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Nevada Will Test Turnout Of Latino Voters


The spotlight in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination moves to the caucuses in Nevada this week. And demographically, it's a big change from Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada is a majority-minority state where non-Hispanic whites make up less than half the population and where nearly a third of residents are Latino.

Julio Ricardo Varela co-hosts the "In The Thick" politics podcast. He's been reporting on the impact of Latino voters in Nevada. And he says the candidate who's been the most successful in courting the Latino vote so far is Senator Bernie Sanders. Varela says that's because the Sanders campaign has actively micro-targeted Latino voters in communities across the nation.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA, BYLINE: Everyone I've talked to in Nevada in the last couple of years or even recently has said that the Sanders campaign has established an organization there. They've been working in the community for years. They know that they lost to Hillary Clinton last time, and they're looking at this as an opportunity. And I was skeptical about the Sanders campaign doing this, but they are the frontrunner with Latino voters - at least, younger ones.

FADEL: Are other campaigns doing this? Are they also microtargeting Latino voters in these states that they're going to?

VARELA: Well, that's the thing. I mean, I don't hear the campaigns saying, hey, we're going to micro-target these states. Like, that is an active strategy of the Sanders campaign. So if you look at places like California, like Arizona, like Colorado, like Nevada, like even Texas, Bernie Sanders is focusing on younger Latinos.

We have to remember as well that this demographic is younger. It's more English-dominant. You know, you're getting all these new voters. I believe the median age of the Latino demographic is - you know, if it's not in the high teens, it's in the low 20s compared to the white population. So you have to look at the Sanders campaign through that lens.

With that said, you know, when Joe Biden said after New Hampshire and he went to South Carolina that - on Tuesday night, he said, it's all about the brown and black vote now. There is something to be said about Biden - is the fact that he does have establishment Latino Democrats - a little bit older, a little bit more moderate. But at the same time, he hasn't won a primary yet. He's not being seen as a winner. And it'll be interesting to see what happens in Nevada.

FADEL: Speaking of that, I mean, the Culinary Union went after Sanders' health care policies. They chose not to endorse a candidate. And the Culinary Union is a largely Latino organization in a union place. Is that going to hurt the Sanders campaign?

VARELA: I actually think it doesn't because people need to remember that they didn't endorse anyone in 2016, either. And Bernie Sanders almost won Nevada against Hillary Clinton. So I think that's too big of a leap.

The bigger question here - and here's the thing - because I covered the culinary press conference through stream on Thursday. Remember, they mentioned three things. They mentioned health care, they mentioned economic justice and they mentioned immigration reform. And one of the things that I'm hearing in my reporting from Latinos is that there's still - the legacy of the Obama deportation machine - it's something that Joe Biden has been unable to shake a little bit.

Because you've got to understand, the Culinary Union is very Latina, very immigrant-led, and those issues matter to them. And I think the Obama legacy on deportation is still something that the Biden campaign could never shake off. But again, who knows what's going to happen in Nevada on the 22?

FADEL: So you talked about how young this demographic is. And a lot of Latino supporters, young Latinos, are calling this older Democratic socialist Tio Bernie - Uncle Bernie. How did he become the uncle to young Latinos?

VARELA: You have to understand, we're - at least for the Latino community, there is a tradition from Latin America that is - there is a progressive tradition. You know, a lot of this primary - or this election is almost becoming a Latin Americanization of the election. So Sanders represents sort of this populist, progressive leader who happens to be older. It's an endearing term that the campaign came up with, and they use it.

So if people are saying, hey, he's the uncle, he's the uncle you never had, you know, people start going, yeah, yeah. He's older. He's a populist. He agrees with my politics.

There are older politicians in Mexico. Like, for example, you take the leftist president, AMLO - Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - who's the president of Mexico right now. You know, he's a complicated figure. He's a complicated leftist figure. But there is this feeling of sort of this, like, populist leader in a Latin American tradition that, to be honest with you, Sanders kind of fills in an American electorate.

FADEL: Are Latinos going to be the kingmaker of this primary? I mean, I know that historically, Latinos haven't turned out to the polls in the numbers that people know they can. I know Nevada's a little bit different. In Nevada, do you think Latinos will turn out in enough numbers to reflect their overall representation? And that's standing - they're nearly a third of the population there.

VARELA: I got the sense from when I was out there a couple of weeks ago that they are. But you never know. You know, I could have been in a bubble in North Las Vegas. So it's important to couch that. But at the same time, do I see an interest? Do I see a sense of engagement that this matters to our community?

One of the things that people need to take into account about Nevada is they've already proven the fact that they are kingmakers and queenmakers. I mean, they've been politically active. That community has come out, especially the Latino community, for the last 10 years. They helped reelect Harry Reid. They elected the first Latino senator in the history of Nevada. So, you know, if you look at historical indications, they do come out.

FADEL: Julio Ricardo Varela is co-host of the "In The Thick" politics podcast.

Thanks for speaking with us.

VARELA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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