Bernie San­ders takes his mes­sage to Lati­nos

En­thu­si­asm gap at a Las Ve­gas gath­er­ing re­flects Hil­lary Clin­ton’s head start.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Kate Linthicum kate.linthicum@latimes.com

LAS VE­GAS — Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton was mobbed by fans when she spoke this week be­fore a big crowd of Latino gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from across the coun­try. When another Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, Sen. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont, took the same stage here Fri­day, the room was about half-empty.

“I haven’t heard of him, to be hon­est,” said Lu­ciana Cor­rales, a school board mem­ber from San Ysidro, Calif. And any­way, she added, “I’m a Hil­lary sup­porter.”

Talk of a San­ders surge has en­livened the cam­paign in re­cent weeks, as big­ger-than-ex­pected crowds turned out for his fiery speeches about tak­ing on the “bil­lion­aire class” amid promis­ing polling in the early-pri­mary state of New Hamp­shire. But the en­thu­si­asm gap on dis­play at the na­tion’s largest gath­er­ing of Latino pol­i­cy­mak­ers high­lights the re­al­ity of the ma­jor de­mo­graphic chal­lenges San­ders faces as he wages his long-shot bid for the pres­i­dency.

“His name recog­ni­tion in the Latino com­mu­nity is some­where in be­tween zero and ex­tremely low,” said Matt Bar­reto, a poll­ster who fo­cuses on Latino vot­ers. “And you’re not go­ing to win an elec­tion with­out Latino sup­port.”

Non­white vot­ers make up a third or more of the turnout in Demo­cratic pri­maries in most states, ac­cord­ing to exit polls. San­ders, who rep­re­sents a state that is 94% white, has lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence cam­paign­ing for mi­nor­ity votes. That will pose a chal­lenge as he trav­els to more-di­verse early-vot­ing states like Ne­vada, home to a large Latino pop­u­la­tion, and South Carolina, where African Amer­i­cans make up roughly half of Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers.

“If your only sig­nif­i­cant con­stituency is older white vot­ers, that’ll be good in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, but when you hit Ne­vada and South Carolina you’re in another world,” said Demo­cratic strate­gist Bill Car­rick. “If you’re go­ing to be the nom­i­nee, you’re go­ing to have to do pretty well among Latino, African Amer­i­can vot­ers, women, sin­gle women and mil­len­ni­als. That’s the chal­lenge for Bernie San­ders — to be­come more than a niche can­di­date and be­come a can­di­date with a broad coali­tion of sup­port.”

San­ders’ cam­paign ad­vi­sors say his plat­form, which in­cludes free col­lege tu­ition and Medi­care for all, has ap­peal across racial and eth­nic lines. His speech Fri­day at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the Na­tional Assn. of Latino Elected and Ap­pointed Of­fi­cials — his first to a Latino au­di­ence — was well-re­ceived. His pledges to raise the na­tional min­i­mum wage and re­duce spend­ing on jails and pris­ons drew stand­ing ova­tions.

Af­ter draw­ing heat from some Latino pun­dits in re­cent weeks for not talk­ing enough about immigration, San­ders ad­dressed the is­sue head-on Fri­day, match­ing Clin­ton’s pledge to go fur­ther than Pres­i­dent Obama in shield­ing from de­por­ta­tion im­mi­grants who are in the coun­try il­le­gally.

A self-de­scribed so­cial­ist who has made grow­ing class in­equal­ity the theme of his cam­paign, San­ders de­scribed immigration as an eco­nomic is­sue.

“We can­not con­tinue to run an econ­omy where mil­lions are made so vul­ner­a­ble be­cause of their un­doc­u­mented sta­tus,” San­ders said, ask­ing: “Who ben­e­fits from this ex­ploita­tion?”

In a de­par­ture for San­ders, who typ­i­cally for­goes per­sonal anec­dotes for num- bers-driven anal­y­sis, he paused for a mo­ment to talk about his own ex­pe­ri­ence as the son of an im­mi­grant.

“My dad came to this coun­try from Poland at the age of 17 with­out a nickel in his pocket,” said San­ders.

Immigration “is the story of Amer­ica, and we should be proud of that story,” he said.

His mes­sage ap­peared to res­onate with lis­ten­ers, in­clud­ing An­drew Ro­driguez, a city coun­cil­man from Eloy, Ariz., who said he liked that San­ders “spoke his mind.”

Still, San­ders has con­sid­er­able ground to make up if he wants to be known to Lati­nos. In a re­cent CNN poll, just 5% of non­white Demo­cratic vot­ers said they were likely to sup­port San­ders com­pared with 65% who backed Clin­ton.

Clin­ton, who beat Obama 2 to 1 among Latino vot­ers in the 2008 Demo­cratic pri­mary, has made an early and spir­ited pitch for Latino sup­port this cam­paign cy­cle, lay­ing out her immigration plan last month dur­ing a round-ta­ble dis­cus­sion with young im­mi­grant ac­tivists at a Las Ve­gas high school.

For­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Malley, another can­di­date seek­ing the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, has also em­pha­sized Latino out­reach. His sec­ond in­ter­view af­ter he an­nounced his can­di­dacy last month was with the Span­ish-lan­guage news chan­nel Univi­sion, and he has promised to act on immigration re­form within the first 100 days of his pres­i­dency.

Tad Devine, San­ders’ cam­paign strate­gist, said the can­di­date would be talk­ing more to Lati­nos in the com­ing months, high­light­ing his record in Congress on immigration is­sues. The cam­paign is also hir­ing peo­ple to fo­cus on Latino out­reach and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

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