Campaigns and organizations are trying to build a robust Latino voter base in Nevada. Will it work?
by Isabella Grullón Paz
On Monday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders hosted a soccer tournament at Eldorado High School in East Las Vegas, a heavily Latino area. Elotes were served and music was playing, but most important were the vans to take players and their families to and from early voting sites.
That evening, Senator Elizabeth Warren appeared with Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and presidential candidate, at Cardenas Market for Prioridades 2020, a presidential forum hosted by the Latino engagement group Mi Familia Vota Nevada. Earlier in the day, she’d announced Latinas en La Lucha, a program designed to highlight the political power of Latinas. A baile folklórico Mexicano performance kicked off the night and energized people.
Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada, where nearly 30 percent of residents are Latino, will be the first true test of whom Latinos are supporting in the 2020 Democratic primary. Recent polls have shown Mr. Sanders attracting significant Latino support in the state, including a Univision poll that found that one-third of Latino Democrats who were registered to vote backed him.
Grass-roots organizations in Nevada and several of the Democratic campaigns have worked particularly hard to engage these voters, and some residents said that they had been contacted by campaigns for the first time in their lives this year.
Alicia Lozano, 75, moved to Las Vegas four years ago after spending 20 years in El Paso. She has voted in numerous elections, but a campaign recently reached out to her for the first time ever, when canvassers for Tom Steyer knocked on her door.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen any candidate take an interest in me,” she said, adding that a candidate who reached out to her was someone worth voting for, and that she would be supporting Mr. Steyer in the caucuses.
Marco García, 59, who has lived in East Las Vegas for 20 years, also said that this was the first year that campaigns had tried to contact him. Canvassers for Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., had all stopped by to ask for his support.
“I think Democrats want Latinos to come out and vote because it’s such a close-fought race,” he said. “Campaigns need every little bit of support that they can get, so now they take an interest in us to come out and vote.”
Advocacy groups like Mi Familia Vota and Make the Road Nevada have hosted their own forums and trainings to inspire Latinos, who typically turn out at lower rates than other people of color, to caucus.
“We’ve found that when we educate Latinos, they’re more civically engaged than most voting groups,” said Héctor Sánchez Barba, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “This is an investment in the long run.”
These groups are also trying to make the case to campaigns and outsiders that engaging Latino voters is worth the effort.
The Latino Vote Project, a turnout analysis conducted by the polling firm Latino Decisions and other groups, found last year that Latinos had been crucial to turning elections in four states — Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Texas — that were competitive for Democrats in the 2018 midterms.
The same study found that the largest increases in voter turnout in these states were in predominantly Latino precincts, thanks largely to grass-roots organizations’ spending millions of dollars on civic engagement and outreach.
In Nevada, these groups have mostly reached out to Latinos who are not traditionally targeted by campaigns or political parties.
Make the Road came to Ruth Mantilla’s door 11 months ago as part of the group’s effort to contact so-called low-propensity voters, or people who were considered unlikely to vote. Ms. Mantilla has lived in Las Vegas for a decade but only recently became a citizen, and this is the first primary that she will be able to vote in.
“Before, when I didn’t have the chance to vote, I never really realized if candidates were getting involved in our communities, but this year I have seen that the Democratic Party is trying to get us to me more engaged to change our current government,” she said, adding that she felt a sense of urgency around getting President Trump out of office.
Natalia Salgado, the national political director and chief of civic engagement for the Center for Popular Democracy, said recent organizing efforts had been driven by a desire for a party that Latinos could trust and work with. (Make the Road Nevada is a local partner of the Center for Popular Democracy.)
“If the Democratic Party was going to be the electoral vehicle, either we were going to have to revamp it or we’re going to have to create something new,” she said.
She didn’t like how the party would sometimes parachute into Latino communities and tell voters which candidates to back no matter what, including some who backed policies and agendas that wouldn’t improve Latinos’ quality of life.
“I believe that long-term organization and human-to-human relationships are the cornerstones of being able to undo all the sort of damage that the Democratic Party has done,” Ms. Salgado said.
For Mi Familia Vota, that often means an emphasis on families.
“We’re never forgetting the youth, because we feel like if we are able to target them and they are being informed about it, they can also inform their families and their parents,” said Alma Delia Romo, the group’s state coordinator in Nevada. “Getting students involved is very important because they’re going to shape our future representation.”
Ms. Romo said that the key to getting Latinos, especially young ones, involved was showing them how accessible voting can be.
“Being able to have these spaces like Cardenas, like the East Las Vegas Library — places they are familiar with and can go vote — definitely makes an impact,” she said.
She added that this year’s addition of early voting made turning out easier for Latinos, who might not have the time to caucus on a Saturday because of work or family obligations. More than 70,000 Nevadans participated in early voting, the state Democratic Party said on Wednesday.
Many early voting sites were located on the Strip, at hotels and casinos, to make them accessible for workers. Such locations will be open on caucus night as well.
“It feels like we’re being supported by someone other than ourselves, and that’s important,” Ms. Romo said.
Isabella Grullón Paz is the Political News Assistant at NY Times. @igrullonpaz