Fresh off strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar Thursday began facing the uphill battle of winning over Latino voters in Nevada.
“The road to the White House goes through the barrios and towns of Latino America,” said Domingo García, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), opening a forum in Southern Nevada where Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Tom Steyer made remarks in person, and Bernie Sanders participated via video conference.
“I think the Latino population in Nevada can take the lead in showing which candidate has appealed to our community the most and will be poised to win the Latino vote in California and Texas on Super Tuesday,” said Garcia in an interview with the Current.
In 2020 Latinos will be the largest minority voting block, Garcia said, predicting in a crowded field with four major candidates, the Latino vote would be decisive.
And despite their recent momentum, Garcia said Buttigieg and Klobuchar have done little outreach to the Latino community.
Steyer led off the program, telling the several hundred voters who came to hear the candidates that while unemployment was low, the Trump economy was not creating jobs that could support a family. Echoing messages from his advertising, Steyer said his experience as a businessman and his focus on the economy puts him in the best position to defeat Trump.
He promised the LULAC audience that he would repeal so-called “right-to-work” laws and provide a living wage. He also pointed to his advocacy on the climate crisis.
On immigration, Steyer said he had been involved personally in the issue for decades: “My family has been supporting immigration to California for 35 years through our church.” He said he contributed $3 million to help with the legal fees and other expenses of Latino migrants. Steyer also promised to “decriminalize the border” and “get rid of the wall.”
Steyer said it was a top priority to hire more judges to expedite the asylum process, which is under strain from a huge backlog, and increase the number of immigrants accepted into the United States.
Addressing the forum via videoconference, Sanders expressed confidence in his chances in Nevada. Nevada is expected to be favorable ground for Sanders due to his apparent strength with the Latino community so far. In Iowa, a state that’s about 6 percent Hispanic, Sanders overwhelmingly won over Latinos, with more than 60 percent of the vote in the state’s few majority-Latino caucuses, and he won about 40 percent of the Latino vote in New Hampshire, according to exit polls.
“I think we’re going to win in Nevada as well,” Sanders said.
Sanders promised to radically change the border policy, vowing his administration would create a humane border policy. “We should not be ripping babies from the arms of their mothers,” he said He advocated for the use of technology, not walls, to secure the U.S. borders.
“We can not simply build walls. We look foolish to the rest of the world and foolish to Mexico,” Sanders said.
When asked whether the senator supported Puerto Rican statehood Sanders said if that is what the people of Puerto Rico decided after a binding resolution he would support their choice.
The Vermont senator also addressed the Culinary Union’s recent high-profile criticisms about Medicare for All, saying that unions would be able to negotiate better deals during contract negotiations with medical insurance off the table.
“That is why we have the support of a number of unions including the Unite Here unions in California,” Sanders said.
When asked by a young supporter for a message of encouragement, Sanders said: “Your generation is the generation with the energy that we need to help us old people transform this country.”
Buttigieg addressed the forum in person, fielding questions about his “Medicare for All who want it” health care policy
Echoing his debate rhetoric, Buttigieg swiped at Sanders, saying that he understood the concerns of unions in Nevada who opposed the idea of losing private health insurance plans provided through their collective bargaining agreements.
“Who are we to tell them that they are to give up those plans?” Buttigieg asked. “I’m going to listen to workers who say that they want to be able to keep their plans. … I’m not willing to force it on people.”
The multilingual mayor switched back and forth between English and Spanish throughout the panel.
One member of the audience asked the mayor how the Latino community can trust him to “address racial tensions when you already failed,” alluding to racial discrepancies in marijuana arrests in South Bend while he was mayor. Buttigieg cited steps he took to make sure that minorities were involved in decision-making over public safety.
Klobuchar rounded out the program. She cited the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform effort as an example of how immigration reform can be achieved. The bill passed the Senate, but failed House of Representatives
“I am convinced we can get this done,” Klobuchar said. “I’m not going to wait,” Klobuchar said, promising to work on immigration reform in her first year if elected.
Asked by a moderator whether she would “abolish” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or merely “reform” it, Klobuchar chose the latter, saying it needed more congressional oversight.
A member of the audience asked about Klobuchar’s record as a prosecutor and her role in “aggressively prosecuting people of color as well as refusing to prosecute officers.”
Klobuchar disputed those charges, saying that black American incarceration rates had declined during her eight years as the lead prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota She did say however that she regretted the use of grand juries to obtain indictments in cases involving police shootings.
“I think there is systemic racism in our criminal justice system. I certainly saw some of it while I was there,” Klobuchar said. “The grand jury did decide those cases I think it’s better if you just take responsibility for that yourself.”
LULAC chief executive officer Sindy Benavides believes that the outcome of the Nevada caucus will come down to the field operation, adding that on the ground organizing and door to door outreach is about building trust.
“Campaign’s still have a long way to go,” Benavides said. “It’s not enough to have a sign that says ‘Unidos con’ — and fill in the candidate name or to just have a website translated in Spanish. The truth is you really need to have Latinos and communities of color in mind through all parts of your operation.”