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February 18, 2018

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As Election Day approaches Berkley, Heller battle over Hispanics

Hispanic males not backing Democrat in Senate race as readily as Hispanic females


Sam Morris and Mona Shield Payne/Las Vegas Sun

Left: Dean Heller speaks at the grand opening of the Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter on Dec. 4, 2009. Right: Shelley Berkley laughs with constituents during a “Congress on the Corner” event Jan. 14, 2011, at her Las Vegas office.

Message to Nevada’s Hispanic voters: Your inbox, mailbox and television set will be inundated with a deluge of political advertisements between now and Nov. 6, much of it with “Berkley” or “Heller” on the return address.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee commissioned a poll last week that showed Rep. Shelley Berkley and her Republican opponent, Sen. Dean Heller, in a virtual dead heat in their Senate race.

The poll, which was conducted by Garin-Hart Yang Research Group and surveyed more than 600 Nevada voters Aug 13-15, showed each candidate garnering 41 percent of the vote, with another 3 percent leaning more toward Berkley than other candidates, an extra 1 percent leaning more toward Heller than other candidates and a combined 14 percent either undecided or in the “other” category.

Hidden deeper in the results, Berkley, as previous polls have shown, is not doing as well among Hispanic voters as President Barack Obama. Conversely, Heller is polling better among Hispanics than presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

A June survey by polling firm Latino Decisions showed Obama with 69 percent of Nevada’s Hispanic vote compared with Romney’s 20 percent. Berkley, at that time, had the support of 53 percent of Hispanic to Heller’s 30 percent. The Garin-Hart Yang poll last week had a small sample size of Hispanic voters and had a margin of error of 11 percent, but it showed Berkley leading Heller among Hispanic voters 46 percent to 24 percent.

With fewer than 80 days until the election, which way undecided Hispanics swing could play a large role in deciding the Senate race.

“The difference between the presidential race and the Senate race among Latinos is that Latino voters in Nevada are much less likely to be familiar with the Senate candidates: 48 percent have no clear feeling toward Congresswoman Berkley, and 53 percent have no clear feeling toward Sen. Heller,” Geoff Garin, president of Garin-Hart Yang Research Group, said in an email.

Both sides have made a concerted effort to get their message to Hispanic voters, a growing population that makes up approximately 15 percent of the Nevada electorate. Both Heller and Berkley offer Spanish-language campaign materials, have put together coalitions of Hispanic supporters and have produced Spanish-language campaign ads.

The Juntos con Heller coalition, “with 125 co-chairs, is the biggest and most aggressive Hispanic coalition of any Nevada Republican campaign in memory,” Heller campaign spokeswoman Chandler Smith said. “It is made up of small-business folks and hard-working Nevadans, not a handful of politicians.”

In the past few weeks, those efforts have only expanded.

Click to enlarge photo

Rep. Shelley Berkley challenges Sen. Dean Heller (pictured) for his seat in 2012.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, made several campaign stops with Heller last week and drove home the broader importance of the race.

“If Dean Heller is not re-elected, we can’t be the majority,” Rubio said during an Aug. 16 stop at a Reno Brewery. “So, in many ways, Nevadans aren’t just deciding who their next senator is going to be, they’re deciding who the next majority leader is going to be.”

Not to be outdone, Berkley had Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in town the week prior to make calls and campaign stops with her. Gutierrez, who is one of the champions of the Dream Act in Congress and was arrested twice for protesting the Obama administration’s record number of deportations in front of the White House, said Nevadans needed to learn more about Berkley, who has never run in a statewide race. Particularly, Gutierrez pointed to Berkley’s vote for the Dream Act in contrast to Heller’s stated opposition to the program, which is popular among Hispanics.

“Look, she has a record, and as people see and understand that record, she is going to do better,” Gutierrez said during his Las Vegas visit. “And the campaign will invest the resources in communicating that on Univision and Telemundo. They’ll make sure that I and others are here, and there will be more than just Luis Gutierrez passing through town to help Shelley Berkley.”

Berkley doubled down on her support of the Dream Act and joined a group of legislators in supporting the program’s inclusion in the Democratic Party platform. She has visited predominantly Hispanic places of worship and events like the Hispanic Museum of Nevada gala and the National Council of La Raza national convention. At a meeting of Hispanics in Politics on Aug. 15, she announced that her congressional site had information to assist those applying for deferred action, and she emphasized her long term of service.

“If you want a champion who has been with you every step of the way, who doesn’t have to meet you, doesn’t have to sit down and familiarize herself with the issues that are important to the community, who has been here with you for over 30 years, knowing you, supporting you, standing with you and standing by your side, and has your back, then there is no other candidate to support but me,” Berkley said.

UNLV political science professor David Damore recently released an analysis of the June Latino Decisions poll that breaks the numbers down into greater detail. In contrast to those who saw the initial polls and said Berkley’s problem must be the northern part of the state, Damore found there was little difference between the two halves of Nevada.

“Where Berkley is struggling, though, is among Latino males,” Damore wrote in his analysis.

While 59 percent of Hispanic women favored Berkley, less than half of Hispanic men support the congresswoman.

In that same poll, Hispanic men showed a greater emphasis on the economy as an important issue while Hispanic women were more likely to place a greater significance on immigration.

Click to enlarge photo

U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., holds a news conference in the Palo Verde High School parking lot before a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the school Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. Berkley is running for U.S. Senate against Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

“This may account for some of the gender differences in candidate support as the GOP has been hitting the economy pretty hard among Latinos; it may be resonating to some degree with males,” Damore said.

Males also were more likely to favor tax cuts over government investment as the best way to stimulate economic growth.

The Heller campaign is linking Berkley to Obama’s policies, including the Affordable Care Act and stimulus package, and claiming that strategy has contributed to the high rates of unemployment, especially among Hispanics.

“Congresswoman Shelley Berkley wants to talk about ‘what ifs,’ but she cannot hide from the fact that it is her economic policies that have failed 44,000 unemployed Hispanic Nevadans,” Smith said in a statement last week. “The trillion-dollar stimulus, the Wall Street and Detroit bailouts, and ObamaCare are destroying the private sector in Nevada and completely undercutting the free-enterprise system that is so important for the Hispanic community.”

Yet, while Democrats running for office were reluctant to campaign alongside Obama earlier this year, the president is polling well, and that is beginning to change. Hispanic voters favor the president by a wide margin, and a majority support the Affordable Care Act. Berkley will be at Canyon Springs High School today when Obama visits.

Berkley is tying Heller to the policies of Romney and his vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan, and last week issued a report that specifically addressed how the campaign sees the GOP policies impacting Hispanics.

“Latinos across Nevada deserve someone who will stand up and fight for them each and every day, not only in election years,” Berkley said in a statement. “However, my opponent, Dean Heller, ‘proudly’ supports the Paul Ryan-Mitt Romney plan that harms Latino families by raising out-of-pocket health and prescription drug costs; cutting children’s health care, preventative health services, Medicaid and food assistance for low-income families; and making college more expensive by slashing Pell Grants.”

The Latino Decisions poll indicated that 63 percent of Nevada’s independent Hispanic voters were undecided on the Senate race, The poll also found 14 percent of Obama supporters and 4 percent of Romney supporters were undecided on the Senate race. Those findings show there’s a significant swath of the electorate that can still be won.

Polls show Hispanic voters believe the Democrats are doing a better job of outreach, and a majority of Hispanic voters agree with the Democratic position on immigration reform, allowing those currently residing in the country illegally a path to citizenship after paying fines and back taxes if they have no criminal record.

Damore said Berkley wants to keep Heller’s portion of the Hispanic vote below 30 percent while Heller will strive to get over one third of the Hispanic vote.

“Any Republican who gets a percentage of the Latino vote in the mid-30s has a good chance at victory,” Damore said. “That would put them in a really good position.”

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