Find us @

Feature

White Voters Are More Excited About the Midterms. In Nevada, Latino Organizers Aim to Close the Gap

In Nevada, the Latino community holds 20% of the electoral power and the first and only Latina sent to the Senate is on the ballot this fall.

Published

on

The D.C. Brief, TIME’s political newsletter, includes this piece. To receive articles like this in your inbox, sign up here.

In North Las Vegas, Even while Melissa Morales is aware that the constant knocking on doors can be unpleasant, she doesn’t really mind. The Latino voters she and her team are aiming to energize can endure another ring at the bell even though her fellow Democrats are up against stiff opposition and white people are more interested in this November’s elections than non-white voters, according to polls.

Morales adds as she eats her huevos con chorizo in a Mexican restaurant known for its large celebrations and well-seasoned fish, “We’re probably going to be back on your door again, unless you’re a strong Republican Trump voter who told us you never want to see us again.” We take this personally.

In order to check in on her team of 10, which is expected to increase by the end of the month, Morales, the 34-year-old founder and executive director of Somos Votantes and its connected Somos PAC, is in Nevada. They have already knocked on 100,000 doors in Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada, three crucial states this year, and they expect to knock on 1 million by election day. Since her organization is also working to incorporate social services into its events, such as free assistance with citizenship applications and DACA renewals, Morales is not showing any signs of letting up on either donors or voters this election cycle. In the previous election cycle, she coordinated about $33 million between the nonprofit and political action committee to help educate voters and, in turn, elect Democrats.

Nevada is the focus of the effort, both because the Latino community has a 20% electoral share and because Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, the first and only Latina sent to the Senate, is up for reelection this year. The battle for the Senate between Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, is expected to be close and is already hotly contested. The candidates have already raised $25 million, with Cortez Masto accounting for 80% of that total. In the meantime, outside organizations have spent more than $21 million, and autumn TV ad time is swiftly turning out to be as elusive as the water in Lake Mead, which is at a record low.

(For the record, Laxalt’s campaign has highlighted additional organizations that are flooding the state with ‘dark money’ on Cortez Masto’s behalf. Cortez Masto has called for a federal ban on efforts from non-profit groups like Somos Votantes that don’t disclose donations and filter money to politics.

Both party strategists predict that the Nevada Senate race won’t be decided on the airwaves. Instead, marginal activity—such as highly focused internet advertising, campaigns by organizations like the state’s influential Culinary Union, and, yes, sweaty volunteers knocking on thousands of doors—will be the deciding factor.

Therefore, Morales drove across the corner to meet up with staff members who were spending the remainder of their Tuesday afternoon in a working-class neighborhood where Spanish is the primary language spoken in many homes. The sun was at its peak, and temperatures were hovering near 100 degrees. Even though the majority of the doors were unopened, as is typical for such time-consuming canvasses, their bilingual pitch was well practiced. A PAC-funded card that presented the case for Cortez Masto on one side and the case against Laxalt on the other was left there by the canvassers after no one answered the door.

Victor Villanueva, a Somos organizer, diligently knocked on nearly all of the doors on one neighborhood, pushing those who could vote to do so and those who couldn’t to urge their family to back Cortez Masto’s reelection. He is looking for recent immigrants, young adults who might vote, and families who are being negatively impacted by the high cost of back-to-school items. If they agree, he also puts a yard sign and asks fans to make a video message outlining why they should vote for him.

Maria de Jess Perez, 46, a neighbor on Villanueva’s route who is not a voter but has family members who are, says “We want someone who will assist us get our part.” She posed for a photo holding a Cortez Masto yard sign and promised to tell her family that the senator is for Latinos. She has lived in the United States for the past 18 years.

Liviera Blanco, 54, a block up, said to Villanueva that she wasn’t sure if she was even qualified to vote. Villanueva noted down her contact information and assured the full-time home caregiver that she would follow up. She, too, appeared in a video carrying a Cortez Masto yard sign and discussing the need for greater assistance in Washington for services for children with special needs.

Before August 1st, the majority of the door-to-door talks centered on listening to what people wanted their elected officials to do, but more lately, these scripts have begun to change into persuasion-driven chats. Nevada introduced a long-term system of mail-in ballots for voters last year. Those will start to be mailed out soon with the primaries behind us. Ads already dominate the radio, and social media is a choose-your-own-adventure world. In other words, Morales’ club is ready to go.

Like everyone else, Morales observes the same polling data and recognizes the red flags for Democrats. Although the disapproval rates of Hispanic and Latino voters have nearly tracked those of the general electorate, their excitement in the upcoming elections is noticeably lower, and Republicans have been making gains with that group. In terms of interest in the election and passion for it, Gallup finds a 12-point discrepancy between white and non-white voters. The fact that 60% of non-white voters say they are only moderately interested in the elections may be more concerning for Democrats. Simply put, if only white people vote—and they now appear to be the ones most willing to do so—Democrats cannot win.

In order to educate voters in Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada to understand the ramifications for Latinos if Republicans have the kind of big night many are anticipating, Morales is essentially living in airport coffee shops for the next three months. Morales isn’t prepared to give anything up, but she anticipates a struggle. She claims, “It’s always closer than it should be.” That does not imply that we cannot compete.

Understand what is important in Washington. Join the D.C. Brief mailing list.