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Republicans, Democrats working for Hispanic votes

Joe Marquez and Juan Cantu have a lot in common.

The Las Vegas men are both Hispanic. They’re both registered Democrats. And they both voted in 2008 for Barack Obama, the Democratic hope who became president. Partly in a nod to their heritage, they also both voted in 2010 for Brian Sandoval, a Republican and Nevada’s first Latino governor.

“I think he’s accomplishing a lot of things,” Cantu said of Sandoval, adding that it didn’t matter to him that the man he backed at the ballot box was a Republican. “I vote for the person.”

Marquez said that although he’s a registered Democrat, “I can switch any time.”

“I voted for Obama, but the more time goes by the more I wonder,” Marquez said without finishing the thought. “I got laid off for the first time in my life. I’m just disappointed.”

Now, both Marquez and Cantu are looking for work. It is against a backdrop of high unemployment that the GOP is arguing it’s time to return a Republican to the White House. Democrats, meanwhile, are also using the jobs issue to try to keep Hispanics in their corner in 2012. Nowhere is this tug of war more apparent than in Nevada, a swing state with a large Hispanic population.

“Barack Obama promised us a better economy, but he gave us bigger government, higher taxes and skyrocketing debt,” said a Spanish-language radio ad the Republican National Committee ran this summer in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. “We can’t afford four more years of Barack Obama.”

The RNC plans to move beyond ads and phone banks and put workers on the ground next year in Nevada to knock on doors and engage Latino community groups to sway Hispanics, particularly nonpartisans and ticket splitters such as Marquez and Cantu, said one GOP official.

Rob Stutzman, a media consultant who helped U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., win the Sept. 13 special election, said the GOP has not done a good job in the past with Hispanics — particularly on issues such as immigration. But he said the party has an opportunity to make a strong economic argument in 2012.

“I call it our cultural problem,” Stutzman said of the GOP’s failed efforts to reach out to Hispanics. “The Republican Party needs more messengers like Governor Sandoval. We’ve got second-generation (Hispanic) voters who feel the Republican Party calls their parents criminals because they brought their children here for a better life. We (Republicans) literally need to change our culture.”


In 2008, Obama swept into the White House on a wave of support from young and first-time voters, including many Hispanics, as Democrats pressed a voter registration drive. In Nevada, he won an overwhelming 76 percent of the Latino vote, according to CNN exit polls, and 67 percent nationally.

Republicans did much better among Hispanics in 2004 when President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor, won re-election and picked up 44 percent of the Latino vote.

In Clark County, where most Nevada Latinos live, voter registration figures show Hispanic surnames more than doubled over the past decade to 101,050 as of this September.

During that period, the Democratic Party breakdown among Hispanics remained fairly steady at around 60 percent of registered voters since 2002, according to the Clark County Election Department.

Republican Party registration in Clark County, meanwhile, dropped among Latinos, from 24.4 percent in 2002 to 18.7 percent now, or nearly 6 percentage points. At the same time, nonpartisan registration grew nearly 5 percentage points, from 15.8 percent in 2002 to 20.6 percent now.

The GOP sees its greatest opportunity among the 40 percent of the Latino electorate in Nevada that’s already aligned with Republicans or that doesn’t identify with either major political party.

In Reno, Nevada Latinos for Prosperity formed earlier this year to woo conservative Hispanics. The group held a town hall with Amodei as he ran for the House against Democrat Kate Marshall.

Nationally, the Hispanic Leadership Network sprung up in January, describing itself as a “center-right advocacy action group” and clearly pushing Latinos toward Republicans.

This past Friday and Saturday , the national Hispanic group held a conference in New Mexico, where the state’s first Latina governor, Republican Susana Martinez, joined the main speakers. Sandoval sent a videotaped message, according to his adviser, Mike Slanker.

“Hispanics are very much swing voters in 2012,” Slanker said. “Democrat policies in D.C. have failed many who supported hope and change. Folks are looking for answers and the Obama administration can only seem to find excuses.”


Although Republicans see opportunity, Democrats and the Obama campaign are working to hold the Latino vote and seem confident the GOP won’t gain traction in Nevada or elsewhere, despite rising GOP leaders such as Sandoval, Martinez and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

In 2010, Sandoval easily won election over Democrat Rory Reid, yet took only 33 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to 65 percent for Reid, who speaks Spanish and is from Clark County.

In comparison, Republican Sharron Angle picked up 30 percent of the Latino vote in her 2010 loss to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who won 69 percent of Hispanics. Angle had upset Latinos when she told a Hispanic high school class in Las Vegas that some of them “looked Asian.”

One Democratic operative who questioned Sandoval’s support among Hispanics noted Gov. Jim Gibbons, who lost the 2010 GOP primary to Sandoval, won 37 percent of the Latino vote in 2006.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be faring well among Hispanics when matched up against potential GOP presidential foes in early national polls. A recent survey by the Democratic group Public Policy Polling showed Obama winning 67 percent of Hispanics against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and 70 percent against Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Ofelia Casillas, a regional spokeswoman for Obama’s campaign, said the president has provided 150,000 Hispanic students with Pell Grants and his 2009 stimulus plan kept 6.2 million Americans out of poverty, including 1.9 million Latinos. Tax cut legislation he signed into law also helped nearly 4 million Hispanic families, including 8 million children, Casillas said.

“The Obama campaign understands how critical the Latino vote is in Nevada,” she said. “We are focused on reaching out to Latino students, registering voters in Latino neighborhoods in Las Vegas and Reno, organizing volunteer-led block walks in Latino neighborhoods, participating in Hispanic parades and meeting with minority business owners as well as Latino elected officials and community leaders.

“President Obama is fighting for the middle class and for a better future for our country. He knows that the success of the United States is intricately tied to Hispanics’ success, and he’s fighting for us all.”


Taking no chances, the Democratic National Committee launched Spanish-language TV ads last week in Las Vegas, Denver, Tampa, Fla., and Miami to support Obama’s new jobs plan. The states are key to his re-election. The ads said Obama’s plan would create thousands of jobs fixing roads and bridges. And it noted the president was facing Republican opposition and “can’t do it alone.”

“Stand together for more jobs,” the ad said, or in Spanish, “Únete por más trabajos.”

Last week at the Nevada Job Connect center in North Las Vegas, Cantu and Marquez were among dozens of people — some in suits, others in shorts — standing in line or waiting in chairs to apply for work.

The jobless rate is 14.2 percent in Las Vegas and 13.4 percent statewide, although experts estimate the rate is a couple of points higher for Hispanics in Nevada and nationwide.

Cantu, a truck driver working only 10 hours or so each week, said he still mostly blames former President George W. Bush for the nation’s economic ills, so he’ll vote for Obama again in 2012.

Marquez, however, said he’s fed up with Obama and politicians in general for not working together. He used to be a field engineer who fixed ATMs for banks and didn’t think he’d get laid off. His wife isn’t working either, and he has two children to support, ages 6 and 2.

“I just won’t vote,” said Marquez, his eyes flashing with anger. “I hate politics now. I’m just disappointed. There’s economic disaster going on, and nobody is doing anything about it.”

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

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