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Nevada surge suggests Latinos finally flexing electoral muscle
Something was missing on Monday as several hundred organisers from the most politically powerful union in Las Vegas rallied in preparation for a final push to elect Hillary Clinton as US president. Apart from a few campaign buttons, the Democratic candidate’s name was almost nowhere to be seen.
Instead, the fired-up foot soldiers of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 – which represents 56,000 hotel and casino workers in the Nevada gambling capital, most of them Latino – sported red-white-andblack T-shirts that made their mission clear. The most dramatic of them said in big block letters: DEFEAT TRUMP.
The scene at the union hall recalled the Newtonian law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Donald Trump’s statements disparaging Mexican immigrants have sparked a political backlash that has seen angry Latino voters flock to the polls in states that permit early voting.
Mrs Clinton went into the final hours of voting with a Latino firewall in some battleground states – including Nevada and possibly in more populous Florida, as well – that have large populations of people with roots in Spanish-speaking countries.
Mr Trump still could find enough white supporters to win the White House. But if he does not, the election could wind up being remembered as a demonstration of the growing political power of Hispanics, who make up 17% of the US population but have generally been less likely to vote than other groups.
“We are going to have historic Latino turnout,” said Ruben Kihuen, 36, who was born in Mexico and is now running in Nevada as a Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives. “It could be the beginning of a new wave – not just of Latino voting but of Latino representation.”
The turnout has been particularly dramatic in Las Vegas,
where members of Local 226 – known locally as ‘the Culinary’ – have been pursuing a multipronged strategy to punish Mr Trump at the ballot box and elect Mrs Clinton in the process.
This year, the union has helped 2,200 of its members who were US permanent residents obtain citizenship so they could vote, according to Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for Local 226. At the same time, union members have been taking leave of absence to work-full time on voter registration efforts.
Maria Landeros, a 56-year-old mother of three who came to the US from Mexico as a young woman, estimated she has helped several hundred people register to vote since taking leave from her job as a housekeeper at the MGM Grand Las Vegas in July.
She made the decision to work full-time on voter registration – the union pays her for her time – because of the things Mr Trump said. “He’s a racist. He’s a hater,” she said. “He doesn’t have respect. We want to stop Donald Trump. He’s dangerous.”
In more recent weeks, ‘the Culinary’ has been helping take voters to the polls. A checklist on the wall of its union hall lists four questions for organisers: “When will you vote? Where will you vote? What time will you vote? Do you need a ride?”
Even union members who are not citizens have been getting into the act, urging colleagues and neighbours who can vote to go to the polls, according to Ms Khan. “They are saying, ‘Vote for me. Vote for our family. Vote for our community’.”
The intensity of the anti-Trump feeling in Latino Las Vegas came into focus last Friday night during the last day of early voting in Nevada. So many people lined up to vote at the Cardenas Market – previously known for its tacos and other Mexican fare – that polling hours were extended.
“Looks like Trump got his wall after all. A wall of beautiful voters,” tweeted Yvanna Cancela, the political director of the culinary union.
Data released by the Nevada state government show that far more Democrats than Republicans voted early in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and is home to most of the state’s voters. Jon Ralston, a leading political pundit in Nevada, said the difference – 72,000 votes – suggested that “Trump is dead” in the state.
“Nothing is impossible this year, but the math says that Nevada is pretty secure for Clinton,” said Billy Vassiliadis, the influential Nevada advertising executive whose company R&R Partners devised the “what happens here, stays here” Las Vegas slogan.
Because Mr Trump has so few paths to an electoral college majority, losing Nevada could prove fatal to his campaign for the presidency. What happens in Las Vegas, in other words, might not stay there. It could change history.