The Hill (Op-Ed)
By Alfredo Estrada
February 24, 2016
Even after the results from Nevada's Democratic caucuses were tallied, a nasty fight continued over a question critical to both campaigns: Who got the Latino vote?
Hillary Clinton handily beat back a last-minute surge from Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). But what made the Hillaristas bare their claws were entrance polls showing that the Bernie Bros won more Latino voters, 53 percent to 45 percent.
"What we learned today is Hillary's firewall with Latino voters is a myth," gloated Arturo Carmona, deputy political director of the Sanders campaign.
In response, Clinton press secretary Nick Merrill got Trump-like on Twitter, calling it "complete and utter bulls---."
The poll numbers were confirmed by Joe Lenski of Edison Research, which interviewed 213 Latinos out of 1,024 caucus-goers. But there is a margin of error of 7 percentage points, whittling Sanders's lead down to muy poco. And the Hillaristas contend they won 60 percent of the delegates in majority Latino precincts, with a 10-point lead in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.
What might have tipped the balance there was a last-minute call by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to a pal in the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which failed to endorse Clinton yet allowed its members to go vote without losing pay.
At one caucus in Harrah's casino, civil rights icon Dolores Huerta offered to translate. America Ferrara, the star of "Ugly Betty," tweeted that things got ugly when the Bernie Bros started chanting "English only!" The accusation quickly went viral, but it was disputed by actress Susan Sarandon in a tweet of her own. A video of the incident posted on Latino Rebels seemed to indicate Ferrara might have been wrong.
The Twitter-fueled argument will no doubt continue, but what worries the Hillaristas is that there even is an argument. In 2008, Clinton won 64 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada to then-Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) 26 percent. Last Saturday, she expected to win once more by a landslide, without having to rely on Huerta's translation or Reid's political machine.
Whatever happened, it's not likely to stay in Vegas. Super Tuesday includes states like Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, where you can't swing a dead gato without hitting a Latino voter. If Latinos felt the Bern in Nevada, will Clinton get burned elsewhere?
Huerta claimed that Sanders is a Juan-come-lately to Latino issues, citing his opposition to a 2007 immigration bill. But the grass-roots civil rights organization LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) opposed it as well.
"I really think it's unfair for Hillary to make an issue of that vote," LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes told Buzzfeed News, adding, "The Clintons, when they were in office, weren't exactly friends to immigrants."
Clinton carries baggage not only from her husband's administration, but that of her former boss, the "Deporter-in-Chief." She provided cover for President Obama's draconian deportations, and said that unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the border "should be sent back."
But in a recent ad, she comforts a 10-year-old girl sitting on her lap who worries her parents will be deported. At an MSNBC/Telemundo town hall last Thursday, she also promised immigration reform in the first 100 days of her presidency. A change of heart, or heartless "Hispandering"?
Clinton's Latino dream team includes political director Amanda Renteria, Latino outreach director Lorella Praeli and Nevada state director Emmy Ruiz. But an attempt to compare Clinton to a tortilla-making abuela backfired, eliciting a contemptuous response on social media. And an edgy portrait of the former Secretary of State as "La Hilaria" was soon abandoned on the island of lost memes.
Clinton's Latino surrogates are decidedly old school, including not just Huerta but Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. Stumping for Sanders were Chuy Garcia, who nearly unseated Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago, as well as comedian George Lopez and actor Diego Luna, more likely to appeal to Latino hipsters.
Behind Sanders's guerilla campaign to win the Latino vote are the feisty Carmona, formerly with Presente.org, and Dreamer activist Erika Andiola, who once gave Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) indigestion by confronting him at lunch over his remark that young Latino immigrants have "calves like cantaloupes" from hauling drugs over the border.
Carmona admitted in an interview with NBC Latino that it was a challenge to introduce the senator from Vermont (where there are few Latinos), who was virtually unknown in the Latino community. He seems to have succeeded, since according to entrance polls, Sanders won overwhelmingly among Latinos under 30.
But in Nevada, Sanders got 82 percent of all Democratic voters aged 17 to 29. Did young Latinos vote for him because they are Latino, or because they are young?
It's a tough question. Either way, Clinton must figure out how to change their minds, and soon. She'll need their support to defeat a potential Trump-Rubio ticket.
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