Republicans, Latino voters and an eye on Nevada
There’s no better test this year of whether Republicans are making substantial inroads with once-solidly Democratic Latino voters than Nevada.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the only Latina in the U.S. Senate, is the party’s most threatened incumbent. Hispanics represent as many as 20 percent of the Nevada electorate. She must win them almost 2 to 1 to stave off Republican challenger, Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general and grandson of Nevada political legend, the late Paul Laxalt, who was governor and U.S. senator.
Republicans, including Donald Trump in 2020, have reduced the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanic voters, especially uneducated men.
“We always thought that if we got more Latinos to vote, the Democratic vote would increase exponentially,” notes Ana Iparraguirre, who studied Latino voting data for the Democratic polling firm GBAO Strategies. “In 2020, we had more Latinos to vote, but support for Democrats didn’t grow.”
There is a debate – using different data and analysis – about the extent of the shift in favor of Republicans and why. Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein, who has followed this as closely and attentively as any journalist, concludes: “The best evidence from polls and election results suggests that assertion of fundamental change among unqualified Latino voters is, at least better, extremely premature.” At a minimum, he suggests, there is a small change.
Republicans have argued that the patriotism and cultural conservatism of Latinos will work to the advantage of the GOP. It’s debatable. Latinos generally mirror the views of other Democrats on social issues such as abortion and guns, says Michelle Mayorga, also a GBAO strategist. “A lot of Hispanic Catholics are pro-choice on abortion.”
However, Democrats have been hurt when they have been linked, often unfairly, to slogans pushed by the party’s small left wing, such as “defund the police” or “open borders”. In Florida, especially with second- and third-generation voters with roots in South American countries, accusations that Democrats are socialists resonated.
Plus, says Ms. Iparraguirre, while big social issues don’t hurt, some of the ‘woke’ stuff, like using gender-neutral ‘Latinx’, can be: ‘It’s definitely not something they identify with.”
The primary driver of any change, most a business carries on, is the economy. Most working-class Latinos did well during the Trump years, at least before COVID hit. This apparently affected some voting habits.
Republicans are counting on an economy with runaway inflation this year. Highest concentrations of Latino votes are in great condition: California, Texas and Florida, as well as New Mexico. Yet they make up 4% to 5% in places like Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin – and could make the difference in tight races.
The swing states with the most Latino votes are Arizona and Nevada, both with competitive Senate, gubernatorial and declining contests in November. In Nevada, the GOP is encouraged by voter registration gains which reduced the advantage of the Democrats.
As you might expect, Laxalt is focusing heavily on inflation and high gas prices. These have truly hurt the sizable working class citizens in this geographically vast state.
Republicans are also making a concerted effort to reduce Democratic support among Latinos by running ads in Spanish and with a “Latinos for Laxalt“organism.
Republicans may have received another break with cracks among Democrats. The Nevada Democratic Party, led by the late Senator Harry Reid, was one of the most effective state parties in the nation. Last year, left-wing democratic socialists staged a coup, and they’re now running the party. The first – and most formidable – faction has set up a parallel organization.
Abortion may offset some GOP benefits on the economy. Three decades ago, voters in Nevada overwhelmingly approved a referendum protect the right to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy; after that, it is protected only if the life or health of the mother is in danger.
Cortez Masto is strongly pro-choice, while Laxalt, previously an anti-abortion hardliner, is equivocal and squirmy. She makes abortion rights a centerpiece of the campaign, accusing Laxalt, as attorney general, sought to limit access to birth control — and, as a senator, would vote for a federal abortion ban.
She has been running ads in Spanish targeting Latino voters for more than four months and has hosted numerous events with the community.
The Democratic senator — according to Jon Ralston, the wise, longtime state politics reporter with the Nevada Independent — is a stronger candidate, has raised a lot more money and is more disciplined. He says Laxalt, a big Trump supporter who has embraced the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, “is really a terrible candidate. It’s not Paul Laxalt.
In what could be the tightest Senate race in the country, it comes down to the best candidate against the most favorable terms – with the outcome in the hands of Latinos.
Al Hunt is the former editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as a Washington reporter, bureau chief and editor for The Wall Street Journal. For nearly a quarter of a century, he wrote a political column for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. It hosts Political War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.