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Biden won Lawrence, but Republicans found new pockets of support. What gives?

People waited in line for early voting at Lawrence City Hall last week.
People waited in line for early voting at Lawrence City Hall last week.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

They called him "Papa Trump.''

That was the nickname that some people in Lawrence gave President Trump when stimulus checks arrived in the city earlier this year, immigration attorney Zoila Gomez recalled.

Gomez said that in the eyes of some, it was as if Trump had doled out the checks himself. She noted that they also got their fill of antiabortion sermons in churches filled with evangelical Christians and staunch Catholics.

"Some of them . . . don’t think that Jesus would be a Trump supporter, but yet they vote for Trump because he is strongly pro-life,'' said Gomez, a community leader. "It’s just a contradiction and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. How can you support somebody with those values?’ "

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Across Lawrence, an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Gomez and others are trying to make sense of why more voters — a quarter this year, up from 15 percent in 2016 — chose the Republican ticket of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence over their Democratic rivals, former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris.

Though Trump lost Massachusetts, he also had a stronger showing of support this year than four years ago in some urban areas including Fall River and New Bedford, as well as Lawrence.



To some in Lawrence, Trump’s immigration policies and his debasing remarks about people of Hispanic heritage would be disqualifying in a city where 80 percent of the population is Hispanic. Lawrence has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump is accused of mishandling, while unemployment soars and families suffer hardships. During the effort to turn out votes prior to the election, many people inquired about access to food pantries and how to find affordable child care, advocates say.

But others say Lawrence, population 80,000, is also a city with a solid religious conservative base that has prioritized antiabortion convictions and social conservative ideals above Trump.

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"There’s a big movement of Christian denominations here,'' said Diego Leonardo, president of the grass-roots organization Latinx Community Center for Empowerment. “That’s probably a factor. . . . They have pursued that, rather than rhetoric of the president.”

Furthermore, he and others said, Lawrence residents have been besieged by misinformation online, including accounts claiming that Biden is a socialist. And some do not understand how the election process works, Leonardo said.

"Anybody now can be a reporter now, if you just grab your phone and go on Facebook Live,'' Leonardo said. “People can say whatever they want on social media. . . . We were not getting [the correct] information. Instead we were getting lies and whatever is said on social media.”

Mayor Dan Rivera also said he is not surprised that the percentage of GOP support is higher this year than previously. He, too, noted Lawrence’s deeply religious, antiabortion, and social conservative base, but said those residents remain a “small strain” of the largely Democratic city. Lawrence twice rejected initiatives to legalize marijuana, both for medical and recreational use, he pointed out. The Hispanic community, he and others noted, is also vastly diverse.

"It’s clear here and nationwide that the Latino vote is not a monolithic group of individuals,'' Rivera said. “Even though we’re a Democratic stronghold, it’s also the fact that we’re John F. Kennedy Democrats.”

But Rivera took note of a misinformation campaign that took root in Florida and spread on social media.

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“It echoed up here and echoed probably in every Latino community, especially in communities that didn’t have a ‘pro-Biden' kind of message” to counter the misinformation, Rivera added.

That was the case in Arizona and Nevada, where Rivera said that Biden has stayed competitive with Trump in large part due to the Democratic Party’s heavy investment in money and messaging that targeted Latinos there. There was no such courting in Massachusetts, the mayor said.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party said it is taking note, promising more outreach and education in the future.

“We don’t know yet who these voters are, but this is something we will be diving into,'' said Gus Bickford, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "Outreach to Latinx communities has been a priority for us and we need to take notice. We need to evaluate all that we are doing and make sure that we are listening to, partnering with, and taking the lead of Latinx communities as we move forward.”

Pastor David Berroa, of Peniel Spanish Christian Church, said that while he urged his congregants to vote this year, he’s never steered them to any political party.

But he said he believes conventional politicians — such as Biden, Trump, and even former president Barack Obama — do not focus on communities like Lawrence.

"They ignore the other side,'' he said. “So who is in charge to take care of everything about the human being. In the Holy Scripture, we find out about the whole human being.”

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When they cast ballots this year, Hispanic residents who voted Republican were driven by a number of factors, Berroa said. They were rejecting social and cultural shifts they were seeing in their community, including the legalization of marijuana, he said.

They believed that "Donald Trump would defend their values more than Biden,'' and that the former vice president will cede control of the presidency — if elected — to Harris, who they believe is far too progressive, the pastor said.

"They are seeing how this society is changing those norms or rules, like that marijuana effort,'' Berroa said. “[People in] the Hispanic community . . . protect their family and they are saying, ‘Hello this candidate [Harris] is against my family.’ ”

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report.




Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.