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Latino voters' influence is on the rise in battleground state Nevada

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump is expected to sweep the Republican caucus in Nevada tonight. He'll win all the state's delegates on his way to the likely Republican presidential nomination. This follows Joe Biden's win in Nevada's Democratic primary on Tuesday. The big contest in Nevada comes in November, when that state will once again be among six or so swing states most likely to decide the general election. Latino voters play a role in Nevada, and some have been talking to A Martínez, who's been there all week, joins us from Reno. Hey there, A.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So when we talk about winning elections, how important are Latinos in Nevada?

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, they are. Latinos account for about 1 in 5 voters in Nevada. They're important to Democrats. So Joe Biden needed them in 2020. And Republicans would like a little of that magic, too. I was here in downtown Reno, standing next to a beautiful flowing river right by my hotel. I met with Fred Lokken, a professor of political science at Truckee Meadows Community College. And he says while the influence of Nevada's Latinos is growing, it's not quite strong enough yet to swing an election.

FRED LOKKEN: So far it's a potential, not a reality. Not enough are voting at this point in time to make the kind of splash that they will make in the future. We will be the first state to become a majority of minorities in just a couple of years, and the Hispanic bloc will be by far the largest.

INSKEEP: OK, so an important constituency now, even more important in the future - and what are you hearing from them as you go around the state?

MARTÍNEZ: Well, Steve, you know, when you want to talk to people who are hungry to talk politics, you go where they are hungry. And that's a food court at the Meadowood Mall. I met Walfred Alvares. He's Guatemalan, works in a warehouse and is a Trump backer.

WALFRED ALVARES: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: So he's saying he thinks that Democrats always say one thing and then do another. On the other hand, he says Republicans don't make such a fuss, but they do what they promise. And I asked Prof. Lokken about whether Republicans are really winning over Latinos here in Nevada, as they like to claim. And he said, it's true to an extent. He doesn't think, though, overall, that Republicans have the policy positions right now to attract Latinos as much as Democrats do.

INSKEEP: What else are you hearing from some Latino voters there?

MARTÍNEZ: So I camped out at the Reno Public Market. I talked to Ilona Smith-Martinez. She manages one of the bars there. Everyone calls her Lo. She votes, but she's not excited about doing it right now. And she has this message for the politicians that she sees constantly going at each other.

ILONA SMITH-MARTINEZ: Knock off the crap, really think about the people, the little people and the people that are really, like - we're working, and we're, like, paycheck to paycheck, and, like - in this crazy, crazy, crazy economy.

MARTÍNEZ: I also talked to Sebastian Velasquez. He's 18. He's a cashier at the market. He's going to be voting for the first time in November. And he's just like a lot of the other voters, Steve, that I spoke to this week - they're uninspired with the choices they have. So I asked him if he wishes there were younger people to vote for.

SEBASTIAN VELASQUEZ: Definitely. I get how they're older or whatever. Because, you know, Biden - he was, like, the youngest senator, I'm pretty sure. And 50 years later, now he's finally become president. I just wish we had younger people to speak for us because I've seen, like, congressional hearings of the TikTok CEO, Snapchat CEOs and the questions they asked. There's a disconnect between the youth and the government. I feel, and I wish it could be addressed with new stars/politicians.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Biden is actually the sixth youngest senator, Steve, but you can hear his point. He thinks, for the most part, our elected leaders are kind of how I feel, Steve - just too old.

INSKEEP: What are some things you hear from Latino voters specifically about immigration, which is all over the news?

MARTÍNEZ: It all depends, Steve, on what their personal life story has been. So for an immigrant that has gone through the process to come to the United States and become a citizen, they maybe feel more connected to the Republican point of view when it comes to immigration. But for the kids of immigrants that have grown up here and that maybe feel differently, the Democratic position is the one that they more align with, wanting to be more sensitive to the plight of immigrants as they come over the border.

INSKEEP: Our colleague A Martínez in Reno, Nevada. Thanks so much.

MARTÍNEZ: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.

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