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Presidential Candidates Aim To Attract Nevada's Latino Voters

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Nevada is the next state up in the Democratic nominating process, and it is the first state with a truly diverse electorate. Saturday's caucuses are a test for Democratic candidates, and NPR's Tamara Keith has this look at how the candidates are trying to appeal to Nevada's large Latino population.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Want to know how seriously the Democratic candidates are taking the Latino vote in Nevada? All the leading candidates have offices in East Las Vegas, a sprawling neighborhood that's home to a big share of the city's working-class Latino community.

JANET MURGUIA: East Las Vegas makes a statement in and of itself.

KEITH: Janet Murguia is president of UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization.

MURGUIA: It is a major heartbeat for the community here in Las Vegas, but in the region and in the state. And it demonstrates that, you know, if you're there, you're in the community.

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KEITH: So it was intentional when the campaign for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders opened its very first field office in Nevada in a strip mall in East Las Vegas back in June of 2019. Over the weekend, volunteers streamed in and out of the office, decorated with Sanders paraphernalia and brightly colored cut paper flags.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KEITH: Outside, volunteer Jazer Lanuza grabbed some fresh tacos after a shift of knocking on doors. He was trying to sell people on Sanders and make sure they know how to caucus.

JAZER LANUZA: I'm bilingual myself. We're getting out there - that speak Spanish, that speak the language - and get out there and go and relate with these people and just give them the message that Bernie Sanders is - that it's going to be better for all different sorts of people, not just Latinos - different races, people of other backgrounds - to be involved in the political process.

KEITH: Lanuza wasn't involved in the campaign in 2016 and only recently got engaged in politics. After doing research online, he decided Sanders was the best candidate to beat President Trump, and he started volunteering. Though there isn't a lot of polling out of Nevada, Sanders is widely seen as the strongest candidate here, and his campaign's extensive outreach to Latinos is part of it. He leads among nonwhite voters nationally in the new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

CHUCK ROCHA: I've done campaigns for 31 years, and the Latino vote has always been an afterthought. In this campaign, it's one of the first thoughts.

KEITH: Chuck Rocha is a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign. Four years ago, he said Sanders was building the plane as it was flying, and their Latino outreach was not as good as it could've been. This time, it is fully integrated into the campaign. There are more than 150 Latino staffers working in all departments of the campaign and not just siloed in Latino outreach. That includes Rocha.

ROCHA: They said, Chuck, we've got to get new people to vote, and it's your job to figure out how we get - go our base. There's a base of people who love us, but we need to get more of them to vote. So luckily, we started a year out, not weeks out like we did last time. And I think that you'll see that on caucus day here.

KEITH: A folklorico dance crew from a local high school and former candidate Julian Castro joined Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at a town hall this week in a Hispanic supermarket. Warren and the small audience who gathered to see her were set up between the cash registers and a deli case displaying fresh salsa and pickled carrots. The candidate was fighting a cold.

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ELIZABETH WARREN: I have many Latino women from across the country who are in this fight. And we are in this fight together.

KEITH: The stakes Saturday are especially high for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who hasn't yet found much traction with black and Latino voters. He was neck and neck with Sanders in Iowa and close behind in New Hampshire, and he, too, opened his first Nevada campaign office in East Las Vegas. It's painted with the core values of the campaign in both Spanish and English on one wall - respect, teamwork, substance, joy.

MAURICIO VAZQUEZ: We really appreciate your help. Pete appreciates your help. And we're going to win this thing. Thank you, guys.

KEITH: Mauricio Vazquez hyped up volunteers before an afternoon shift of knocking on doors. He's a field organizer with the campaign.

VAZQUEZ: A lot of what we're doing with Latino outreach is going to where they're at. I'm going to them and explaining that all is not lost, that there's still hope within the system that - and explaining kind of what Pete's trying to do within those communities.

KEITH: The message of the campaigns isn't all that different with Latino voters than it is with others. They emphasize health care, education, jobs and immigration, all issues that polling indicates are important to Latinos. The results in Saturday's caucuses are about more than just the delegates on the line in Nevada. Mobilizing nonwhite voters is something that will be critical if Democrats are to defeat President Trump in November.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.