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Campaigns Step Up Latino Outreach In Nevada

Julia Ritchey

  Both GOP and Democratic presidential candidates are expanding their Latino outreach efforts in Nevada — a crucial demographic for winning the state's caucus in February. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports.

Twenty-three-year-old Benjamin Challinor is training a volunteer on how to make phone calls for the Hillary Clinton campaign at their Reno office.

Challinor explains the different codes to write down for a wrong number or disconnected phone line. Many of his calls are spent explaining the state’s somewhat confusing caucus system, in which party members will get together to elect their presidential nominee.

"Voter education is very important to Latino communities because they come from countries where their vote doesn't matter and they don't tend to vote," says Challinor.

Clinton's campaign has been one of the earliest and most aggressive in reaching out to Latino voters in northern Nevada, both young and old.

Denise Lopez is a field organizer for the Clinton campaign here. She was born in Illinois but spent several years as a child in Mexico.

"In my community I saw a lot of injustices, the way people were treated," says Lopez. "That kind of shaped me to do the work that I'm doing now."

Besides door-to-door campaigning, Lopez says...

"We're making phone calls, we're having cafecitos, where we meet at their house," she says. "If somebody says, 'Yeah, I can have a cafecito,' we go, we meet, and we talk about the issues we care about. We talk about what's at stake in this election."

In a state with a dismal voter turnout already, the trick is trying to get more Latinos to the polls.

Maria Teresa Kumar runs the non-partisan group Voto Latino, based in D.C. She says out of about 460,000 eligible Latino voters in the state, only 180,000 are registered — a statistic they’re trying to change.

"It has some of the highest rates of participation when mobilization occurs."

And other campaigns are stepping up, too.

"The Latino vote is very critical for us, and we take it very seriously."

That's Jim Farrell, state director for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Most of Sanders' campaign has been self-organized until now, but Farrell expects to open their official Reno outpost soon.

In 2015, he says it’s not enough to campaign solely on immigration reform.

"It may be a stereotypical notion that immigration alone is what drive Latinos," he says. "The fact is, Latinos in Nevada want a raise, they want a better job, they want better health care — all of these things are attainable; this is what Bernie Sanders' message is, this is his agenda."

Immigration may not be the only issue Latinos care about, but it will be a galvanizing one, according to Voto Latino’s Kumar.

“Now on the national level, with the political rhetoric coming out of certain candidates that are trying to scapegoat the Latino community, we hope to use that as a leverage to create political empowerment, awareness, but most importantly, to light a fire in our bellies,” she says.

Current GOP front-runner Donald Trump has gotten into hot water for his recent comments about immigrants here illegally but is savvy enough to have tapped a Latino UNLV graduate as his Nevada campaign director. 

Other GOP candidates are also actively building Latino coalitions of local legislators, faith leaders and community organizers.

Last month, Jeb Bush announced his own, with three members in northern Nevada, including Maria Davis.

She says word-of-mouth is one of the most effective tools for reaching their community. 

"I like to talk about him whenever I'm at the grocery store, at the school waiting for the kids, any event, I just like to invite people to get informed on what is going on in our country," she says.

Bush will be back in Nevada tomorrow to participate in a Las Vegas forum hosted by the LIBRE Initiative, which seeks to turn Latino voters on to Libertarian issues.

Ted Cruz’ campaign is following suit. Robert Uithoven is Cruz’s state director.

"The early work we do in building Latino coalitions both in northern and southern Nevada that's critically important as you continue into the general [election] and — obviously hopeful that we become the nominee — where we can continue to grow," he says.

Experts predict that as Nevada’s caucus draws closer, more money will come pouring into the campaigns and the various voter outreach groups.

Voto Latino’s Kumar says they plan to register as many Latino as possible. 

"What we believe at Voto Latino, though, what differentiates us from these political parties, is we want every Latino to participate," she says. "We actually believe if we want massive empowerment, we need maximum participation."

Kumar says Nevada is a state where the Latino bloc has the ability to be highly influential, even after the caucus is over. 

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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