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Latinos could be deciding factor in 2024 elections — but who will they support?

Updated March 31, 2024 - 10:03 am

Gil Murillo is considering changing things up this election year.

He generally votes Republican, but he’s troubled by what a Trump presidency could mean for people of Latin descent like him. He worries about more segregation in communities and people asking him if he’s supposed to be in the U.S., even though the California transplant speaks perfect English.

“I don’t want to go through that,” he said. “No one should, to be honest.”

But the Henderson resident doesn’t like President Joe Biden, either. He thinks Biden is trying to change the country too much, though he doesn’t think his administration has done anything good for safety, police or global policies. He doesn’t think Biden has kept his promise to fix the country’s broken immigration system.

That’s left him leaning toward Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an independent presidential candidate.

“I know the Trumpsters are gonna be upset, but I think Kennedy has a great platform,” he said. He thinks Kennedy has a strategic outlook promoting gradual change, and he has a good grip on the bigger issues.

Murillo shared his views while getting lunch at Boulevard Mall’s El Mercado, a hub of Latino small businesses and restaurants in Las Vegas, where he tries to frequent on a weekly basis to give back.

Nevada’s growing Latino electorate has long helped Democrats clinch victories in the Silver State, but Republicans could be closing that gap as they continue to hone in on the economy, which multiple polls suggest voters view more favorably under the Trump administration.

Both of the major parties are pushing their platforms to appeal toward the Latino voters, a critical voting bloc who are projected to make up one in five of Nevada’s electorate, but Biden’s campaign has planted especially deep stakes in Las Vegas’ Latino community.

Former President Donald Trump and Biden are neck-in-neck when it comes to Latino voters, with Trump at 42 percent and Biden at 41 percent, according to a January 2024 NBC News poll, although many remain unsure.

Maria Garcia, who is temporarily living in Las Vegas, said she will probably vote in November but is still on the fence about which presidential candidate. She likes Biden more but there are things under Trump that she likes as well, such as the economy.

“Biden is not against immigrants and Trump is, but on the other hand, Trump’s economy was better,” she said outside of the Cardenas Markets store at South Eastern Avenue and East Sahara Avenue. “That’s how I see it.”

Deciding factor

“Latinos have definitely been decision makers in Nevada,” said Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative for UnidosUS, a nonpartisan nonprofit that serves as the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

Nevada’s growing Latino electorate has played decisive roles in important elections, from then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008 to Sen. Harry Reid’s 2010 victory, according to the NALEO Education Fund. In the last presidential election, polling from CNN suggested that Latinos also helped deliver the Silver State to President Joe Biden.

In Nevada’s 2022 midterms, when Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly won her re-election by 0.8 percentage points, 64 percent of Latinos supported her while 34 percent supported Republican Adam Laxalt, according to a 2022 poll taken on the eve of the election, suggesting Latinos helped Cortez Masto secure her victory.

The NALEO Educational Fund projected that nearly 280,000 Latino voters in Nevada will participate in the 2024 elections — an increase of 15.5 percent from the last presidential election.

About two-thirds of the Latino electorate historically have supported the Democratic candidate, and about one-third support the Republican, according to Martínez-de-Castro. In the last 10 years, Republicans have lost some of that ground but in the last couple of cycles have been regaining some of that support, she said. What we’re seeing right now is a return to that two-thirds, and one-third vote, she said.

Latino voters have been taken for granted by one side or neglected by another, but overall there has not been enough outreach to those voters, Martínez-de-Castro said. Now, that dynamic has changed. Outreach efforts are coming earlier, a sign of the influential role they play, she said.

Outreach efforts long underway

The Biden campaign began targeting Nevada’s Latino voters in August 2023, much earlier than in past election cycles, according to Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s national Hispanic media director. Investing in Nevada’s Latino community is a priority, and the campaign’s outreach effort has been unprecedented, Casado said.

Multimillion-dollar ad buys have already been launched, with ads targeting Latinos through English, Spanish and Spanglish programs, and running in places like Telemundo and ESPN during LaLiga soccer games.

In partnership with the Nevada State Democratic Party, the Biden-Harris campaign has opened a few offices around the Las Vegas valley, and another will open next week in East Las Vegas, the heart of Vegas’ Latino community.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has made multiple campaign trips to Nevada this year, recently held an event in East Las Vegas and visited Broadacres Marketplace, a hub for Latinos in the valley.

LaLo Montoya, civic engagement director for Make the Road Action in Nevada, a progressive group that engages Nevada’s Latino community in the political processes, plans to have over 100 members canvass in Clark County, Washoe and rural Nevada to talk about issues that will mobilize people to vote, including housing, climate, reproductive rights and immigration.

Montoya is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which prevents deportation of immigrants who were brought illegally into the U.S. as children. During his administration, Trump had tried to terminate the program.

“We know what living under a Trump administration is, and we know our freedoms are on the line,” Montoya said. “And our fight for working families is critical to ensure that we have a democracy that everyone can participate in moving forward.”

Through ad buys and door knocking, Republicans and the Trump campaign are reminding Latino voters that their principles and values align more with the Republican Party than the Democratic Party, according to Jaime Florez, Hispanic communications director for the Republican National Committee and Spanish spokesperson for the Trump campaign.

“We have to remind them that Democrats have taken us for granted for many, many years, decades,” Florez said. “And they have made us promises that they never fulfilled, and it’s time to go back to those great times that we had under President Trump.”

Republicans will remind Latino voters about the economy under Trump and hit home about the border crisis, Florez said. They will highlight the high costs of groceries and the indoctrination in education, and they will warn of the dangers of what some Republicans see as socialist policies, as some Latinos escaped countries that were socialist, Florez said.

“We came to this country fleeing from that, and we don’t want to see that move in,” he said.

While Democrats and Republicans vie for Nevadans’ attention, though, independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could be sneaking up from behind, gaining support.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X. Reporter Ricardo Torres-Cortez contributed to this report.

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