RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Latino and African American voters are about to have a big say. The question is, how will they shape a Democratic primary that is still very much up for grabs? The Nevada caucuses are tomorrow. And a week later, South Carolina holds its primary. So what's on the mind of voters in those two states ahead of this crucial week? We want to bring in two guests who are on the ground. Political strategist Lauren Harper was the South Carolina state director for Beto O'Rourke's campaign. She is with us from that state's capital, Columbia. And Janet Murguia is in Las Vegas. She is the president of UnidosUS. That's the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the country. Janet and Lauren, thanks for being here.
LAUREN HARPER: Thanks for having us.
JANET MURGUIA: It's great to join you.
MARTIN: So I'll put this to both of you. As you have spoken with voters in your respective states, how are they thinking about this vote?
MURGUIA: Well, I can speak in particular to the interests of Latino voters. You know, most are concerned about the economy and jobs. It's about the rising costs of housing. They make the connection to the stagnant wages that have just not grown and are not giving them enough economic security.
MARTIN: Lauren, what are you seeing? What do you hear time and again from people?
HARPER: Yeah, I'd actually like to echo Janet on that sentiment. We have two of the cities with the highest eviction rates in the country here in South Carolina with Columbia and North Charleston. Something that people are really concerned about is, you know, just paying for life. You know, life is getting expensive. Whether you're trying to pay off student loan debt - and, you know, access to education is difficult if you don't want to take out $100,000 in student loan debt - you know, do you still have the same opportunities that other people have or want to have to be able to pay for the cost of living these days?
MARTIN: So are they attaching a particular candidate to those issues?
MURGUIA: Well, I guess I would say that, you know, because another key driving concern for many Latino families is health care, the conversation the candidates have been leading - like Sanders and, in some instances, like Elizabeth Warren - are speaking generally to their concerns. And so they're getting the attention, I think, of Latino voters.
Certainly here in Nevada, we've seen a targeted use of Spanish-language media buys and ads that could be paying off for Sanders. So it's not just that he's talking about it broadly, but he's making a very intentional effort to communicate with Latino voters on this topic.
HARPER: I definitely would agree with Janet on that, as well. I think even particularly for millennial and Gen Z voters, Senator Sanders is appealing to them. And I think, you know, understanding the different generational divides between older voters and younger voters is that they're trying to see action now versus later. And so some of the ideals that we're getting from folks like Senator Sanders and Senator Warren are, you know, kind of like action now things versus maybe some more moderate candidates who are not able to articulate how it will happen more quickly for them because these are, like, things that are on fire in their lives every day. And obviously, we have the terrible threat of climate change, but we don't necessarily see climate change the way we see not being able to pay our bills every day. And I think that's something that is appealing to voters.
MARTIN: Janet, Bernie Sanders was among a number of candidates who were looking for the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada, which has proven to be a very influential endorsement in Democratic politics. Membership in that union - 54% Latino. They have decided not to endorse any candidate. What do you think that indicates to you?
MURGUIA: It reflects, I believe, the very strong interests that the members of the union have in maintaining their health care benefits. And that's the tripwire for Senator Sanders as he's campaigning on health care.
On the one hand, he's offering this very big vision for essentially universal care, or "Medicare for All." But it can be a disrupter for some individuals and families who have worked very hard, like the Culinary Union, to get what they do have. And they are not certain that they want that benefit package, which was fought for over many years and with great intensity, to be disrupted by a major reform.
MARTIN: I want to ask both of you, is there one story, one voter, one family that you have met that really illustrated to you what this election is really about?
MURGUIA: Yeah. I was speaking to a group of young voters, and I asked them to raise their hand if they were 18, and they'll be voting for the first time. And virtually all raised their hands. But there was one young woman who didn't raise her hand. And I thought maybe she was confused about what I was asking. And she said that her parents were not here with papers. And she was very worried that if she took the step to vote that she would put her parents at risk. It reflects this chilling effect that we're seeing based on many, many new regulations, changes in laws and real harmful rhetoric that is creating real fear in our families.
MARTIN: Lauren, is there one anecdote that stands out to you as an apt illustration of the choices that voters are weighing?
HARPER: Yeah. So last year, when we were with Beto while he's still campaigning in Charleston, we attended a Fight for 15 rally. And one of the ladies came out after the strike to Beto and was telling him how she had a child with special needs, and she was having a hard time paying for his health care costs, and she was also having a hard time getting to work with transportation issues. And obviously, she was at the Fight for 15 strike trying to get a higher minimum wage.
And so we're seeing just so many different issues that are interwoven into one another that just make life much more difficult than it needs to be for the average American. Well, obviously, we all are wanting to elect a different president, but there are a lot of issues that we just need to be able to address as a nation, regardless of who's in office.
MARTIN: Well, that's interesting because that is the first time either of you have alluded to President Trump. Do you not hear his name a lot when you are having conversations with voters about the decisions that they're trying to make?
MURGUIA: You know, what I find interesting is that, of course, our community is very aware of Trump. The vast majority of Latino voters reject Trump and what people see as the bigotry and the hate and the rhetoric that he uses to talk about us. As compelling as that is, our voters are still looking for what they can be for and a candidate who will paint that picture of a vision of a future of this country and how it will be an economically inclusive one and one that respects them and what they bring to the future of this country and its economy.
MARTIN: Janet Murguia - she is the president of UnidosUS. We were also joined by political strategist Lauren Harper. She was the South Carolina state director for Beto O'Rourke's campaign. Thanks to you both. We appreciate it.
HARPER: Thank you.
MURGUIA: Thank you.
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