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For Nevada Democrats, A Lot Will Depend On Latino Voters


In Nevada, the race for the American presidency is increasingly coming down to the Hispanic vote at least among Democrats. The Democratic caucuses are a week from today. And in this week's debate, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton claimed to be the bigger champion of immigration reform, a subject important to Hispanics in Nevada and across the country. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen is campaigning for the U.S. House from Nevada. He is supporting Hillary Clinton. He's a member of Nevada's Hispanic community. Welcome to our program.

RUBEN KIHUEN: Thank you, Linda. Happy to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Is it fair to say what I said in this introduction that a Clinton or Sanders win in Nevada could depend on how the Hispanic vote breaks?

KIHUEN: You're absolutely right. Here in Nevada, the Latino vote has been decisive in the past several election cycles. We saw it in 2006 in my race for state assembly, where we tripled Hispanic turnout. We saw it in 2008 for the caucuses here for Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote. And then we saw it again in 2012. You know, we saw President Obama get re-elected and win Nevada thanks to the Latino vote.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think is going to move the Hispanic community in Nevada to the polls in 2016? Is it going to be immigration reform? Is it the problem of jobs, new jobs, higher paying jobs?

KIHUEN: You know, I believe it'll be a combination of a few different things. You're seeing right now Republican candidates Donald Trump, Rubio, Cruz, even my opponent Cresent Hardy, who have taken a pretty strong stance against immigration. And, you know, Latinos not only care about immigration, we care about every other issue - jobs, health care, education. But immigration usually tends to be the litmus test for candidates. If you support immigration reform with the path to citizenship, then we know that you are welcoming to our Latino community.

WERTHEIMER: But the question is what will turn them out? There have been times when the Latino turnout in Nevada, even recently, like in 2014, has dipped. Do you think that this is going to be one of those times, or is it going to be an enthusiastic turnout?

KIHUEN: Number one, you have candidates who are intentionally discriminated against our community. And last time we saw that here in Nevada, you had Sharron Angle, who was running against Sen. Reid, who put up commercials showing Mexican-Americans as thugs and rapists. And Latinos came out and voted in record numbers, and they carried Sen. Reid to victory. And also because we have two great candidates who are running for president on the Democratic side who have come out in support of immigration reform and a path to citizenship. You know, and here, the Latino population in Nevada's slightly different than some of the other states because we have a relatively new immigrant community whereas, you know, you see other states, such as New Mexico and Arizona and California, where you see third, fourth, fifth generation Hispanic-Americans. And so we could potentially see a record turnout in favor of the Democratic candidate.

WERTHEIMER: Obviously, Mr. Sanders thinks that if there is a big turnout, it'll help him.

KIHUEN: Well, look, I mean, I got to give credit to both of the campaigns who have been doing a lot of work here in the state of Nevada, organizing the community and energizing the community. We saw it in 2008 when Hillary and Obama went at it. You know, everybody thought that both of them were going to be divided. The party came together after President Obama obtained the nomination. And I think we're going to see the same thing here.

WERTHEIMER: Ruben Kihuen, state senator from Nevada, thank you very much.

KIHUEN: Thank you, Linda. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.