While In Las Vegas, Trump Reaches Out To Latino Voters
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And to Lulu in Nevada now because it is election year, and politics isn't contained to Capitol Hill. Right, Lulu?
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Yeah. Here in Las Vegas, thousands came out to the convention center draped in American flags to see President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting) USA, USA, USA.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: His supporters, who were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, cheered as the president lobbed his usual jabs at the media and the Democrats. But then Trump made a direct appeal to this demographic.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hispanic. Any Hispanic here? I think so.
TRUMP: Hispanic-American unemployment is the lowest rate in history.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Trump has a reason to reach out to Latino voters. They make up about 28 percent of the population of this state - and growing. The vast majority of Latinos here do vote Democratic, but the Republicans will need some of those Latino votes if they're going to hang on to Nevada's crucial Senate seat currently held by Senator Dean Heller.
TRUMP: Finally, I want you to please welcome the person that we're all here for tonight.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now, Heller wasn't always a Trump guy. In the run-up to 2016, in fact, he was a vocal critic. But he's all in for Trump these days. He needs President Trump's star power to win in a tough race. He's the only Republican senator up for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Polls show him neck and neck with Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen - more about her later. At the rally, Heller had only fulsome praise for the president.
DEAN HELLER: Thank you for putting Nevada back to work.
HELLER: Because of your administration, Nevada families have more money in their paychecks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The problem for Heller is that Trump is controversial with Hispanics because of his pledge to repeal Obamacare and his hard line on immigration. Still, there are some who support him. In the crowd was Latina Lilia Heart, who likes Trump's immigration policies.
LILIA HEART: He's cleaning house. And there's certain steps that he's taking that need to be taken for America to become what it needs to become.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The next day, we were able to sit down with Joel Garcia, Heller's Hispanic outreach director, about Heller's strategy with Latinos.
JOEL GARCIA: The communities that we go into are faith-based communities, obviously with values, business communities.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Garcia is of Mexican descent and a small business owner himself. He told us Latinos are persuadable in his view. They respond to the economic message. And many don't realize they already embrace conservative values.
GARCIA: When you actually have a conversation with them and start talking about issues, they come out of the woodwork. And they start saying, no, I'm pro-life. I'm for, you know, lower taxes. I'm for less government.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Heller, though, is being attacked by Democrats for his shifting policies on key issues. On health care, he's voted both for and against portions of Obamacare. With immigration, he has condemned Trump's family separation policies, but he's also supported a hard-line immigration bill championed by the president. I asked Garcia about the issue of family separation.
GARCIA: Well, here it is. He was one of the first senators to come out against it. And that came out in June. When everything came out, he was one of the early Republican senators to come out. He also asked the Trump administration, please provide me regular updates on the progress of what's going on down there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what about health care? Leaving aside the issue of immigration...
GARCIA: I'm not going to go into health care because I just don't want to go into that. Policy-wise, I just don't want to go into that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He insisted health care never comes up with Latino voters, even though polling shows it's a top issue. Latinos have been a big beneficiary of the Medicaid expansion in this state. While Heller's team may not want to talk about healthcare policy, the Democrats here are running on that issue.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting) Si se puede. Si se puede.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Across town at the Culinary Workers Union, there is a different sea of red - union workers wearing red T-shirts, stuffing envelopes and preparing to knock on doors. They've endorsed Heller's challenger, Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen, who was there to cheer them on.
JACKY ROSEN: And I can tell you, too, that if you don't have your health, you don't have anything.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Culinary Workers Union is the biggest in town, with 57,000 members from all over the hospitality industry, a majority of them Hispanic. They're here today on a vital mission for Democrats. In the last midterm election, there was a huge drop-off in Latino voting compared to 2012, a presidential election year, by about half. Pollsters describe it as going off a cliff, and that helped Republican candidates. Rosen cannot win if Latinos stay home this time, so she's trying to motivate them to vote.
ROSEN: We're going to fight for DREAMers. We're going to fight for a fair immigration system.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rosen is a first-time Congresswoman, and she doesn't have a lot of statewide name recognition, but this is her home turf. Some of the most populous parts of the state are in her district here. And when she was younger, she waitressed during the summers in Las Vegas, something she frequently cites.
ROSEN: I'm going to get a little choked up here for a minute because 40 years ago, I joined the Culinary Union.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: After, the teams of canvassers prepare to head out. And we follow Fransisco Benitez and Telma Vasquez, two Hispanic union members.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On a quiet street in North Las Vegas, they consult a list of addresses of union members, and they start knocking on doors. The tactic here is one that has been proven to work - colleagues coming from a trusted organization, pitching in person on a candidate.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fransisco Benitez tells me that first-generation Latinos especially are tough to motivate to vote. They don't see themselves as Democrats or Republicans, and they still have strong ties to their home countries.
FRANSISCO BENITEZ: Most of them - they think like, OK. This is politics, but we are not involved too much in politics. But for example, in my case, I try to tell them, OK. This is important. This is for us. This is for - not only for yourself but for your children.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We end up at the house of Armando Saenz. He's a flirtatious and lively 78-year-old retiree. Benitez shows him pamphlets with Jacky Rosen's face on them, but Saenz is having none of it.
ARMANDO SAENZ: (Speaking Spanish).
BENITEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "They are tricksters and liars," he tells us, "like all politicians." Benitez says, not all of them. Saenz responds, "When the moment comes, they don't do anything for us." He says he doesn't vote for any particular party. But Saenz does acknowledge that he's angry at the current administration's immigration policies.
SAENZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Benitez and Vasquez try to persuade him using their last-ditch pitch.
TELMA VASQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It's for the future of the children," Telma says to him. The interaction ends with Saenz promising to come out to vote for the union's choice. In such a tight race, whether or not Saenz and other Latinos like him actually show up at the polls could decide who controls the Senate in November. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.