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Why Arizona’s Latino vote could be making a ‘big change’ this year

Arizona has emerged as a surprising battleground state in this year’s presidential election, considering President Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 3.5 percent in 2016. Latinos make up a quarter of the state’s eligible voters -- and while polls indicate most of them are supporting Joe Biden, Latinos in Arizona are not a completely united voting bloc. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Arizona has emerged as a surprising battleground state in this year's presidential election. President Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by only 3.5 percent in 2016.

    Latinos make up a quarter of eligible voters in the Grand Canyon State. And while polls show most Latinos are supporting Biden, Stephanie Sy reports that Latinos are not a completely united voting bloc.

  • Silvana Salcido Esparza:

    Hey, how are you? Elbow.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Even in its reduced, COVID-careful capacity, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's kitchen is buzzing. But it's her politics that are on the front burner these days.

  • Silvana Salcido Esparza:

    It's the character that counts.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Esparza spent almost an hour with Joe Biden when he and Senator Kamala Harris visited the Barrio Cafe in Phoenix for a campaign stop.

  • Silvana Salcido Esparza:

    I see a soul there. I see a man who has got conviction, who has empathy, who listens.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    COVID has put a strain on her business. Battling an incurable inflammatory disease, she shut the restaurant down early in the pandemic, and had to cancel her and her employees' health insurance.

    Do you think that, if Biden is elected on November 3, things will get better for the Barrio Cafe?

  • Silvana Salcido Esparza:

    Whether it affects me or not me — it may — whether the Barrio survives or not, that's beside the point. The point is that the decay will stop.

  • Chawa Magana:

    I'm one of those very skeptical people.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A few miles from the Barrio Cafe, Chawa Magana is packing online orders at the bilingual bookstore she's owned for five years. Palabras is filled with books on issues like racial justice and indigenous rights and features authors of color.

  • Chawa Magana:

    It reflects my politics very much so, because the bookstore is run kind of by the community. I am driven by a mission that isn't just profit. So I need money in order to exist, right? But that's not the main focus of the bookstore.

    Stephanie Sy Community support, including an online fund-raiser that raised more than $10,000, as well as grants, have kept the shop going through the pandemic.

  • Chawa Magana:

    During COVID, it's really difficult for small businesses to stay afloat. And we're seeing it. It's very visible.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Do you feel like the Democrats have a better plan?

  • Chawa Magana:

    I feel as if I can't really trust Trump at all when it comes to that, because of the track record, because of not taking protective measures for our communities as well.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    With the COVID pandemic ravaging many Latino communities, she sent a mail-in ballot for Biden, even though she's a former Bernie Sanders supporter who says she's disillusioned by the two-party system.

  • Chawa Magana:

    I mean, what is the other option, you know?

  • Joe Garcia:

    And data don't lie.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Longtime Arizona political watcher Joe Garcia says both candidates have spent months courting Arizona's Latino small business owners, a growing economic and political force.

  • Joe Garcia:

    The Democratic Party has put money into Arizona for the first time in a long time, knowing it can win the state.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But you also have Latinos who are pro-Trump.

  • Joe Garcia:

    I mean, you're talking maybe 20 percent.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    I'm heading to Mesa, a suburb east of Phoenix that has long been staunchly conservative. Even with the Latino population that's booming, those conservative roots run deep.

  • Dominique Rivas:

    It's about policy. It's about what affects my life, and if — and what he says doesn't affect my life.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mesa resident Dominique Rivas originally voted for Trump in 2016 because of her son Ray, who serves in the U.S. Army.

  • Dominique Rivas:

    I feel that, until this day, he still hasn't taken our country to war. And he is still my son's best chance of survival.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And now is that still the reason why you support him and have his sign on your lawn now?

  • Dominique Rivas:

    Not only is he my son's best chance of survival now, but he is my business' best chance of survival now.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Rivas started a mobile notary business during COVID, and is making more money now than she ever did in her former government job.

  • Dominique Rivas:

    This new business that I created, this new life that I have created for my family has put me into a new tax bracket, has put me, a Hispanic, new independent business owner — it's what the American dream is all about.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And if Biden were to win the presidency?

  • Dominique Rivas:

    I feel what would come would be a bigger shutdown, possibly.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Because of COVID.

  • Dominique Rivas:

    Because of COVID. I feel that that would have an effect on the mortgage industry, and that's — that's a big part of my new business.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, this is an interesting neighborhood. You have got a Biden sign. Then you got a Trump sign. Then you got a Biden sign. Then you got a Trump sign.

    South of Mesa, in the town of Gilbert, we meet Martha Llamas in her neighborhood of impeccably landscaped single-family homes. Her life wasn't always picture-perfect.

  • Martha Llamas:

    Then he grabs my baby, throws him into the bed, and grabs me, and starts beating me with the gun.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Llamas described a violent ex-boyfriend who she says almost killed her in 1996. It's a story she recounted on a stage with President Trump during one of his more than half-dozen campaign stops to Arizona.

  • Martha Llamas:

    When I was 22 years old, I got shot by the father of my kid. I survived horrible domestic violence.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    After she got out of the relationship, she found work as a janitor.

  • Martha Llamas:

    My mother, I remember telling me, don't get any handouts. Go get a job.

    And when I started that job, I felt free, and it was amazing. I — you know, picking up trash or cleaning toilets or doing that, it was like, oh, my God, this is cool. This is cool.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She rose through the company and now runs her own janitorial firm, which she owns with her husband, Ron. It has nearly 70 employees, and she says she's supporting Trump in part because she wants to see Obamacare fully repealed.

  • Martha Llamas:

    A janitorial business, you make 10 percent profit. How am I going to afford insurance for all my employees? That means, if I do that, I might as well just quit.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But Silvana Esparza feels just the opposite. She not only wants affordable health insurance for her employees. She favors raising the minimum wage.

  • Silvana Salcido Esparza:

    I believe in unity. I believe in the United States, not the divided states. I believe in respecting my fellow man.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Whatever side they fall on, Joe Garcia says he is observing more Latinos get off the sidelines this year.

    The Latino vote turnout has generally been lower than the general population's.

  • Joe Garcia:

    It has been lower. In every presidential election going from way back, there are more eligible Latino voters not voting than actual eligible voters who are voting among the Latinos.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But, this election, Garcia says he's noticed a big change.

  • Joe Garcia:

    This could be the election where everyone understands you can no longer win an election without winning the Latino vote.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The Latino small business owners we spoke to did all agree on at least one thing. All said they have achieved some version of the American dream, and believe their vote could help preserve it.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy in Maricopa County, Arizona.

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