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Lessons from Nevada: Sustained Investment and Organizing Toward Latino Voters Matters

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As leading Nevada political observer Jon Ralston tweeted this morning, the Nevada caucus turnout this year was approximately 100,000, up from approximately 86,000 in 2016. Part of that increase was due to energy and engagement by Latino voters, who both contributed to the overall high turnout as well as the caucus victory by Bernie Sanders. 

For Democrats up and down the ballot and for all political observers, one of the key lessons from Nevada should be that sustained investment, engagement, and organizing directed toward the Latino voter community matters. Below are related details and observations from key observers

A new Ron Brownstein CNN column on the crucial role of Latino voters played in the Sanders Nevada caucus win and that Latino voters are poised to play in upcoming primary states notes that the upcoming contests represent:

[A] key opportunity for Sanders, who has devoted enormous effort to organizing among Latinos after most of them backed Hillary Clinton during their 2016 contest for the nomination. That effort paid off in Nevada where entrance polls showed Sanders winning a stunning 53% of Latino voters.

The piece also quotes Stephanie Valencia, the co-founder and president of the Latino-focused firm EquisLabs, who:

…said her group’s own research has found that the investments the Sanders campaign has made and his name ID over the past four years ‘has helped him to garner some serious support within the community.’

Writing in the Nevada Independent, Megan Messerly’s analysis “Smart, early organizing in communities of color helped propel Sanders to victory in Nevada notes that the Sanders victory:

…proved how effective the campaign’s leave-no-stone-unturned approach to organizing in historically underrepresented, low-turnout communities could be … The success of that final get-out-the-caucus effort was, in part, predicated on the time and money spent on a massive field organizing effort … that knocked a half million doors between when it started in June and Caucus Day. 

…They also engaged in an extensive relational organizing effort, a hub-and-spoke strategy where Sanders supporters reached out to their personal networks … ‘What is often forgotten is that particularly in Latino communities and communities of color, the networks are very strong, the family bonds,’ said Susana Cervantes, Sanders’ field director in Nevada. ‘It just comes down to finding supporters and then asking them to talk to their friends, family and neighbors. I know it sounds simple, but that’s what it comes down to.’

And a PBS Newshour article, “What Sanders’ Nevada win says about Latino voter turnout,” captures that in addition to the Sanders campaign’s efforts, outside groups also are engaged in turnout and mobilization efforts – but that candidates and campaigns themselves also need to play a crucial role:

Organizations like Make the Road Nevada and Mi Familia Vota are working to bridge these gaps among Latino voters. Ahead of the caucuses Saturday, canvassers from the organizations registered new voters outside grocery stores across Las Vegas and near the Department of Motor Vehicles. On Friday night, voters ate tacos, drank horchata and swayed to music before a bilingual caucus training session hosted by Mi Familia Vota and the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus in East Las Vegas — the heart of the city’s Latino community. Outreach campaigns like the ones on display this year appear to be paying off. Between 2014 and 2018, there was a 120 percent increase in ballots cast in Nevada’s Latino-heavy precincts, according to Latino Decisions.

Still, advocates said the Democratic Party and candidates themselves are responsible for making the effort to connect with Latino voters. It’s not enough to say Latino voters are important, said Astrid Silva, the executive director of Dream Big Nevada, campaigns also have to try harder to understand the diversity and differences within Latino communities.

Similarly, the heavily-Latino membership Culinary Workers Union Local 226 issued a statement from their president, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, that noted the role of sustained organization in harnessing anti-Trump energy:

Culinary Union did not endorse ahead of the Nevada Caucus and instead focused on mobilizing members and their families to vote early. For the first time in 85 years, the Culinary Union was an early vote site and over 2,500 Nevadans cast their ballot over 4 days at our early vote location. The Democratic Caucus is the first step in defeating Trump on Election Day, and high turnout in the Nevada Caucus is a victory for working people and the democratic process.