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How the most Latino neighborhood in Nevada foreshadows a big 2024 fight

How the most Latino neighborhood in Nevada foreshadows a big 2024 fight

(NBC NEWS – Mar 20, 2024) –

NORTH LAS VEGAS — In the heart of the most Latino ZIP code in Nevada, shoppers at the sprawling Broadacres flea market mill around every weekend drinking micheladas and listening to live norteña music.

Soon, they will be at the center of an expansive battle over Latino voters in 2024 — with potentially more wavering voters up for grabs than ever before and the results of the presidential election on the line.

Historically, Latino voters — including different Hispanic communities motivated by different factors in different parts of the country, from Puerto Ricans in New York to Cuban Americans in Florida to Mexican Americans in the Southwest — have supported Democrats over Republicans in presidential elections by a comfortable margin. With some fluctuation, roughly two-thirds of Hispanic voters have broken for the Democratic candidate in the last several election cycles, with one-third going for the Republican.

While it’s too early to tell if this election will change that, there are signs of a potentially significant shift: According to the latest NBC News poll, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are in a dead heat with Latino voters, with Trump at 42% and Biden at 41% (well within the poll’s margin of error and with a number of respondents undecided). Other surveys have also shown close splits. And while some experts caution against overstating the shift and note the large number of undecided Latinos in surveys like these, advocates from both parties see a more active and fluid fight for Latino support coming up in 2024.

In a swing state like Nevada, where Latinos make up 20% of the electorate, movement among Latino voters could wind up deciding the presidential election in November. And the view from Broadacres Marketplace does not look encouraging for Biden.

“I think we need someone new,” says Mario Alvarez, a naturalized immigrant from a small village in the Mexican state of Jalisco. 

Alvarez works weeknights stocking supermarket shelves; on the weekends, he runs a stall at Broadacres selling old video games and consoles. He voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections, including a vote for Biden in 2020. But now, mostly because of what he perceives as a faltering economy where everything is too expensive, he’s seriously flirting with a vote for Trump, despite less than complete enthusiasm for the man.

“There’s a lot of stuff he does wrong. He’s got so much hate for some people he doesn’t like — you know, Hispanic people,” Alvarez said. “But at the same time, sometimes we have to look at what’s good for the country. And for the economy, he would be great.”

The national picture

This follows the well-documented gains that Trump made among Latino voters between 2016 and 2020, when Trump expanded his share of the Hispanic electorate by about 4 percentage points nationwide, according to NBC News exit polls. The margins were bigger in several key swing states, with Trump gaining between 5 and 10 percentage points in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia, the state exit polls showed.

Some conservative Latinos see a broader shift to the right in these numbers that they’ve been predicting for years.

“In this election, the Hispanic electorate is not baked in for one party or the other,” said Wadi Gaitan, spokesperson for the LIBRE Initiative, an arm of the Koch network of conservative advocacy groups focused on Latino voters.

For years, Gaitan said, many Latinos have been drawn to the Republican Party on issues like reducing business regulations and supporting charter schools. And as Republicans have gained the upper hand in the messaging wars on issues like the economy and crime — as well as on immigration and other issues that historically motivated many Latino voters — that pull is stronger.

“It’s a level playing field now,” Gaitan said.

Yet a number of advocates and other experts say things haven’t gone quite that far yet.

“When people say the Latino vote is up for grabs, that makes it sound like it’s all up for grabs, and that’s not true,” said Clarissa Martinez, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS, a liberal advocacy group.

There has long been what Martinez calls a substantial “swing element” to the Hispanic electorate, meaning people who split their ballots between Republicans and Democrats. And it’s a fast-growing slice of the electorate — an estimated quarter of this year’s Latino voters will be newly registered. These segments of the Hispanic population have always been susceptible to persuasion and change.

But Martinez agrees that some factors are changing the playing field in a way that could be beneficial to Republicans — as long as they take advantage of the opportunity.

For instance, UnidosUS’ latest poll shows that four of the top five issues Latinos listed as the most important in this election have to do with the economy, including inflation, housing and the job market. 

“Democrats for some time rested on their laurels with these voters,” Martinez said. But now, “Republicans have positioned themselves successfully in the eyes of many voters as being stronger on the economy, and they will benefit from that unless Democrats figure out something to do about it.” 

Analysts tend to agree that this is largely a question of outreach and messaging, meaning both parties have an opportunity to make substantial gains with large portions of this increasingly competitive electorate. 

“This is a really important place where parties are going to have to decide if they’re going to invest their resources,” said Gaitan, of the LIBRE Initiative. “It’s going to come down to the party that not only shows up — because showing up is a key part — but also the party that makes a policy argument to why they should be elected.”

The trend on the ground

In Las Vegas, Trump’s 2020 gains among Latinos are visible in the metro area’s predominantly Mexican American neighborhoods. The state’s five most Latino voting precincts are all in North and East Las Vegas, some of them as much as 87% Hispanic. Trump made gains between 2016 and 2020 in each one, with Trump’s biggest improvement stretching as high as 16 percentage points, according to an NBC News analysis of redistricting and voting data.

One of those precincts includes Broadacres flea market. Erika Castro, organizing director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, grew up a few blocks away, and her family used to shop at the flea market for things like clothes and home decorations. 

Castro can’t vote: Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico without papers when she was child, and she remains undocumented. But her job involves getting the U.S. citizens in her community to vote for progressive candidates and causes. When it comes to Biden and the national Democratic Party, she said that job is getting more difficult.

“Democrats really need to make sure they have a strong vision in the way they’re going to actually deliver for these communities, because people are struggling,” Castro said.

The chief concerns she hears as an organizer involve the cost of living, especially housing. As rent goes up for the people she talks to, sometimes by several hundred dollars with every lease renewal, wages stay more or less the same. 

Moreover, Democrats have not delivered on decades’ worth of promises about immigration reform — an important failure in a community where U.S. citizens live side by side with undocumented people, often in the same household.

“For a lot of Latinos, they haven’t seen Democrats deliver on immigration; they’ve actually seen things get a lot worse,” Castro said. “That, coupled with people not being able to feed their families or keep a roof over their heads — that makes them a little bit disheartened.”

One thing everyone agrees on: Biden and the Democrats cannot take Latino voters for granted. 

Even loyal Democrats think so. Alex Yuman, another naturalized Mexican immigrant with a shop at the flea market, said he’s voted Democratic as long as he’s been a citizen and plans to vote for Biden in November. But the lack of progress on immigration and economic support for his community has drained the enthusiasm from his vote.  

“They want something from us, they want our vote,” he said. “But they don’t want to give us anything.”

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