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Nevada GOP Aggressively Tries To Break Democrats' Lock On Latino Voters


Republicans are not giving up on winning Latino votes. They were of course devastated among Latinos in recent elections, including the 2012 presidential election. Republican strategists say they've suffered due to their positions on immigration. Republican policy stances are not changing, at least not now, but Republicans are working to win Latinos in swing states like Nevada. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If the Republican nominee for president wins Nevada, you may be able to trace it back to the Eastern Indoor Swapmeet in Las Vegas. It's a place where you can get your cell phone screen fixed or buy a quinceanera dress or cowboy boots or attend a Spanish language study session for the state's driver's exam.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KEITH: The classes are sponsored by the Spanish-language TV station Mundo Fox 34 and an organization called the LIBRE Initiative. Daniel Garza is the group's executive director.

DANIEL GARZA: Seventy percent of the folks that were taking the driver's license tests were failing the test, and so we went in and provided that service. It was so successful in the first couple times that we did it, that we continue to do so.

KEITH: Now at this point you might be wondering what driver's tests have to do with Republicans winning over Latino voters. Here's what - the LIBRE Initiative isn't your average local community group. It is funded by the Koch network, and the goal, Garza says, is advancing small-government free-market ideals in the Latino community.

GARZA: If we're going to promote self-reliance, we need to back it up, and so it's important that we be committed to lifting up each other, and I think in a very real way, and that means providing the services and the tools that our community's needing to improve themselves to develop their skills and better position themselves in the marketplace.

KEITH: LIBRE is one of those social welfare groups we've heard so much about that plays heavily in politics. LIBRE runs Spanish-language ads against Democratic candidates. Its surrogates go on Spanish-language media and criticize Democratic policies. The mere fact that LIBRE exists is a sign conservatives are making a serious play for Latino voters. Another sign - this guy.

WILL BATISTA: My name's Will Batista. I am the Nevada director for Hispanic initiatives for the Republican National Committee. We've had staff doing groundwork here for about two years now.

KEITH: Batista is working to help Republicans capture a larger share of the Hispanic vote than they have in the past, ideally a much larger share. One thing they have a going for them - three Spanish-speaking Republicans campaigning for president, and organizers like Batista are going places Republicans historically haven't gone, meeting with Latino community leaders, registering voters and setting up tables at events like the Reno Cinco de Mayo festival.

BATISTA: We were able to engage hundreds of individuals there as well, not one Democrat in sight. We had members of our assembly and state Senate come out and participate with us. Once again, where are the Democrats? They're not in our community.

KEITH: Democratic operatives were concerned enough about the efforts of Republicans and the LIBRE Initiative that they just met in Washington, D.C., to discuss strategy, but there's also a heavy dose of skepticism about the GOP threat. Jorge Neti is the organizing director for Hillary Clinton's campaign in Nevada.

JORGE NETI: You can't just hold a couple lessons on how to teach people how to drive or do a couple tabling of events and think that you have a program. A program is being in the community, knocking on doors, creating something together. We have a really good formula on how to do it, and we're going to do it better than anyone.

KEITH: That kind of outreach matters, but David Damore, a Nevada-based pollster with the firm Latino Decisions, says issues matter, too. With Latino voters, immigration is what's known as a threshold issue. Damore says most Latino's don't want to hear anything a candidate has to say unless he or she supports a path to citizenship.

DAVID DAMORE: At the end of the day, it's about the policy, right? And if the policy's not there, if you're saying enforcement only, legal status, those kinds of things there, that's just not the same as what the Democrats are saying, and Latino voters are going to see that.

KEITH: Or, as the GOP's own post-mortem on the 2012 race put it, if Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence. As the GOP primary plays out, there's a heated debate within the party about how to deal with this top-of-mind issue for Latino voters. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.