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For Second Time in Two Elections, Nevada Latinos Make Their Mark

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Updated America’s Voice Report Shows that NV Latinos Nevada Latinos Secured the State for Obama and Influenced Senate and Key House Races

Nevada Latinos are rapidly changing politics in a state that only a few years ago was considered solidly red.  After boosting Sen. Harry Reid to re-election in 2010 and saving the Senate for the Democrats, Latino voters again made their mark in Nevada’s 2012 elections.  They played a crucial role in securing the state for President Obama, with 80% of Nevada Latinos voting for Barack Obama and only 20% supporting Mitt Romney, according to election-eve polling conducted by Latino Decisions.  Latino voters favored Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley over incumbent Senator Dean Heller (R) by a 79%-20% margin and Democratic candidates in congressional House races 79%-21%.

In Nevada’s 4th District, Republican incumbent Danny Tarkanian adopted a too little, too late approach on immigration. He lost to Steve Hosford (D), a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act and the Obama Administration’s deferred action policy, in a district where 23% of the population is comprised of voting age Latinos.

While Rep. Heck held on to his seat in the 3rd District, his opponent John Oceguera made him work for it.  As demographics continue to change in Nevada, Heck is a leading candidate to change his immigration position or face tougher and tougher races.

And although Berkley ultimately lost her challenge to Senator Heller, she was bolstered by support from Latino voters.  Post-election, Sen. Heller is already suggesting that he may actually understand the need to shed his anti-immigrant past in order to stay in step with the Nevada electorate.

Below, find a recap of the U.S. Senate and House races America’s Voice monitored throughout the 2012 cycle, as well as links to the complete documents tracking results in a number of states.  We include relevant demographic information, a description of the role immigration played in the campaign, and a snapshot of each race’s outcome and what it means moving forward.



Candidates: Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) v. Sen. Dean HELLER (R), incumbent


Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/4/12)

Latino Eligible Voter Population: 16.9% (Teixeira/Frey)

Asian Voting Age Population: 7.7% (Center for American Progress)

Final vote: Heller 45.9%/Berkley 44.7%

Latino vote:  Berkley 79%/Heller 20%

(“Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll.)

Republican Senator Dean Heller wants to end birthright citizenship in the United States—but you wouldn’t know it from his campaign materials. Heller learned from his party’s experience in Nevada in 2010, when Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s decision to make anti-immigrant attacks the centerpiece of her campaign backfired.  Instead of being intimidated out of voting, Latinos (16.9% of the state’s eligible voter population and 26.5% of its residents) turned up in droves to support Senator Harry Reid, as part of a “Latino firewall” stretching across the West that saved the Senate for the Democrats.

This cycle, with the fate of the Senate again in the balance, Heller opted to reach out to Latino voters through gauzy, biography-heavy Spanish-language ads and vague policy language on his Spanish-language website—hoping to obscure his opposition to birthright citizenship and his vote against the DREAM Act in the House in 2010.  On the other hand, his opponent, Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley, a DREAM co-sponsor who fought to put the bill on the national Democratic platform, was keen to remind Latinos that Heller’s record is anti-immigrant.

On top of the candidates’ own campaigns, Latinos in Nevada were targeted by grassroots efforts to mobilize them to vote—and Astroturfed efforts to keep them from the polls.  Latinos in Nevada demonstrated their commitment to their civic rights by turning out in large numbers, and theiroverwhelming support for Berkley showed they couldn’t be fooled by “outreach” that hid an anti-immigrant record. While the Latino vote wasn’t enough to overcome Berkley’s weakness elsewhere, Nevada Latinos’ role in securing the state for President Obama in the presidential race should be enough to persuade Dean Heller that next time he’s up for re-election, he had better have more than a softly-lit ad on hand to appeal to Latino voters.

For more, see America’s Voice’s Spotlight on Nevada.



Candidates: John Oceguera (D) v. Rep. Joe HECK (R), incumbent


Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/25/12)

Latino Voting Age Population: 13.49%

Asian Voting Age Population: 14.27%

Final vote: Heck 50.4%/Oceguera 42.8%

Statewide Latino vote:  Democrat 79%/Republican 21%

(“Statewide Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll, asking Latinos who they planned to vote for in the U.S. House race in their district.)

Nevada’s 3rd District race was closely watched, as Rep. Heck won election in 2010 by only 1,078 votes.   However, redistricting in 2011 gave Heck a much safer Republican district for the 2012 election, which allowed him to defeat Democrat John Oceguera, the Nevada State Assembly Speaker of Hispanic descent, with more votes than he defeated Titus.

Heck opposes the DREAM Act, and has said that he wants to end birthright citizenship.  On the other hand, when President Obama announced his Administration’s new deferred action policy for DREAMers, John Oceguera issued a statement praising it and criticizing his opponent for being too extreme.



Candidates: Steven HOSFORD (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian (R)


Rating: Toss Up (Cook Political Report, 10/25/12)

Latino Voter Age Population: 22.93%

Asian Voting Age Population: 6.71%

Final vote: Hosford 50.1%/Tarkanian 42.2%

Statewide Latino vote:  Democrat 79%/Republican 21%

(“Statewide Latino vote” is taken from Latino Decisions’ election-eve poll, asking Latinos who they planned to vote for in the U.S. House race in their district.)

Nevada’s 4th district was another highly anticipated race in a state with a growing number of Latino voters who are changing politics.  When Danny Tarkanian ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Senate nomination in 2010, he earned the endorsement of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project with his hardline positions like opposition to the DREAM Act and support for Arizona’s “show me your papers” law.  In July 2012, Tarkanian had a tense meeting with Hispanic activists in which he accused President Obama of using Hispanics as a “political football.”  Regarding Obama’s relief for DREAMers, he said: “I certainly don’t agree with it because it wasn’t passed in Congress.”

The Democratic Congressman-elect, Steven Horsford, is the outgoing Majority Leader of the Nevada Senate.  He supports comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, and the Obama Administration’s deferred action policy.

Tarkanian tried to soften his position slightly on immigration in 2012, saying that he now supported the provision in the DREAM Act that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who serve in the military, but opposed the rest.  Horsford contended that Tarkanian was still too extreme on the issue for the 4th District. The election results show that Hosford was correct, and Nevada’s first black congressman will go to Washington as a firm supporter of immigrants.

House Races Post-Election Scorecard Update: http://americasvoiceonline.org/research/americas-voice-releases-spotlight-on-house-races-to-watch-for-immigrant-and-latino-voters/

Senate Races Post-Election Scorecard Update: http://americasvoiceonline.org/research/state-spotlights-six-races-to-watch-for-immigration-reform-supporters/

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.