her would be to incorporate that more so it becomes a natural part of the campaign’s voice.”

“Candidates need to be doing that outreach, they need to be laying that groundwork - the question is, what are you doing now so it doesn’t look like you stumbled into it?” Barreto said.

“You have to invest in that outreach if you want the support to materialize. So the CHC is saying to everyone: don't say a few words in Spanish and then expect record Latino turnout. You have to invest in that. We have to get our share proportionate to our electorate - the same as you do for, you know -- white suburban women.”

(MORE: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes out in support of Bernie Sanders at his first rally post-heart attack)

Sources tell ABC that members of the CHC Thursday were “looking for a commitment” from Warren - wanting to hear how she’d invest time, energy, and funds in Latino outreach and issues.

“We're very interested to see what part of their budget they're dedicating to spending - on media - we know, we hear that the Trump campaign is constantly throwing millions of dollars in Florida and elsewhere - to spread misinformation," Bold PAC political director Gisel Aceves told ABC News.

"Our members want to ensure that whoever is in the White House is not going to use us as a bargaining chip."

Their talk ranged through discussion of prescient issues; members stressed to Warren the importance of strength of diversity within her campaign as a vital part of courting the Latino vote, and they questioned her on some of the key issues for the Latino community: comprehensive immigration reform; jobs; housing; healthcare; education.

Congresswoman Norma Torres, who attended the meeting, tells ABC all members wanted to hear more about how the rising primary frontrunner thinks she’d win in 2020, should she take the nomination - and how she plans on being an ally to those groups who would put her there.

“Our community has been let down on so many different plans, and lied to that our issues were a priority, and then it doesn’t measure up to that,” Torres says.

"She's not pretending to know it all - she knows she's going to need partners here,” one source familiar with the night’s conversation said. “She tried to make it clear we're all on the same team, and wants all of us to win… She was not there to pretend she knew every nuance - but was there to learn.”

One centerpiece of the conversation, and an urgent one amid the current political climate: comprehensive immigration reform, Aceves told ABC.

"The next President of the United States must commit to addressing this issue head on and bring millions of good, hard-working people out of the shadows, giving them the freedom to fully contribute to our economy and country," BOLD PAC's statement issued after the meeting said.

In the room, Rep. Torres tells ABC, Warren did not commit to immigration being her number one issue - but that it was "within her top five priorities."

Another pressing issues for the Caucus, and for the Latino vote - healthcare - a signature issue for both Warren and Sanders in their push for Medicare for All. But Warren has refrained from committing to one of its clinching elements: whether she would raise taxes to pay for the program - instead, pivoting to the cost born on Americans’ bottom lines, no matter how hard she’s pressed.

In Thursday’s meeting, sources say, Warren was questioned on the breakdown of her plan.

"We kept pushing," Torres tells ABC, "because all of us agree that healthcare is a right not an option - but it needs have a pay-for."

(MORE: Warren won't say if she'd raise middle class taxes to pay for Medicare for All)

Members wanted guidance on how to pitch Medicare for All to their constituencies, a source familiar with the conversation tells ABC, that Warren made it clear she did not want to pull out a number there; she said she would follow up.

Warren stuck to her line on costs going down. "She did not want to get much into it," Torres said.

Torres tells ABC this is definitely something members of the CHC will be expecting more detail going forward - if Warren wants their support.

"We kept asking, and eventually she said, I'll follow up with you, please give me a little bit of time. And we respectfully agreed that that would absolutely be something she would need to follow up with us on," Torres said.

Going forward, sources in the room tell ABC, CHC members will be watching her feet - Warren amongst the other candidates hoping to woo their support - to see where her follow-up leads - on all the issues. And they’ll be watching closely, aware of the clout such support could wield.

“I'm not sure if anyone in that room was endorsing her {yet}," Torres says. "We wanted the opportunity to have a candid conversation. At the end of it, we said, we are a resource for you on any of these issues that are key for our communities - and we hope you would reach out to us to help continue to inform you.”