Heading into tonight’s debate, Latino voters in Nevada are anxiously waiting to hear Obama and Romney go face to face on the issues. Latino voters from Nevada, like Columbia native Marlene Monteolivo, are less than thrilled with either candidate and are hoping to get some answers tonight. Monteolivo was a Democrat four years ago, and then Republican and now she is a registered as a non-partisan voter in Nevada. So, why are voters like Moteolivio in Nevada choosing none of the above? It’s simple – they are frustrated by the lack of progress in the Nevada economy but cannot side with Republicans due to their stance on immigration.
Monteolivo, like many other Nevada Hispanic voters, does not like the fact that Republicans blocked the passage of the Dream Act. Hispanic voters are also cautious of Romney due to his comments calling Arizona’s tough immigration law a “model” for the nation. However, Moteolivo does believe that Romney’s business sensibilities would help turn the economy around. Carlo Maffat, who works on Latino outreach for the Republican Party, believes that Latinos, with the economy as bad as it is, would be ready to say, “Lets give Mitt Romney a shot.” However, Latino voters in Nevada do not seem to be adopting this mindset.
In 2008 Latino voters were energized by the prospect of Barack Obama and his promise to change American immigration policies. Although Obama signed an executive order that defers deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, the Dream Act is basically nonexistent on Capitol Hill. This lack of progress has caused Latinos to feel that Obama has not delivered on his promises of 2008.
So, why isn’t this distance between Obama and Latino voters being translated into votes for Mitt Romney? Because this disappointment has left many Latino voters in Nevada with a decision to simply not vote instead of vote for the Republican candidate.
While this may seem like a strong reaction, when reflecting on the history of the Republican Party and immigration in Nevada, this reaction may be more understandable. In the vicious 2010 Senate race, Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle claimed her opponent, veteran Senator Harry Reid, was too soft on illegal immigration. Latino groups in Nevada were outraged by Angle’s television ads and claimed they were racist. Events like this have led to the perception among Nevada Latino voters that the Republican stance on immigration is, “how high should we build the fence?”
Since 2010, Nevada Latino voters have grown in numbers. In that past ten years Latinos have accounted for nearly half of the population growth. While Nevada only has 6 electoral votes – they become extremely valuable in a close election year with a less than thrilled Latino population.
Tonight, President Obama needs to regain the trust of Latino voters in Nevada while Mitt Romney needs to find a way to connect and prove that he is on their side.