US President Donald Trump speaks at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Sept. 13.Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Trump in Las Vegas Makes Play for Higher Latino Vote Share


President Donald Trump claimed he’s “delivered for Hispanic Americans more than any other president” at an event with Latino supporters in Nevada as he and Democrat Joe Biden intensify efforts to court the critical voting bloc.

A Sunday roundtable at the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas included attendees who defended Trump against suggestions of racism that have dogged him since the start of his 2016 campaign, when he warned of Mexican “rapists” and “criminals.”

The president praised Latino Americans, saying they have strong business acumen. “I can tell you from personal experience you’re very good businessmen, and women,” Trump said.

Later in the evening, at a rally in Henderson, Nevada, Trump declared: “I love the Hispanics.” He said he’s fighting for issues Hispanic voters care about, including school choice and lower taxes.

Trump and Biden, the former vice president, seek the backing of Latino voters, seen as a crucial and growing portion of the electorate in swing states including Arizona, Nevada, and Florida, as well as in Texas and elsewhere.

Biden struggled to attract Latino voters during Democratic primary season, and influential Democrats -- including Senator Bernie Sanders -- have in recent days sounded the alarm about the need for greater outreach to Latinos.

Biden Ads

On Saturday, the Biden campaign released new Spanish-language ads in Florida criticizing the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris held a virtual roundtable with Latino voters in Arizona.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Sunday pledged $100 million of spending in Florida to help Biden, with a particular emphasis on communicating with Hispanic voters. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Late Sunday, Biden’s campaign announced he would travel to Florida on Tuesday for an “Hispanic Heritage Month” event as well as a veterans roundtable.

The dueling efforts underscore the influence the Latino electorate will play in November. There are 3.1 million eligible Latino voters in Florida -- roughly 20% of the electorate there -- and 1.2 million Latino voters in Arizona, nearly a quarter of the state’s voting population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Trump has predicted he’ll win the demographic because he’s depicted Biden as influenced by the left wing of his party, who the president argues advocate policies reminiscent of repressive regimes like those in Venezuela and Cuba. He also said his policies pushing for construction of a border wall would benefit him with those who immigrated to the U.S. legally.

“Hispanics like tough people,” Trump said. “They like people that are going to produce jobs. They like, and by the way, the Hispanics understand the border better than anybody else.”

Praising Trump

Roundtable participants included David Mendez, a fourth-generation Mexican American who praised Trump for speaking without “filters.” He said he believed everything the president was doing was “perfect” but that he hoped that Trump would consider a way to assist so-called Dreamers who came to the country illegally as children.

Victoria Seaman, a member of the Las Vegas City Council, praised Trump for his support for law enforcement and said she would work against any efforts to defund the city’s police department. Jesus Marquez, a Republican political consultant, expressed concern that Biden might end funding for charter schools like the one his daughter attends.

“She loves her school, we love her school, and it is very important we save our schools and our neighborhoods,” Marquez said.

Crime and Safety

Polls show large majorities of Hispanic voters actually oppose Trump’s construction of a border wall with Mexico and believe that undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for legal status. But immigration is just one issue, and polls show Hispanic voters are also concerned about crime and safety -- two issues Trump has oriented his campaign around following a summer of protests that have resulted in violent clashes with authorities.

Biden’s allies, for their part, appear to be targeting areas of Florida with large Puerto Rican populations, looking to capitalize on frustration with the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Biden leads Trump among Hispanic voters nationally, but by a smaller margin than Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton enjoyed. A Quinnipiac poll last month showed Biden leading Trump by 20 percentage points among Hispanics nationally. For Clinton and Obama, the margins were 36 to 51 points.

In Florida, an NBC News/Marist survey released last week showed Trump leading Biden among Latinos in Florida, 50% to 46%, a shift from 2016 when Democrat Hillary Clinton won 62% to Trump’s 35% of the Latino vote, according to exit polls.

Florida Elections

Elections in Florida have a history of razor-thin margins. A swing of that magnitude could be enough to keep Florida, and its 29 electoral votes, firmly in Trump’s column after Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012.

The president will hold another “Latinos for Trump” event in Arizona on Monday, where the RealClearPolitics polling average shows Biden with a 4 percentage point lead. A CBS poll released on Sunday showed Biden had the backing of 62% of Hispanic voters in Arizona to Trump’s 27%. That’s not too different from 2016, when Clinton had 61% support to Trump’s 31%.

Biden’s campaign is setting up Spanish-language phone banks and organizing events with Latino groups in Nevada. Yvanna Cancela, a state senator and a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, said Latino voters are critical to the campaign’s success and “part of every single strategic decision that our team makes.”

Peter Koltak, who was the Sanders campaign’s senior adviser in Nevada during the Democratic primaries, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Biden’s chances, but flagged some warning signs. He’s worried that Democrats may wait too long to invest “the right resources” into the state, and that Biden hasn’t made inroads with Hispanic voters.

“He just doesn’t have a relationship with Latino voters,” Koltak said of Biden. “This is the first time he’s ever run for national office in an era in which Latino voters are as powerful as they are.”

Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said the campaign isn’t taking Hispanic voters for granted. Biden and Harris will campaign in states with important Hispanic constituencies like Florida and Arizona, and the campaign had made an “historic investment” advertising aimed at Hispanic voters, she said.

“We know that we have work to do,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “We are really working to earn every single vote in this country. And we want to earn the votes of the Latino and Hispanic community.”

— With assistance by Gregory Korte, Tyler Pager, and Josh Wingrove

(Updates with Trump comments at rally in fourth paragraph.)