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President Trump is holding steady or doing better with Latino voters than he did in 2016, according to polls. That may be surprising. The president has called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and his presidency is haunted with images of immigrant children separated from their parents in crowded detention centers. But as NPR's Leila Fadel reports, his support is not waning, and most of it comes from men.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Reymundo Torres is a staunch supporter of this president.
REYMUNDO TORRES: The thing that initially attracted me and keeps me tied to him is that he has taught Republicans how to not just win, but no longer throw our faces and bodies in front of every punch that the left is willing to throw.
FADEL: Torres is Arizonan, ethnically Mexican and a devout Catholic. He says what he likes is that Trump doesn't take any mess from Democrats or what he calls establishment Republicans. So on Election Day, he's voting for the president. Top of mind for him is the courts and the more than 200 judges Trump's appointed in his time in office.
TORRES: My family's been in Arizona for more than a hundred years. We don't see ourselves as immigrants. We see ourselves very much as Arizonans and Americans. To continue to treat us as if we're all still just fresh across the border, which most Republicans and a lot of Democrats would like to think we are just to easily encapsulate us, is something that is not resounding.
FADEL: And Torres is part of about or just over a quarter of Latinos who are strongly or somewhat in support of this president. Michelle Mayorga, a New Mexico-based pollster, says the backbone of the support comes from men.
MICHELLE MAYORGA: Hispanic men, in particular, are a swing vote. They're a vote that we have to go and get.
FADEL: And while Democrats will likely win the majority of Latino votes overall, the margins are narrower with men. A New York Times/Siena College poll found that Vice President Joe Biden leads by 34 percentage points among Latina voters. But with Latino men, his lead is just 8 points.
MAYORGA: Republicans will take a larger margin than maybe they have in the past, or enough that, you know, it is starting to eat into the Democratic margin.
FADEL: The Republican Party has been courting the Latino vote for decades, says historian Geraldo Cadava, who wrote a book on Hispanic Republicans. President Richard Nixon set the tone.
GERALDO CADAVA: Nixon did it through a kind of politics of patronage and high-level appointments.
FADEL: He appointed the first Hispanic treasurer of the United States, a Mexican American woman, and appointed Latinos to other top positions. The big question is why. Why is the number holding steady or, in some places, going up slightly despite anti-immigration policies and offensive language about African and Latino immigrants?
CADAVA: I think I would point first to the development over a long period of time of a partisan loyalty to the Republican Party. And Latino Republican voters just identify as Republicans above all else, just like many Americans.
FADEL: Also, Cadava says Latino voters vote on issues of religious freedom, the economy. Trump's argument about a strong pre-COVID-19 economy for Latinos resonates, as does his law and order messaging. Many Latinos are cops, Border Patrol officers or in the military. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has made a concerted effort to court the vote early.
CADAVA: I think it's been kind of amazing to watch. I mean, in some ways, the Latinos for Trump campaign, which started officially in the spring of 2019, has been relentless in recruiting Latino voters. They're actually trying to increase and have been trying to increase Trump's Latino support, not just kind of hold it steady or depress the turnout of Democrats.
FADEL: That's the first thing Randall Avila, the executive director of the Orange County Republican Party, talks about when knocking on doors of other Latino voters in Southern California. He points to low unemployment rates for Latinos pre-pandemic, the party's preference for school choice and lower taxes.
RANDALL AVILA: I have never seen the Republican Party fight this hard to get Latino and African American votes. I can definitely understand why there's some hesitancy based off some past comments or policies, but I don't believe that is the Republican Party of today. You know, we have a number of Latino candidates, a number of Latino Republicans who are really stepping up and taking center stage.
FADEL: Avila says he hopes that resonates because come November, the party will need the votes to flip the four congressional seats they lost in 2018 in Orange County and hold on to their county seat.
Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.