the national immigration debate mobilized Hispanics to show their strength as
a community; Next year, this fast-growing voting bloc has another chance to sway
the national political conversation if voter turnout is high in Nevada's Jan.
19 presidential caucus.
the city of Las Vegas, where Latinos make up more than 23 percent
of the population, civic leaders know the caucus represents a
community in Nevada, in some way, is going to be speaking for the Latino community
across the nation. If they manage to get the Latino vote out, that can be the
decisive vote in the caucuses," said Nevada Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, a Democrat
who represents Las Vegas.
Nevada Democrats earned a coveted January caucus
date for the 2008 presidential election due in part to the state's large Hispanic
population and union membership. Nevada Republicans soon followed suit, voting
in April to move their caucus date up to Jan. 19 as well giving both parties a
national spotlight in the nominating process.
As part of their outreach
to the Hispanic community, representatives from the Nevada Democratic Party have
been encouraging voter registration at swearing-in ceremonies for new U.S. citizens.
As recently as last year, new citizens were registering at a 2 to 1 ratio for
Democrats to Republicans. This year, they've been sustaining ratios of 72 percent
-- and sometimes even above 80 percent -- for Democratic Party registrations,
according to Andres Ramirez, outreach director for the Nevada Democratic Party.
And the new role -- especially voting in a caucus where participants can
discuss their opinions with other voters -- plays well into an already established
"Talking about politics with your neighbor is something
common in the Spanish-speaking community. People don't understand how common it
is," Ramirez said.
The nationwide debate over immigration policy has
drawn Hispanic voters to take a more vocal role in politics, but health care and
education are also among the community's top concerns. Many Hispanic immigrants
work in lower-paying jobs that do not provide health insurance, and they face
particular challenges when it comes to obtaining medical care or providing care
for their children and elderly parents, Ramirez said. Education, too, ranks high
"They understand education is the key to success,
the only way get out of the scenario we're in," Ramirez said.
however, still serves to push Hispanic voters into action. This year, federal
immigration officials raided at least 10 McDonald's restaurants in Reno, Kihuen
said, separating families and creating a fearful environment, even among legal
immigrants in Las Vegas.
"This issue is activating people who are citizens,
who have never thought about voting, to actually go out and vote," he said.
Democratic candidates campaigning in Las Vegas have tailored their message for
the Hispanic community -- and particularly for Spanish-speaking voters. Sen. Barack
Obama, D-Ill., and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., have aired campaign ads in Spanish.
Nearly every Democratic candidate has Hispanic outreach staffers and attends events
centered on the Latin American community.
"All the candidates have
been in my district at least once. No where else in the country or in any other
situation would my constituents get to meet major presidential candidates face-to-face,"
Kihuen, who defeated an incumbent to capture his legislative
seat, says acting early is the key to mobilizing the Hispanic vote.
past, he says, campaigns waited until the weeks just prior to an election to work
on Hispanic-voter recruitment. This year, presidential hopefuls are launching
those efforts months in advance.
Hiring enough bilingual campaign staffers
who can spread the word door-to-door, and ensuring the message resonates with
the local Hispanic community are also key elements, Kihuen said. In 2004, Sen.
John Kerry, D-Mass., ran a Spanish-language ad in Florida targeting the Cuban
community. When the campaign tried to air the same spot in Nevada, it did not
connect with the state's Hispanic voters.
"People who understand the
Latin American community, understand we're multicultural," Kihuen said.
media outlets, in particular, have been instrumental in spreading the message
about the caucus process and creating election guides for their audience. To kick
off their Hispanic outreach, Democratic Party officials met with representatives
from the Spanish newspapers, television stations and radio stations in Las Vegas
to make sure everyone had the same comprehensive vocabulary list.
seen just an incredible initiative among Spanish-language media," Ramirez
The majority of Hispanic voters in Nevada are English-speaking, Ramirez
said, but while the party doesn't concentrate the majority of its resources onto
Spanish-speaking voters, "that's where we can expand." One activity
that serves to unify the Hispanic community is soccer, and Nevada Democratic officials
have made the most of it by forming a soccer team and setting up booths at league
Although many Republicans remain focused on Iowa and
New Hampshire, front-runners such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and
former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson have leadership teams for Nevada and are campaigning
in the state.
On the immigration issue, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked
the DREAM Act this fall, which would have provided educational benefits and a
path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who attend college or join
the military. And some GOP candidates are also campaigning with strict policy
stances on immigration -- such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and Rep. Duncan
"I think that certainly has alienated Hispanics who
may have considered supporting a Republican," said Ramirez.
Ellis, secretary for the Nevada Chapter of the National Republican Hispanic Assembly,
told the NewsHour that many Hispanic voters connect with GOP candidates on important
community issues such as faith and family values.
"We vote, we are very
passionate of our, about our values. And that's what we do stick for, is the values."
Ellis said. "We're looking for what really touches -- what touches us --
what touches their future, what touches our faith and what touches our family