Clinton campaign makes final push for Latino votes

LAS VEGAS — Rosa Serrano doesn’t want to vote this election, but she might end up at the ballot box anyway — just to get some peace and quiet.

When Serrano went over to her friend’s house for dinner last week, she was surprised when she noticed the TV was on and tuned to the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, held at a nearby university. Her friend had staged a political ambush, making a final pitch to the disaffected Serrano to vote by forcing her to watch Trump, whom Serrano intensely dislikes.

“My friends and my kids, they’re forcing me to vote,” Serrano said outside a Cardenas market in North Las Vegas. “They want me to vote for Hillary, but I don’t know. I’m still debating what I want to do.”

Serrano is a Mexican-born U.S. citizen who has lived in her adopted country for more than 30 years. She detests Trump’s caustic rhetoric about immigrants, but isn’t sure she likes Clinton enough to vote for the Democratic nominee.

“If I vote, I’ll vote with her, not Trump. Never,” Serrano said. “I feel like he’s bringing a lot of hate.”

Many of Nevada’s more than 300,000 registered Latino voters share Serrano’s dislike of Trump, and the Clinton campaign and its allies want to mobilize them and other battleground-state Latinos in order to thwart Trump’s ambitions for the White House.

Hillary Clinton and singer Vicente Fernandez, left, stand on stage together at debate watch party in North Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

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Hillary Clinton and popular Latino singer Vicente Fernandez, far left, at a debate watch party in North Las Vegas. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Clinton’s team is hoping to smash turnout records among Latinos, who have historically voted at lower rates than other ethnic groups. But they may have a reason to turn out in this race: Among other things, Trump’s agenda has included a vow to deport every person illegally living in the U.S. — an estimated 11 million people, including many relatives of U.S. citizens who can vote.

There’s some evidence the Democratic campaign’s plan is working. In Florida, the number of Latinos voting early compared to 2012 is up 99 percent, though no such data is available for other states that allow for early voting.

“The biggest help they’ve got is Donald Trump,” said Nevada journalist and political expert Jon Ralston, who predicted Latinos could account for 20 percent of the electorate in the state this year. “They’re all using him to try to turn out Latino voters.”

This was apparent at a small pro-Clinton gathering with Latino elected officials who were on a bus tour funded by the national Democratic Party. On a stop in a Las Vegas parking lot last week, the politicians made the case that Trump, who has record-low favorability among Latino voters, was spreading hate against their community and must be stopped.

“We have a presidential candidate right now in Donald Trump who is demonizing immigrants, who is calling us rapists and criminals,” said Nevada State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who is running for U.S. Congress. “I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but my mom is not a criminal or a rapist. My mom is a housekeeper here in Las Vegas and is the hardest-working person I know.” The small crowd erupted in applause.

The Las Vegas Strip. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)

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The Las Vegas Strip. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)

In Nevada, the Clinton campaign has the advantage of an early start and experienced hands, while the Trump campaign has had a slower beginning. Her campaign opened offices in April of 2015 and is headed up by Jorge Neri, who ran the state operations for Obama’s campaign in 2012. “Nevada is a hard place to organize,” Neri said. “It’s a transient town — a lot of cellphone use, people move around, and it was hit hard by the recession. You can’t just drop in and organize.”

Neri said the campaign has narrowed down its list of supporters and is pushing them to vote early. (Last cycle, 70 percent of Nevadans who voted cast their ballots early.) A CNN poll of Nevada had Clinton garnering 54 percent of Latino voters’ support, compared to 33 percent who backed Trump. Nationally, she seems to be doing better with Latinos, with 66 percent saying they see her favorably compared to just 15 percent who say the same of Trump according to a recent Latino Decisions poll.

The Clinton campaign’s strategy to mobilize the Latino vote in the final days of the campaign goes beyond traditional door knocking. In a memo outlining their strategy obtained by Yahoo News, the campaign emphasizes the use of high-profile surrogates, empowering women in Hispanic households to urge their families to vote, registering voters at Latino-owned businesses and reaching voters at their churches. The campaign has also used “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who’ve lived most of their lives in the U.S., to register and educate others — even though they cannot vote.

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The campaign has also blanketed swing states in ads targeting Latinos. About a quarter of the campaign’s general-election ads have targeted Latino households, with more than half of those appearing in Spanish. The ads have featured Trump hotel workers complaining about their treatment, “Dreamers,” new citizen voters, Puerto Ricans and Cuban-American Republicans, as well as Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, veterans and more.

Her team has also directly engaged Spanish-language media. This week, Clinton made an appearance on the popular Univision show “El Gordo y La Flaca,” as the hosts sang her happy birthday with a mariachi band in tow and presented her with an elaborate cake. At the end of the interview, she announced that Jennifer Lopez would reunite with Marc Anthony for a free concert in Miami boosting her campaign. In Nevada, labor leader Dolores Huerta and the former soap opera star Angélica María have served as surrogates to excite Latino voters.

Still, many Latinos say they are most motivated by preventing Trump from taking office. “Who would want a president like that?” asked Claudia Hernandez, a hotel worker in Las Vegas who said she was turned off by Trump’s ugly rhetoric about immigrants. “We’re just human like everybody else.”

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