Flor Cardona is a bold, vivacious Latina, with an infectious laugh. She bounces with energy, invigorated by the power of American democracy.
“I was in tears,” Cardona said as she described the experience of casting her ballot for the first time last Saturday — the first day of early voting in Las Vegas.
Cardona is a proud Mexican-American. She immigrated to the United States 16 years ago as a single mom with two young children. She came with “no papers,” she said, and couldn’t speak English.
“The only thing I (had) was a big bag of dreams,” she said.
Cardona’s journey has been a battle. She worked hard to learn English, found a job as a high school counselor and survived stage four cancer. She became a US citizen two years ago. She wants a candidate that fights for her and her family. She says that’s why she voted for Hillary Clinton.
Entrepreneur Irma Aguirre feels passionate about this year’s election as well.
Aguirre’s baby is her restaurant. This third generation American with Mexican heritage, owns El Sombrero Mexican Bistro on Main St. in Las Vegas.
“This is a celebration of my heritage. It’s a celebration of our culture, our cuisine, our people. It’s our contribution to the American economy,” she said, over a bowl of homemade salsa and tortilla chips.
She beams with pride of her accomplishments, her culture and her country, but worries about where things are headed.
“I think we are going down the wrong path,” she said.
Her desire for change is driving her support for Donald Trump.
They’re on different sides of the political divide but both Aguirre and Cardona are part of the powerful Latino electorate in the key battleground state of Nevada, a group that makes up nearly 20% of all voters in the state.
Both campaigns are targeting this voting bloc.
“We’ve been engaging the Hispanic community on a near daily basis. We have daily calls with community leaders, calls and meetings with evangelical leaders, pastors, local chamber folks… for over a year now here,” said Charles Munoz, Trump’s Nevada state director.
Similarly, Clinton’s camp has been working on Hispanic outreach with door knocks, phone calls, and Spanish language television ads.
“Making sure that Latinos turn out in high rates is a strategic priority for us,” said Jorge Neri, who heads the Clinton operation in the state.
Nationwide, this year’s election could see a possible record number of Hispanic voters with 27.3 million eligible to cast ballots. That’s an increase of 4 million since 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
Plus, in at least four battlegrounds, including Nevada, Florida, Arizona and Colorado, the share of the Latino vote four years ago was larger than the 10% share nationwide.
Impact of Trump’s rhetoric?
It’s exactly why Trump’s statements like, “we have some bad hombres here and we’re gonna get them out,” at the final presidential debate have GOP pollster Whit Ayers shaking his head.
“He started off his campaign with his announcement calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. He has run against non-whites his entire campaign, not only against Latinos, but against Muslims and against anybody who wasn’t already a part of the Republican base. That’s no way to win a presidential election,” Ayers said.
He believes Trump would need to win “somewhere north of 40% among Hispanics” to be competitive this year.
“George W. Bush got 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, which is one of the reasons why he was re-elected,” Ayers said. “But Mitt Romney only got 27% of Hispanic vote in 2012, which is one reason why he lost.”
He points to his party’s so-called autopsy of what went wrong in 2012. The Republican National Committee wrote in its post-mortem report: “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”
Cardona cites Trump’s rhetoric as part of her motivation to vote for Clinton.
“In the way he (says) in interviews something wrong about Latinos, something wrong about Mexicans, something wrong, in general, about women is disrespectful. Totally disrespects me,” Cardona said.
While Aguirre doesn’t condone Trump’s rhetoric, she countered, “those aren’t the things that I’m focused on. I’m focused on someone that I know is a do-er, someone that, like myself, has a dream, has a vision, and brings it to a reality by working super, super hard.”
Getting Latinos to the polls
Working hard to get Latino voters to the polls, Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan organization that operates in 6 different states.
The organization has knocked on more that 50,000 doors in Clark County, Nevada, alone and registered more than 16,000 new voters this year.
“We do have a lot of power and I feel like a lot of Latinos don’t realize that,” said 25-year-old Christian Sierra, in between door-knocks in the rain.
Sierra, a first-time voter himself, is a military veteran born in Puerto Rico. His devotion to his country and his culture is why he started volunteering with Mi Familia Vota. He’s now paid staff.
“We kind of what to cement that culture of being politically involved,” he said.
Sierra is doing his part to make sure Latinos have an impact on the future of their country, no matter which candidate they support.