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Democrats look to rebuilding Latino base after 2014 drubbing

Latino voter turnout fell in 2014 below both 2012 and 2010, accounting in part for the drop in Democratic votes and the rising Republican wave that gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate and both houses of the Nevada Legislature.

The figures came from a Democratic National Committee analysis of Latino turnout from in Nevada and 35 other states as party leaders met in Washington, D.C., to figure out what went wrong this past election and how to fix it before the 2016 presidential race. A copy of the report was obtained Monday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Hispanic voters have become more important in Nevada, where 27 percent of the population is Latino, and have helped give an edge to Democratic candidates in recent election cycles. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., attributed his 2010 re-election to Latino voters. He will be counting on them again in 2016, when he runs for a sixth Senate term.

Registered Latino voters have continued to increase nationwide, from 8.9 percent of the electorate in 2010 to 9.4 percent in 2012 and 9.7 percent in 2014, according to the DNC document. Latinos also went to the polls in greater numbers from 2010 (6.2 percent of voters) to 2012 (7.8 percent). But Latino voting sharply fell in 2014, to 5.9 percent.

In Nevada, Hispanics made up about 15 percent of the electorate in 2010 and about 17 percent in 2012. The exact Latino turnout figure for 2014 wasn’t available but likely fell several points as overall turnout dropped to 45.5 percent.

Jose Parra, a Democratic strategist who formerly worked for Reid, was quoted by the website Buzzfeed as saying that 157,000 fewer Latinos cast votes in Nevada and Colorado.

“Even in stellar years, our community doesn’t break a 50-percent turnout,” Parra said, according to Buzzfeed. “The basic issue is that many campaigns talk at our community, instead of talking to them, or with them, and often only a couple of months before election day. And on the Republican side you have just outright hostility as the last few weeks have shown. This results in 12 million voters who stay home in the best of cycles.”

Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, which tracks Hispanic voters, said his organization also saw a big voter drop off in 2014.

“Yes, it looks like turnout was very low in Nevada (in) 2014,” Barreto said. “Overall, a 20-point drop in turnout … looks like Latino turnout was very low as well.”

The drop among Latino voters hurt some candidates more than others. Former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, was counting on Hispanics in her race for lieutenant governor against Republican Mark Hutchison. In the end, Hutchison ran away with the election, taking 59.5 percent of the vote to 33.6 percent for Flores.

Flores said Latinos she talked with were frustrated that Democrats couldn’t get an immigration reform law through Congress, even though she and others blamed Republicans for blocking a vote in the House. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to call a vote after a major reform bill passed the U.S. Senate.

“There was just a lot of frustration across the board with government,” Flores said. “I personally spent many, many hours, trying to explain to my Latino voters, but in the end they stayed home.”

Flores said the Democratic Party didn’t do enough outreach with the community, but she believes that will change in the upcoming election with the White House at stake.

“I certainly do think they will come back for the presidential election,” Flores said of Latino voters.

The national Democratic Party is in the middle of a review to determine how to win back voters who dropped out in the past election. This weekend, the party released a preliminary Democratic Victory Task Force report that mentioned one of its top goals is “building a broad coalition of voters,” including women and minorities.

“In order to win elections, the Democratic Party must reclaim voters that we’ve lost, including white Southern voters, excite key constituencies such as African-American women and Latinas, and mobilize the broadest coalition of voters possible to not only recapture state houses but also Congress,” the report said.

Holly Shulman, the national press secretary for the DNC, said Latino voters weren’t alone in staying home during the recent election, but the party is undergoing a major review to boost turnout among all groups.

“Outreach to Latino voters is a priority, and the Democratic National Committee is focused on continuing to build a broad coalition of voters and to mobilize the most diverse coalition of voters possible,” Shulman said.

Latino activists in Las Vegas attribute the low turnout in part to frustration over immigration.

“People are connecting it (the election) with issues,” said Astrid Silva, a so-called DREAMer who was brought to the U.S. illegally by her parents when she was young. “What it comes down to is the issues. People want you to care for their family members. But the ones voting to deport my family are Republicans.”

Although Latinos put most of the blame on Republicans for a lack of action on immigration, many also have expressed frustration that President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders hadn’t pressed harder for reform.

In 2012, before his re-election, Obama signed an executive order protecting DREAMers from deportation and allowing them to study here and get work permits. Last November after the election, Obama issued another executive order protecting 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The U.S. Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship to some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. But the GOP-led House hasn’t acted on the measure.

The state of Texas recently sued Obama, arguing the president overstepped his authority on immigration. Nevada is one of 25 states that signed onto the lawsuit under the direction of Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

On Wednesday, Laxalt is scheduled to testify before a congressional committee on the lawsuit. That same day, Obama is scheduled to appear on an MSNBC/Telemundo Town Hall to discuss his executive orders on immigration. Silva and her father, Cesar, are planning to be part of the program.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj

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