WASHINGTON -- Miguel "Mike" Rodrigues, an elementary school principal and political newcomer, announced Wednesday he will campaign to represent urban Las Vegas in Congress.
Rodrigues became the first Republican to declare candidacy in the district now represented by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is giving up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate. Former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and state Sen. Ruben Kihuen are actively campaigning on the Democratic side to replace her.
Rodrigues, 58, is principal at Estes McDoniel Elementary School in Henderson, and has been a principal in Clark County for 12 years. He said he plans to run on an education and values platform and will keep his school job during the campaign.
"Our nation is the land of opportunity and there just seems to be a movement away from the center, the principles, the morals, the values our nation was founded on," Rodrigues said. "I want to do my best to bring that back."
Any Republican faces a harshly steep climb in the 1st Congressional District, with the national GOP having all but conceded it to Democrats. In voter registration, Democrats hold a 52 percent to 25 percent advantage in the district that encompasses the city's urban core. At the same time, the district holds nearly a 43 percent Hispanic population.
Rodrigues said he lives outside the district, which is allowed by law, but chose to run there because he believes his message will appeal to Latinos. He said he is Hispanic with ancestry to Spain even though his surname suggests Portuguese heritage -- which some Democrats were quick to point out on Wednesday.
Some strategists speculated that Rodrigues' candidacy was a bid by Republicans to throw some sand in the Democrats' machinery that otherwise figures to churn out strong turnout among Hispanics for Berkley and President Barack Obama in the upcoming election.
"That would be the goal, to build up Republican registration among Hispanics early on," said Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada. "Maybe some people came to him and said, look if you do this we will be sure you don't look like a schmuck. We will get you some money and resources because we can't let the D's have a cakewalk."
Fernando Romero, president of Las Vegas-based Hispanics in Politics, said Rodrigues "is totally unknown. Obviously the Republicans are grasping at straws. We don't even know if he is Hispanic."
"All I will tell you is he is not known and has never been active" in Latino or civic groups, said Andres Ramirez, a consultant to Kihuen who is counting on broad Latino support. "This guy is not going to pull any votes from Ruben. We have a strategy to win regardless of who is in the race."
Coincidentally, Rodrigues announced for Congress the same day Republican officials in Washington announced they were expanding efforts to reach out to Latino voters by various methods including dispatching organizers to Nevada and other swing states and adding Latino-geared Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
Nevada Democratic spokesman Zach Hudson said the GOP efforts amount to "damage control."
"The reason that Republicans feel the need to pay lip-service to Latino voters is clear: the Republican brand among Latinos is irreparably damaged in Nevada," Hudson said, citing GOP opposition to the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reforms.
Rodrigues is from Hayward, Calif., and moved to Southern Nevada in 1976 when he was in the military stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.
He received a bachelor of arts degree from UNLV in 1984, and master's degrees from UNLV and Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, according to a biography he supplied. He also received a master's degree and a doctorate in Christian ministry from Golden Gate Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.