In the fight for Hispanic votes in Florida, the latest weapon is Puerto Rican trap singer Bad Bunny.
Both presidential campaigns are making a play for Hispanic voters in Florida — and also in Arizona — by launching dueling videos featuring the Puerto Rican rapper’s music. Florida is home to over a million Puerto Ricans, many of whom live in Central Florida, and make up nearly a third of eligible Hispanic voters living in the state.
The musical outreach effort comes as polls in the battleground states show Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump slightly shrinking.
The Democrats went first, launching a 30-second digital ad last week featuring Bad Bunny’s slow break-up song called “Pero Ya No,” or “But not anymore.” And it came with a hashtag, #RompeConTrump, or #BreakupwithTrump, to drive home the idea that Trump just isn’t doing it for Hispanic voters anymore. It’s racked up over 280,000 views on YouTube.
The Republican response came Monday: a video using a Bad Bunny lyric from a different song that goes, “Hello, who am I?” as a way to troll the Democrats’ ad and depict Trump’s opponent as senile and forgetful.
The videos, political consultants say, are an attempt to show how well the campaigns understand their own Hispanic supporters in swing states with large Latino populations. They’re a way of demonstrating cultural literacy while trying to turn an earworm in the brain into a vote at the ballot box.
“I think the content of the videos are almost secondary to the fact that the whole thing in this kind of environment is to get people’s attention,” said Carlos Odio, co-founder of the Latino-focused research firm EquisLabs and a former Obama administration White House aide. “You’re reaching... people you’d otherwise not be reaching it and it shows that you’re getting it.”
The Biden ad, part of a $26 million TV and digital investment in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania, features images of Trump supporters cheering in bleachers and then switches to footage of empty stadium seats. It folds in video of immigrant children sitting in fenced-in cages and the well-known scene that angered many on the island of the president tossing paper towels into a crowd at a Puerto Rico church after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The Trump response ad is a short clip featuring a different Bad Bunny song titled “RLNDT,” which is based on the tale of a missing child case in Puerto Rico, a boy named Rolandito who disappeared in 1999 and was never found. The song is about the singer’s worry that he lost his purpose in his quick rise to fame. In the ad, the chorus runs over a compilation of footage of Biden scratching his forehead and looking confused.
Bad Bunny — his full name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio — has become something of a cultural marker in popular U.S. music, breaking cultural and gender norms in his songs and videos. His Spanish-language songs cross language barriers, too, consistently topping English-language charts with popular international hits like “I Like it Like That,” “Mia,” and “Yo Perreo Sola.”
And this isn’t the first time the 26-year-old has delved into the world of politics. He was one of several high-profile artists who called for the resignation of former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in the summer of 2019. He recently made a publicized trip to the elections commission in Puerto Rico, where he lives, to obtain his voter ID card. And over the weekend, he released a single called “Compositor del Año,” a freestyle rap in which he supports the Black Lives Matter movement and insults Trump.
The Biden campaign confirmed they sought permission to use the song directly from Bad Bunny’s legal team. The Trump campaign declined to comment.
“Bad Bunny is an undeniably influential figure for Latinos,” said Joel Maysonet, who works as director of Latino paid media for the Biden campaign. “He’s outspoken, recently with many issues that matter with Latinos, the LGBTQ community and so forth... It’s something that we thought that it would resonate.”
The Biden campaign also released another ad aimed at Hispanic voters called “Decepciones” — or Disappointments — featuring the song by the same name from the Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández. It focuses on COVID-19 and immigrant children being separated from their parents, as Trump speaks in the background about building a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
“You want people to pay a lot of attention… and [the Biden ad] is something to get excited about. So there’s like, a value from the perspective of the political class,” Odio said.
While Trump won Florida in 2016 by about a 1% margin, Hillary Clinton took Miami-Dade County with 63% of the vote and tied in heavily Cuban American areas like Hialeah. And while polls for the 2020 race have shown Trump is deeply unpopular among Puerto Ricans, when it comes to turnout, Puerto Ricans generally trail far behind Cuban Americans.
On a call with reporters on Tuesday, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said he believes Trump will hold Florida and is continuing to build support among Hispanics, even as some progressive and anti-Trump groups have recently beefed up their Spanish-language outreach.
Through Equipo Trump and the Latinos for Trump coalition, the Trump campaign is pushing out ads that seek to paint Democrats as unfamiliar with Latinos and cast Biden as a far-left socialist. The campaign also recently put out radio ads with voiceovers that match the accent and slang of different Spanish-speaking counties.
Mercedes Schlapp, senior adviser for the Trump campaign who is Cuban American, characterized the Biden Bad Bunny ads as evidence that “Democrats are culturally incompatible with Hispanics.” She pointed to the use of the gender-neutral term “Latinx,” which several polls have shown a majority of Latinos do not use.
She called Biden “papa sin sal,” which translates to a potato without salt, or bland, and said Democrats just don’t understand Hispanics. “Our cultures are rich and lively. The Democrats want to make us feel like we’re victims, but Hispanics are winners. In short, the Democrats’ problems with Hispanics run much deeper than, and will outlive, Joe Biden’s culturally incompetent campaign.”
And while both campaigns are using Bad Bunny music as a way of reaching Hispanic voters, neither has released a full plan on Puerto Rico. Earlier this summer, the Biden campaign was also being accused by over 90 field organizers of not doing enough to reach out to Puerto Rican voters living in Central Florida, many of whom resent Trump’s response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
For Maysonet, who is Puerto Rican and grew up on the island, the Bad Bunny ads are a way to show that Biden’s campaign appeals to all kinds of people.
“Ever since I joined the campaign, it’s been my mission to run a program that reflects the diversity of the community. That it feels authentic,” he said. “This is not a translated message. It comes from the source.”