Obama, Romney In The Ring For Nevada's Latino Vote

May 11, 2012
Originally published on May 11, 2012 7:10 am

President Obama is giving a speech about the economy Friday in Reno, Nev. It's his third trip to Nevada this year. In 2008, he won the state by 12 percentage points — in large part by getting more than three-quarters of the Latino vote.

Obama's re-election campaign has set its sights on the state's Latino voters again this year. At a big Cinco de Mayo festival outside Reno's Grand Sierra Casino on Saturday, a group called Latinos for Obama was trying to register new voters, while dancers and drummers performed ancient Aztec steps in an asphalt parking lot.

Nearly 2 million Latinos have turned 18 since the last presidential election. One of them is 21-year-old Caroline Maya, a college student born in Reno whose mother is from Mexico City.

"It's my first time voting, but I needed to get on it 'cause my mom kept telling me, 'Get on it. Get on it. Get on it,' " Maya said, laughing. "I would like to vote, and that's why I'm here signing, filling out paper."

Maya says she's leaning toward Obama over Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, but she's still debating her decision.

It's Latino voters like Maya whom both parties are after.

"Latinos in the last election in 2010, they made up about 15 percent of the electorate here. Right now, they're about 21, 22 percent of the age-eligible voters. So there's still a fairly large untapped reservoir of Latino voters here," says David Damore, a political scientist who studies Latino voting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

This week, Obama's re-election campaign started airing several Spanish-language radio ads in key states, including Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

One of these ads, which is also running as a video, features 22-year-old Ernesto Apreza, a field director with Latinos for Obama in Las Vegas, knocking on doors and talking to Spanish-speaking voters about the new health care law.

In an interview, Apreza says it's tough getting people excited about the November election.

"I mean, realistically, we're six months out and for a lot of people it hasn't necessarily been, you know, at the top of their to-do list or their agenda," he says. "These are just everyday people with other things to worry about."

And the Obama effort now faces competition.

Despite a bruising primary in which Romney took harsh stands on illegal immigration, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced in a conference call last month that his party is launching a six-state campaign to win over Latino voters.

"This is what the RNC does: We engage voters, and I want everyone on the call to know that we are going to engage Hispanic[s] and Latinos like we've never done before at the RNC," he said.

Elsa Barnhill, the RNC's Nevada director of Hispanic outreach, says Republicans have big plans for going after the Latino vote in Nevada.

She says the RNC is revamping its efforts and reaching out to people. "We're doing a very aggressive 'get out the vote' program and bilingual media."

But not all Republicans in Nevada are comfortable with a bilingual push by their party. That was clear at the party's state convention last weekend when a delegate proposed that all campaign materials be printed in Spanish as well as in English. The proposal was put to a voice vote where the nays overwhelmed the ayes.

Daphne Wallace Edwards of Dayton was dismayed by the overwhelming rejection of her proposal.

"It just means that ... they're not going to change right now so we'll probably lose," she says. "Obama's already got 'em and ... he doesn't deserve them. We do."

Republican officials are counting on Latinos' disappointment with Nevada's very slow economic recovery to garner a bigger share of the Hispanic vote in November.

The president's endorsement of same-sex marriage may prove another disappointment to at least some Latinos. And while Republicans are arriving late to the game, they have six months to catch up.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Obama visits Nevada today, giving a speech on the economy, his third visit to the state in this election year.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Four years ago, he Nevada by a dozen points, largely because of massive support from the state's fast-growing Latino populous.

INSKEEP: In 2012, Nevada is one of at least half a dozen states where Democrats and Republicans are fighting hard for the Latino vote. NPR's David Welna went to Reno.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At a big Cinco de Mayo festival outside Reno's Grand Sierra Casino, dancers and drummers perform ancient Aztec steps on an asphalt parking lot. At a nearby booth, volunteer Raquel Rayburn(ph) with Latinos for Obama is chatting up a woman who's stopped by.

RAQUEL RAYBURN: (Spanish spoken)

WELNA: Rayburn is part of a group of Latinos for Obama trying to register new voters at the festival. Nearly two million Latinos have turned 18 since the last presidential election. One of them is 21-year-old Caroline Maya. She's a college student born in Reno whose mother is from Mexico City.

CAROLINE MAYA: It's my first time voting, but I needed to get on it, because my mom kept telling me get on it, get on it, get on it. But, yeah. But I would like to vote, and that's why I'm here signing, filling out papers.

WELNA: What about in November? Have you made up your mind about Romney or Obama?

MAYA: I think I want to go with Obama again, yeah. But I don't know. I'm still kind of debating, because Obama hasn't been the best president, but we'll see.

WELNA: It's Hispanic voters like Caroline Maya who both parties are after. David Damore is a political scientist who studies Latino voting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

DAVID DAMORE: Latinos in the last election in 2010, they made up about 15 percent of the electorate here. Right now, they're about 21, 22 percent of the age-eligible voters. So, there's still a fairly large, untapped reservoir of Latino voters here.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

ERNESTO APREZA: (Spanish spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken)

APREZA: (Spanish spoken)

WELNA: This radio ad is one of several the Obama campaign starting airing this week in the states including Colorado, Florida and Nevada. It features 22-year-old Ernesto Apreza, a field director with Latinos for Obama in Las Vegas, knocking on doors and talking to Spanish-speaking voters about the new health care law. In an interview, Apreza admits it's still tough getting people excited about the November election.

APREZA: I mean, realistically, we're six months out, and for a lot of people, it hasn't necessarily been, you know, at the top of their to-do list or their agenda, you know.

WELNA: The Obama effort now faces competition. Despite a bruising primary in which Mitt Romney took harsh stands on illegal immigration, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced in a conference call last month that his party is launching a six-state campaign to win over Latino voters.

REINCE PRIEBUS: This is what the RNC does: We engage voters, and I want everyone on the call to know that we are going to engage Hispanic and Latinos like we've never done before at the RNC.

ELSA BARNHILL: My name is Elsa Barnhill, and I am the RNC's Nevada director of Hispanic outreach.

WELNA: Barnhill says Republicans have big plans for going after the Latino vote in Nevada.

BARNHILL: We're revamping our efforts and we're really reaching out to people. We're doing a very aggressive get out the vote program and bilingual media.

WELNA: But not all Republicans in Nevada are comfortable with a bilingual push by their party. That was clear at the party's state convention last weekend, when a delegate proposed that all campaign materials be printed in Spanish, as well as in English. The proposal was put to a voice vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please signify by saying aye.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Opposed?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Nay.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Motion fails.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

WELNA: Daphne Wallace Edwards of Dayton, Nevada was dismayed by the overwhelming rejection of her proposal.

DAPHNE WALLACE EDWARDS: It just means that they're not going to change right now, so we'll probably lose. You know, Obama's already got them, and he doesn't deserve them. We do, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WELNA: Republican officials are counting on Latinos' disappointment with Nevada's very slow economic recovery to garner a bigger share of the Hispanic vote in November. The president's endorsement of same-sex marriage may prove another disappointment to at least some Latinos. Still, Republicans are arriving late to the hunt for the Latino vote. They have six months to catch up. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.