A turning point in Nevada

Lessons from the Sanders campaign.

  • Mi Familia Vota lead canvasser Thomas Vargas registers a man to vote in Northeast Las Vegas in February, before the pandemic hit. The grassroots organization he works for is dedicated to increasing voter participation in states that have large Latino populations, but historically low voter turnout.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Audrey and Izayah Peral visit with a resident while canvassing in East Las Vegas ahead of the Democratic presidential caucus in February.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Audrey Peral — seen with her son, Izayah — is a grassroots organizer with Make the Road Action. “Although Bernie did drop out of the race, I am very hopeful that here in Nevada we can continue to motivate Latino voters to stay engaged. We are very hopeful that Biden will come to us as a community, to listen to our needs.”

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Maria Palacios, 28, is a graduate student in math and physics, and was an intern with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Maria Palacios leads a training for Make the Road Action canvassers a few days ahead of the Democratic presidential caucuses in Las Vegas.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Volunteer canvassers participate in a training organized by Make the Road Action

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers like Jazmine Villagomez spent much of their time visiting high school classrooms to educate eligible students about the importance of voting and help them register.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Latinos and other non-white voting blocs are often viewed by the establishment as if they all share the same set of values. The reality is far more complex. Despite the fact that the majority of Latinos in the U.S. vote Democratic, Donald Trump won 28% of the Latino vote in 2016 — though this number has been disputed. As of August, however, 24% said they plan to vote him this November.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Future Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden carries a picket sign during a Culinary Workers Union strike outside of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas in February. With 60,000 members — 54% of them Latino — it is the state’s largest and most powerful union, and several of the candidates made appearances at the strike in an effort to woo voters.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • Led by Latino campaign workers and advisers, the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign spent significant resources to reach Latino voters with culturally competent and relevant messaging.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • A Bernie Sanders supporter wears a t-shirt that translates to "Uncle Bernie," as many in the Latino community referred to the former presidential candidate.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News
  • A canvasser with Make the Road Action celebrates Bernie Sanders' landslide victory in the Nevada caucus in February.

    Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

 

For the first time in history, Latino voters will comprise the largest non-white voting bloc in the 2020 election. In Nevada, the Democratic caucuses in February were the first major test of candidates’ appeal to Latinos, who make up 30% of the state’s population. Candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders spent a considerable amount of time and resources courting the Latino vote.

Though Sanders would go on to lose the Democratic Party’s nomination to Joe Biden, he saw a significant victory in Nevada, winning 51% of the Latino vote, thanks to a sustained effort led by Latinos themselves. His campaign is now being seen as a turning point in mobilizing the Latino vote.

In Nevada, there was an intentional plan, with resources being spent in the Latino community, according to Chuck Rocha, a political consultant and Bernie Sanders’ senior campaign advisor. “When you hire your first staffer, you make sure they are from the community. And then you start spending resources over months and months to talk to that demographic about your candidate,” he said. “That’s the perfect storm for having that amazing win that you saw.” 

These photos were made in collaboration with the PBS film, Latino Vote: Dispatches from the Battleground, directed by Bernardo Ruiz, and scheduled to air on local PBS stations beginning Oct. 6.