Iowa and New Hampshire have a number of virtues, electoral diversity isn’t one of them. The lack of diversity in the first two nominating contests makes Nevada’s upcoming caucus all the more relevant, especially for Latinos. The Silver state is just a few percentage points shy of becoming a majority-minority state and has one of the largest Latino shares of the state population making up 28 of the population.
Nevada has a large and growing Latino population. But beyond its demographics the state has become ground zero for a maturing Latino political voice –both among Democrats and Republicans. Going into this weekend’s Democratic caucus and next week’s Republican Caucus here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the first nominating contest that trains the spotlight on the nation’s largest minority.
1. Latino Presence - Old and New
Not all Latinos (or their ancestors) crossed the border, for some the border crossed them. Nevada was originally part of Mexico, becoming a U.S. territory after the Mexican-American War. There are deep Latino roots in the Silver State. At the same time, the last 30 years has seen a rapid increase in Latinos. From 2000-2010 the Latino population grew by over 80 percent and as a result accounted for almost half of the state’s overall population growth.
2. An Eligible Voter Boom.
Not surprisingly, the growth of eligible voters has followed behind Nevada’s Latino population growth. There was a lag since the first large immigrant waves were not naturalized citizens and thus ineligible to vote. By the 2008 election the Nevada Latino electorate had started to make its mark at 15 percent of Nevada’s voters. And in the last eight years there has been an increase of 70 percent in the Latino eligible voter electorate - they now make up about 17 percent of the prospective voters. And with the high number of millennials the electoral footprint of the community will not be slowing down anytime soon.
3. A More Recent Seat at the Political Table
Twenty years ago there was a total of three Latino elected officials in Nevada, today there are 18 and this number is projected to near two dozen after the 2016 election.
The heightened Latino voice in office is in part due to sheer population growth. However, the other key piece to the story is the recent implementation of term limits for state level offices. When term limits for the legislature kicked in in 2010 aspiring Latino politicos had an opening. And this opening was boosted by the fact that in 2010 Senator Harry Reid was up for reelection and Reid’s team recruited Latinos to run for the newly opened seats as well as put into place a vigorous Latino voter mobilization effort.
4. Home to a GOP Superstar
While most Latino elected officials in Nevada are Democrats there is one notable exception, Governor Sandoval. In 2010 Brian Sandoval became Nevada’s first Latino Governor. Joining Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the former federal judge has become part of the Latino GOP rising star cadre. However unlike Rubio and Cruz, Sandoval has demonstrated a much more moderate and pragmatist brand of partisanship. In his first term in office Sandoval handily worked with his Democratic counterparts in the legislature and accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But what is truly remarkable is how in the beginning of his second term (which he won with close to half of the Latino vote) he pushed the Republican legislature to pass a one billion dollar tax package.
Sandoval is a man to watch. He is term limited and will have to step down as Governor in 2018. That won’t likely be the last we see of Brian Sandoval.
5. Immigration Hits Close to Home
Nevada is not a border state, but immigration is very much on the mind of the state’s Latinos. Nearly three-quarters of the state’s Latino population is made up of persons of Mexican descent, the Latino origin group most affected by immigration policy.
In the 2014 Latino Decisions Election Eve Poll 45 percent of Latinos said that immigration, “is the most important issue facing the Latino community that politicians should address” -- the economy, education, and healthcare were more than 10 points behind immigration. Let’s just say that it’s no coincidence that shortly after reelection President Obama’s major immigration speech took place in Las Vegas’ Del Sol High School.
6. On the Verge of Some Political 'Firsts'
Nevada is poised to send the first Latina Senator to Congress. Former Nevada Attorney General, Catherine Cortez Masto is running for Senator Harry Reid’s seat. No senate race is easy, but with her deep Nevada roots and full backing from the Reid machine Cortez Masto has a healthy edge.
Nevada is on the verge of another first, sending the first Latino to Congress. Nevada is the only state with a high Latino population that does not have a Hispanic member of Congress. The election of Cortez Masto could change this but so could the election of the Representative from House District Four. This District is heavily Latino and will has a strong likelihood of electing a Democrat. We still don’t know who that will be, but given that there are three viable Latinos running in the primary Nevada may be sending two Latinos to Washington.