It’s 101 degrees outside when canvassers for the largest union in Nevada knock on a voter’s door.
The two women, members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, are wearing blue disposable face masks when they pitch Former Vice President Joe Biden to Miguel Carrello-Vega, a 59-year-old who worked at the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino setting up banquets before losing employment in March.
“I feel like all of this is really wrong, everything that’s happening,” Carello-Vega said, in his native Spanish.
The Culinary Union is primarily reaching out to voters like Carello-Vega, low propensity voters who were laid off in the months following the pandemic.
Carello-Vega is also part of the nearly 20 percent of eligible Latino voters in Nevada, the state with the sixth largest Hispanic eligible voter share nationally, according to the Pew Research Center.
Outside his house is a speed boat covered with a plastic sheet. It’s a smaller boat, like the ones that sunk to the bottom of a lake in Texas earlier this month during a Trump boat parade. Hundreds of Nevadan’s joined a similar boat parade on Lake Mead earlier this month too. Carello-Vega, however, hasn’t taken his boat out on the water in eight months because the motor is damaged and he doesn’t have the money to get it repaired.
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.
Gladis Blanco, one of the 200 canvassers the union has on the ground in Nevada, hands him a pamphlet that reads “Ya Hemos Perdido Suficiente” (we have already lost enough) in support of Biden, who the union has endorsed. She’s wearing a beaded lanyard from Guatemala where she was born.
Bilingual canvassers like Blanco are sent by the union to turf where Spanish is the preferred language for voters, and conversations are able to happen in the language that the voter is most comfortable speaking.
The Culinary Union estimates approximately 55 percent of its members are women, 54 percent are Latino, 19 percent are White, 15 percent are Asian, 10 percent are Black, and less than 1 percent are Indigenous Peoples.
Carello-Vega, who came to the U.S. in 1985 from Sinaloa Mexico, doesn’t take much convincing to vote for Biden in November.
“What can I tell you, he’s a candidate that benefits us,” Carrillo-Vega said.
‘Ringing an alarm bell now’
Recent polls show Biden ahead of President Donald Trump in Nevada, but by how much varies from one percentage point to 11, with an average lead of 6.5 percentage points, according to an analysis of those polls by FiveThirtyEight.
In Las Vegas in September, Trump told a roundtable of Latino voters that he has “delivered for Hispanic Americans more than any other president,” and cited his support for school choice and lower taxes.
In a statewide survey of Hispanic voters for Equis Research, 62 percent said they would vote for Biden “if the general election for president were held today,” and 26 percent said they would vote for Trump.
“The Latino vote is critical to a Biden win in Nevada in nearly all scenarios we examined,” said Carlos Odio, co-founder of Equis Research and a Latino vote data researcher, during a presentation earlier this month on Latino vote simulations for key states, including Nevada.
EquisLabs in conjunction with People For the American Way used a combination of polling, historic exit polling, and other data to set credible ranges for different possible voting scenarios and identify where the Latino vote has the potential to be pivotal to the outcome of the election.
“At his current level of Latino support Biden is well positioned to win if he can also hold on to the high levels of white support that he has enjoyed,” Odio said about his projections for Nevada.
If Biden can maintain above 43 percent of white support, he wins in all their likeliest scenarios, Odio said. However, if white support drops to the levels former President Barack Obama saw in 2012, Biden can’t afford any slippage in Latino backing.
Moreover, if white support were to match Hillary Clinton’s 2016 results, Biden would need to increase his margins with Latino voters and rely on higher Latino turnout share to repeat her narrow two point win in the state.
“Biden would still have a path to victory but it would require him to improve on his current support among Latino voters and maximize turnout in a way that is not a given today,” Odio said.
“We are ringing an alarm bell now rather than in the last two last weeks of October,” said Stephanie Valencia, co-founder of EquisLabs. “The investment in this community needs to be now in order to ensure that we cement the high levels of voter turnout we need to see to have an unquestionable outcome.”
Organized voter outreach to Latinos early on will be critical to the results of the election, said Bethany Khan, the director of communications for the Culinary Workers Union. The union has had people on the ground since Aug. 1, earlier than their usual September launch date in previous cycles.
For Charetzayda Gonzalez, a 37-years-old Puerto Rico native, this is her first time canvassing for any politician.
No one answers the door for the next house, or the next one, or the next one. The reality of canvassing in Southern Nevada is knocking on doors in the high desert heat in the hopes of reaching a fraction of voters on the list.
“With our objective everything is easier,” Gonzalez said in her native Spanish. “I know that in the end it will be worth it.”
“That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing because I believe if my union is supporting them it’s because there’s something good about them,” Gonzalez said about Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Underscoring the challenging realities of canvassing in 2020, one voter the canvassers were meant to contact — a 24-year-old man — is quarantined with COVID-19, according to a family member who answers the door. At another house a voter waits for the canvassers to walk away from the front gate before taking a pamphlet left on the door.
“People are scared, they have family to look after,” Gonzalez said, holding a ziplock bag full of disposable face masks as a precaution for voters without one.
“It is not enough to think of the Latino electorate as getting-out-the-vote targets; they also must be seen as persuasion targets,” Odio said. “In many cases people are deciding not between Joe Biden and Donald Trump but between voting and not voting. To get the kind of levels we need to see, we need to see increases in explicit support for Joe Biden that has been consistent in all the research we’ve done this year.”
There is evidence Latinos are more eager to vote during the Trump era. An analysis by Univision, based on 2018 certified voter data, found Nevada Hispanic voter engagement was far higher than in the 2014 midterms.
Roughly 145,000 Hispanics voted in 2018, compared to 53,000 in 2014, increasing by 176 percent.
Traditions. And ads.
Now it will all come down to “meeting voters where they stand,” said Assemblyman Edgar Flores, chair of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus.
For his reelection campaign against his only challenger, Libertarian challenger Natasha Bousley, Flores organized a horse parade in conjunction with the Biden campaign after reaching out to them. Men in cowboy hats and boots greeted Flores while riding on horseback, Modelo beers in hand.
Las Vegas has a vibrant horse riding Latino community despite what you see at first glance, said Flores. Large swaths of the city are zoned for horses.
“That’s how you activate a community,” Flores said. “You integrate the traditions that are here and activate them.”
Many of the participants are new to organizing, like Jose Garcia, 37, who helped Flores organize the event, partly to help push a local project to build a park for horseback riding in East Las Vegas.
“Politics is not something I’m passionate about but we did this event to support my neighbor Edgar Flores and fight for a place to ride our horses,” said Garcia, using a red bandana as a face mask.
He said he’s still learning about Biden, but is voting for him in November, adding that he didn’t vote in the primaries or the midterms.
“I think he has to focus on trying to unite the Latino community because this president right now has divided people rather than united them,” Garcia said, in his native Spanish. “This is a country of immigrants. We’re all immigrants.”
Flores said events like these are the key to reaching low propensity Latino voters.
“There’s a difference between going into a community, and bringing something in and giving a community resources to do what they want. Just because you go and talk to Latinos doesn’t mean you’re activating them.”
The Biden campaign has ramped up outreach to Latino voters through multiple tactics, including Spanish-language phone banks on a weekly basis, literature drops, and roundtables. Spanish language ads will run in El Sol and El Tiempo starting this week through the election. One full page ad placed this week in El Mundo by the Nevada Democratic Party features Obama alone on a red background.
“Through programming across every arm and department of our state operation, we have prioritized outreach to Latino voters as a top strategic imperative. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on Spanish-language television and radio ads and Latino-targeted digital ads and persuasion mail, our field operation is in contact with a universe of tens of thousands of Latino voters,” said Biden for President Nevada Senior Advisor Yvanna Cancela in a statement.