Joe Biden has ground to make up after strong Latino support lifted Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Democratic caucus victory in Nevada back in February.
Sanders dominated the state caucuses, easily beating Biden by a wide margin and earning an estimated 70 percent support among Latinos, according to researchers at the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA.
Now the former vice president’s campaign is working to secure those votes for the November presidential election.
On Thursday, the Biden campaign held a virtual roundtable discussion with Latino workers and small business owners in Nevada hosted by Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Illinois, a Sanders surrogate and early endorser.
“Look, yes, I supported Senator Sanders when he ran earlier in the primaries, but today I’m joining with team Joe and Latino workers in Nevada and across the country to make the case that we have only one clear option this November,” Garcia said.
“We must elect Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris to the White House.”
During the event members of the Latino community, including members of the state’s largest union, the Culinary, spoke about how the pandemic has disproportionately stacked hardships on the Latino community, including high unemployment, lack of health insurance, and high rates of COVID-19.
Miguel Barahona, a father of three and a member of the Culinary Union, has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years. He has Temporary Protected Status and works as a bartender for conventions. He has three daughters who are all U.S. citizens.
Barahona has been unemployed since March and is relying on unemployment insurance, which was cut dramatically after the weekly $600 provided through the CARES Act expired at the end of July.
“We don’t know if they’ll call us in a year. We don’t know if they’ll call us in five years to go back to work,” Barahona said.
“My wife had COVID-19 two-and-a-half months ago and we had to go through that. It’s another concern that’s been added to my life. It’s been extremely hard these last months, from March up till now.”
Democratic strategists, meanwhile, are sounding alarms about the importance, and potential challenges, of turning out Latino voters in Nevada.
Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser on Sanders’s presidential campaign and the architect of his Latino outreach strategy, warns that the large unemployment number in the hospitality sector might affect voter outreach efforts by the politically powerful Culinary.
“The entire Culinary Union is laid off. The entire (Las Vegas) strip is shut down, for the most part. So there’s astronomical unemployment there,” Rocha said, rhetorically exaggerating the pandemic’s devastating effect on the Las Vegas economy in an interview with Vox. “Normally you have a robust infrastructure going on there, lots of money being spent.”
In Nevada, nearly 20 percent of eligible voters are Latino, the sixth largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter share nationally, according to mapping of the 2020 Latino electorate by the Pew Research Center.
Another challenge Biden faces is that nearly 45 percent of eligible Latino voters in Nevada were millennials from 18 to 33 years old in the last presidential election, according to Pew Research Center analysis — a demographic Biden has struggled with.
Latinos, the largest minority group in the state, have the power to sway elections in Nevada.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Latinos voted for Democratic candidates by wide margins. About 67 percent of Latino voted for Democrat Jacky Rosen in the U.S. Senate race, compared with 30 percent who voted for Republican Dean Heller. Rosen won by a five percent margin.
In the race for governor, Latinos voted in similar numbers. Steve Sisolak won 66 percent of the Latino vote compared to Republican Adam Laxalt’s 29 percent. Sisolak won by a four percent margin.
Issues facing the Latino community have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and related economic downturn.
“The situation we’re living in now is very difficult,” said Guadalupe Vazquez in her native Spanish, who immigrated to the U.S. from Durango Mexico 25 years ago. She was working as a home health aid before she lost her employment due to the pandemic.
“Unfortunately our people don’t have health insurance,” Vazquez said “It’s hard for me but it’s even harder for my community. My community is suffering. It’s frustrating to see how people are dying from lack of health insurance.”
Latinos in Nevada have contracted COVID-19 in the greatest numbers relative to their share of the population, according to data collected by the state. While Latinos represent 30 percent of the state’s population they account for 40 percent of cases and about 22 percent of deaths.
Latinos are also uninsured at one of the highest rates in Nevada. In a previous study on Nevada’s uninsured population, the Guinn Center found that Latinos accounted for about 36 percent of the state’s population, but almost 60 percent of those who are uninsured.
“If you belong to a union you have some protections but for those who don’t they don’t have that social safety net so it’s tougher for them,” said Garcia during the roundtable.
“Many people lost their insurance when they got laid off or were furloughed from their jobs adding to the number of people who are uninsured during a pandemic.,” the congressman said.
In 2018, the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor showed that 32 percent of Latinos and nearly 35 percent of Asians were employed in leisure and hospitality nationwide, a reflection of how workers in these two groups are at higher risk for unemployment, according to a preliminary assessment analyzing the impact of the COVID pandemic on the labor market in Nevada.
Nevada was the state with the highest Hispanic unemployment rate for the second quarter at about 30 percent, up from about 5 percent last quarter, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.
Since the start of his presidential campaign, Biden has emphasized “restoring the soul” of the nation and reestablishing some sense of normalcy.
But bread and butter issues dominated the discussion among Nevada Latinos Thursday, and while the event was billed as an opportunity to examine Biden’s plan to defend and uplift Latino workers, not much policy was discussed.
Garcia, however, emphasized that a Biden administration would “listen” to the Latino community, adding that Biden was fighting for the same progressive values as Sanders.
“Like Senator Sanders, Vice President Biden believes someone’s zip code or the last name they have shouldn’t determine their future. I’m standing with Joe Biden because he understands and listens to the kind of pain families are feeling. He has a heart and he has empathy,” Garcia said.
Mario Jesus Sandoval Isordaia, a member of the Culinary Union, said he hopes more assistance will make it to workers.
“For the first three months, it was hard not being able to see your loved ones. I couldn’t see my grandkids for the longest time. I went to a dark place for a little while.”
“They’ve got to give us some hope.”