Democratic presidential hopefuls, starting their final push in Las Vegas on the campaign trail ahead of the Feb. 22 state caucus, attempted to appeal to the area’s heavy Latino population Thursday during a forum at the College of Southern Nevada.
The candidates positioned themselves as the opposite of President Donald Trump on issues such as immigration, environmental racism, health care and family separation at the southern border. Latinos make up the largest minority voting bloc in Nevada at about 18.8%.
“I am somebody who would go in the first day and stop what I consider to be crimes against humanity on the border,” said Tom Steyer, one of four candidates to participate in the forum sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
The forum, the first major presidential event in Las Vegas since the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday, also included Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders took part over live video.
Sanders, considered the front-runner to win the nomination after a strong showing two weeks ago in the Iowa caucus and a win in New Hampshire, has polled well with minorities. Buttigieg, who has seen a surge in support after a win in Iowa and a second place showing in New Hampshire, and Klobuchar, who came in third in New Hampshire, have not been able to attract as much support from minority groups.
“While I’m very proud of what we were able to do to succeed in rural and urban and suburban communities in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, those states do not reflect the totality of this country and that is why what happens in Nevada and in the other states to come will be so important,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg answered concerns about his tenure in South Bend, which included racial tensions between the city’s black population and police department. He explained how he addressed the conflicts, including making police records more transparent and ensuring minority representation on the city’s civilian public safety board.
Klobuchar received a similarly pointed question about her experience as the Hennepin County attorney Minnesota, in which she has received criticism for not prosecuting officers in police killings and brutality cases. But, she responded, that black incarceration rates dropped during her time.
Steyer touted his record on advocating climate change and said his success came from working with minority communities. He said that environmental racism, the idea that the impacts of climate change are felt in neighborhoods with higher minority populations, needs to be tackled.
“My whole climate plan starts with leadership from the communities where people can’t breathe or drink the water,” he said. “That means, not only does the EPA have to do its job, but we’re talking about priority one being dealing with our climate problem and the leadership coming from black and Latino communities.”
Multiple candidates spoke against current border policy, in which children have been separated from their families. Sanders would end the practice, which he called cruel. Steyer called immigration “a great source of strength in this country" and criticized the position of President Donald Trump that the country is “too full.”
The status of “Dreamers” — immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children — was repeatedly discussed. Steyer said he favors expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields Dreamers from deportation, and enacting the proposed Obama-era plan to grant amnesty to millions of undocumented parents.
The candidates’ push comes with little time left before polls open Saturday for early voting, which runs through Tuesday. Caucus day is Feb. 22.