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A new Vox article by Ella Nilson explores the remarkable success that labor and community groups in Nevada have had in engaging and mobilizing Latino voters. Built over the years, the effort combines year-round organizing and advocacy with intensive voter mobilization efforts in the run up to elections. The article, focused on the campaign of Rep. Jacky Rosen in her effort to unseat incumbent Senator Dean Heller, also highlights how smart Democrats such as former Sen. Harry Reid and Jacky Rosen, can engage the Latino electorate.
According to Viridiana Vidal, America’s Voice Nevada Director, “There’s no magic involved. It’s about hard work, pulling together and holding each other to account. The groups take responsibility for knocking on doors and engaging voters in conversations about the issues that affect their daily lives. It’s not just about a short-term push a few weeks out, but about a long-term commitment to improving the lives of our community. As a result, Latinos in Nevada are raising their voices and using their votes to make sure their elected leaders hear them, represent them, and fight for them.”
Below, we present key excerpts of Ella Nilson’s timely Vox story on Nevada, with the full version online here:
The Democratic Party’s success or failure this November rests on shoulders of the legendary “Reid machine,” a grassroots army of local organizers, Culinary Union members, and state Democratic Party workers and volunteers. They’ve been canvassing the state for Rosen and other Democratic candidates for months, even in sweltering 100-plus-degree desert heat. Year after year, the Reid machine has done what other states cannot: successfully turn out Nevada’s growing Latino voting bloc.
…Operatives and volunteers in the Nevada state Democratic Party operation aren’t just working in the months up to an election, they are at work all year round: showing up at doors, registering new voters, helping boost candidate’s name ID, and getting people to show up to early voting or go to the polls on Election Day. “Vegas is largely apathetic to politics, it’s about getting folks disciplined enough to do the basic stuff,” said former Reid spokesperson Jim Manley.
They’ve had notable success: In 2010, Latino voters accounted for 12 percent of the state’s voters, and made up about 16 percent of the total number of voters who cast ballots for Reid in the Senate race, according to research firm Latino Decisions. This year, Democratic organizers want to see that vote share increase to 18 to 20 percent, according to Artie Blanco, a Democratic National Committee member and labor organizer in Nevada. “There’s been consistent investment in the Latino population here. I think the community is figuring out they have a voice,” Blanco, who is Mexican-American, told Vox.
In a year when Democrats are counting on a backlash to Trump to spur Latinos and other minorities to the polls in Southern states like Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona, organizers in Nevada are clear on one thing: You cannot expect a reaction to Trump to translate organically to votes. You have to go out there and get every vote yourself.
Jacky Rosen’s campaign schedule on a recent weekend made it clear she is running the Reid playbook — making a huge play for Latino, Hispanic, and other minority voters, groups that have been disproportionately affected by the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“I don’t have to tell anybody that Latinos are on the forefront of the fight,” she said at a recent event with Latino voters. “DREAMers, TPS recipients, families torn apart at the border.”
Unlike Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is Latina, Rosen is not of the Latino community. She doesn’t speak Spanish — but then, neither did Reid. Rosen, the granddaughter of immigrants from Eastern Europe, frequently talks to the state’s immigrant community about deportation and family separation in relation to her own family story.
“I will tell you, my grandmother came to this country 100 years ago as a young widow,” Rosen said. “What if she came her now, would my uncle Phillip been torn away from her? Would my family be considered a mixed-status family?”
Trump’s rhetoric and action on immigrants has rankled many in the city, according to community activist Margarita Rebollal, who is from Puerto Rico. Rebollal said she hopes Trump’s recent tweets about the island’s death toll during Hurricane Maria spurs Vegas’s Puerto Rican population to the polls to vote against Heller and the GOP.
“I know it’s motivating me and close friends of mine,” Rebollal said.
One game changer in Nevada is the strong union presence that can organize voters. The Culinary Union, one of the state’s most active labor unions that represents workers in Vegas’s many hotels and restaurants, allows for workers to take a months-long leave of absence to volunteer knocking doors, registering voters, and handing out fliers.
Vox recently joined two Culinary Union members — Mary Anne Corre, a housekeeper at MGM Grand, and Alfonso Maciel, a cook at Excalibur — as they went out to knock on doors nearly two months before Election Day. Corre is Filipino and speaks Tagalog, and Maciel is Latino and speaks Spanish, which means they have most of the area’s language bases covered.
Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is diversifying rapidly, with Latinos making up a little more than 30 percent of the population, followed by African Americans and a smaller percentage of Asian Americans and American Pacific Islanders. Flipping Heller’s Senate seat is personal to both of them, but especially for Maciel, whose family members fear Trump’s crackdown on immigrants. “My family has lived in fear of being deported or having family taken away, to the point where they were afraid to come out of their homes,” Maciel said. “Everyone knows someone impacted by immigration.”
…One of the reasons Latino voters showed up to vote for Harry Reid year after year is he followed through on his promises, according to those close to him. He understood that courting the Latino vote was more than just talking the talk — he had to play transactional politics with groups that typically don’t get that big of an advocate in Congress.
Facing reelection in 2010, the then-Senate majority leader made another risky political bet: He brought the DREAM Act — a bill that would allow young unauthorized immigrants known as DREAMers to eventually get US citizenship — up for a vote in the Senate. Reid did so against the advice of his own campaign advisers and pollsters, who warned this would turn white independent voters against him.
“He was being told by his pollster that he should not touch the DREAM Act with a 10-foot poll,” said Jose Parra, who ran Latino communications for Reid’s campaign and his office. “He still went for that; he went hard on it. At a time when Hispanic voters were being attacked by his opponent, he had their backs.”
Reid also put together a bilingual college guide for Latino families, created a program to help people with foreclosures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and hired Latino staff. “He had a huge hand in DACA as well; he twisted a lot of arms in the [Obama] administration to get DACA going,” Parra said.
…“Reid was right there from the beginning, before it was popular or considered safe,” Parra said. “That obviously turns people out. Good policy, when it’s messaged well, is good politics.”
As a freshman Congress member, Rosen doesn’t have much of a voting record to be judged on. But in January, she voted against a short-term government spending bill — a vote Heller is hammering her on in ads. House Republicans ultimately had enough votes to pass that spending bill without Democrats. It failed in the Senate over frustrations about the lack of action on an immigration bill and short-term funding of children’s health insurance and community health centers, pushing the government into a three-day shutdown. “It’s not a good choice to pit kids who need children’s health insurance against other children like our DREAMers,” Rosen told Vox in a recent interview. “So that’s why we voted against it; it was a false choice. It’s something the Republicans put up there as a poison pill to force us to choose one group of children over another.”
Parra said Rosen taking a tough vote like that and siding with DREAMers sends a message to the state’s Latino community that she is serious about fighting for them. That’s an important contrast to draw, especially since Heller has recently voted against immigration reform and largely aligned himself with Trump after disavowing the president in 2016.