Democratic presidential candidates mine Nevada’s minorities for support

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Yasmina Chavez

Presidential candidate and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, center left, meets with members of the Dream Big Nevada immigration activist organization over lunch at Gorditas El Lagunero in North Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.

Sun, Dec 1, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Nevada is not just first in the West in the presidential nominating sweepstakes; it's also the first state in the nation with significant minority populations to weigh in on who will be the major parties' nominee.

Iowa, which will kick off the presidential nominating season with its caucuses on Feb. 3, has a population that is more than 85% white. New Hampshire, with its first-in-the-nation primary on Feb. 11 has an even-less diversified population: 90% white. In Nevada, next on the calendar with its caucuses Feb. 22, white voters will make up around 67% of the electorate in the state according to the Pew Research Center, but still giving black and Hispanic voters significant political punch.

With campaigns targeting Nevada to entrench potential leads in the West, candidates have begun to reach out to the Silver State’s diverse coalition of voters, including the state’s large Hispanic voting bloc. Many candidates have made a point of hiring diverse staff and organizers, making materials available in English and Spanish and reaching out to minority communities at events and town halls.

Dan Lee, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV, said Nevada could give a boost to candidates in the race.

“Thinking back to 2016, everyone kept waiting for (Donald) Trump to kind of trail off, but then he actually won in Nevada,” he said. “That was like an early sign that he actually did have a really good chance of winning the nomination.”

The Hispanic electorate is a potential political powerhouse for 2020.

Pew researchers project that Hispanics will be the largest “racial or ethnic minority” group in the national constituency, making up 13% of eligible voters.According to Pew, that's up from 9% of the electorate in the 2008 election and 7% in the 2000 election.

The black portion of the electorate, according to Pew, has grown at the same rate as the entire electorate and stayed around 12%.

A September poll from Univision had former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leading the national Latino vote at 22% and 20%, respectively, among Democratic presidential candidates. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sat at 12% and 11%, respectively. No other candidate broke 10%.

Paul Selberg, the Nevada state director for Buttigieg, said the campaign was cognizant of community outreach when staffing in the state. “We were very conscious of hiring a staff that reflects the diversity of our state,” Selberg said. “The majority of our team are people of color.”

Lee said that the rising political relevancy of minority populations like Hispanics can create debates around which demographics to target to build a winning coalition of voters. He contrasted Nevada with states like Iowa in which Democrats may need to rely more on the white working class.

“It’s this tension, like ok, what’s the best way to win the general election? Do we need to really energize the hardcore Democratic base, which nowadays is going to include a lot of racial minorities, or do we need to do things to win Trump supporters back to the Democratic Party who historically — back in the '80s and '90s — might have leaned toward the Democratic Party?” Lee said.

Heather Hargreaves, campaign manager for businessman Tom Steyer’s 2020 campaign, said it was important to not exclude voters. She said it was a “false choice” that campaigns should only target specific demographics.

“I think that we do a disservice to folks and I think that we’re not going to win next November if we focus on either-or,” Hargreaves said.

Juan Carlos Perez is the national Latinx engagement director with the South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign. He said that it was important to address issues, like health care and job creation, that are important to many communities.

“I think for the Latino community, it’s not necessarily the priority over another community,” Perez said. “It’s understanding that there is an overlap of issues that are important to both white communities, Latino communities and (other) communities of color.”

Lee said candidates needed to frame important issues in ways that showed different populations that they were aware of issues affecting their communities.

“They’re going to stress issues that are important to racial minorities, to Latino voters,” Lee said. “That’s the thing, (it’s) not like racial minorities only care about immigration. They actually care about a lot of the important national issues that affect all voters. They care about housing, they care about the minimum wage, they care about health care.”

Greg Schultz, campaign manager for Biden, said the former vice president could appeal to voters across the board.

“The candidate will be an asset, the diversity of our staff will be an asset and then, like all voters, the fact that (Biden) will restore order on the world stage, he can get something done through Congress, he can beat Trump — those are somewhat separate (issues) from individual constituent communities.”

Lee said that not covering bases in the primary season could hurt candidates in the general election. If a certain demographic feels overlooked, he said, it can cause voter-turnout problems.

“Some of these issues, they need to frame it in a way that is attractive to all bases. Whether you’re a Latino voter or a white voter in rural America, the story needs to be that, 'OK, I’m pushing for an increase to minimum wage and this is going to benefit you and you, regardless of your race,’ or ‘we’re pushing for affordable healthcare and it’s going to benefit both racial minorities and white, working-class voters.’”

Helen Kalla, the Nevada communications director for the campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said that Harris believed people had more in common than not.

“Whether you have somebody in Las Vegas, somebody in Reno, somebody in Ames, Iowa, people are oftentimes facing similar issues — talking about economic justice, health care justice, environmental justice,” Kalla said.

Kalla said that working in a state with a diverse population like Nevada was a positive for campaigns.

“I wouldn’t label it as a challenge at all, I would label it as an opportunity,” she said. “It’s what makes Nevada such a unique state to campaign in and it’s what makes Nevada so important as an early state and what separates it from the three other early states.”

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