Donald Trump’s win in New Hampshire served notice to Latino voters that his candidacy is alive and well, along with the anti-Mexican rhetoric on which he established his run for the White House.
After being slightly subdued by his second-place finish in Iowa, Trump sealed his front-runner status early in New Hampshire with more than a third of the vote.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, a senator from next-door Vermont, won as expected, but did so by a wider margin than Hillary Clinton had hoped, 60 percent to 39 percent, with about three quarters of precincts counted late Tuesday.
The finishes come with about a week or so to go before the Feb. 20 and 23 Nevada caucuses, when candidates will face a sizable Latino electorate for the first time.
New Hampshire and Iowa’s eligible Latino voters are 2.2 percent and 3 percent of the electorate respectively, but 17.2 percent in Nevada. In South Carolina, which also holds a primary Feb. 20, Latinos are 2.4 percent of the vote.
“Latino voters are really poised to make a difference in a state like Nevada,” said Larry Gonzalez, a Democratic strategist in Washington, D.C. “Nevada is right around the corner and that’s when Latinos will have an opportunity to shape this race.”
Trump entered the primary hammering on his theme of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and forcing Mexico to pay the $8 billion tab he assigned it.
“We are going to beat China. We’re going to beat Mexico,” Trump said in his victory speech.
“We are going to have strong, incredible borders. But people are going to come into our country legally, legally. We are going to build a wall. It’s not even going to be a difficult thing to do,” he said.
He said he would end New Hampshire’s heroin problem, which has led to a spike in overdose deaths, by ending it at the U.S southern border with Mexico.
Such talk could continue to spark Latino voters to at least participate in primaries in counter protest, Gonzalez said.
Trump has not polled well with Latinos overall and his rhetoric has earned him, along with Ted Cruz, a public condemnation from a group of Republican Hispanics.
Dan Vargas, a Republican communication strategist, said Trump’s win in New Hampshire and second-place finish in Iowa shows there is still opportunity for a “more pragmatic” Republican to emerge as the party’s nominee.
In particular, the second place finish by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who had held more than 100 town halls in New Hampshire, “demonstrated the fact that a Republican with a popular message and record of accomplishment can still attract a significant portion of the vote and emerge and beat the Democratic nominee.” He added that Kasich’s message was also positive.
After his strong third place finish in Iowa, Sen. Marco Rubio was seen as a potential option for Latinos in the GOP, many of whom had lined up behind Jeb Bush, but were uncertain of his viability after his poor finish in Iowa.
But Rubio’s flub in Saturday’s GOP debate – repeating himself – left him struggling. Tuesday night, he acknowledged his blunder and its consequences.
“Our disappointment tonight is not on you, it’s on me,” he told gathered supporters. “I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this: That will never happen again.”
The debate debacle left an opening for Jeb Bush, who was jostling late for third with Cruz. Sharon Castillo, a spokesperson for Right to Rise PAC which supports Bush, said Bush did what he set out to do, reset his campaign.
She said the race now becomes more complicated as it moves to states more diverse and more politically complicated.
Sanders carries the momentum of New Hampshire with him into the Nevada primary, where Clinton won among Hispanics in 2008.
Both campaigns have been building their ground game in the state for a while.
Sanders’ big lead in New Hampshire “probably will make Latinos and other voters take a second look at him,” said Federico de Jesus, a Democratic strategist and founder of FDJ Solutions.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, younger voters overwhelmingly caucused for Sanders. The Latino electorate is relatively young compared to the rest of the nation’s voters with 44 percent being millennials, according to Pew Research Center.
“I know I have work to do, particularly with young people” Clinton said in her post-primary speech. “Even if they're not supporting me now, I support them. I've had a blessed life, but I also know what it's like to stumble and fall.”
Clinton has a longer history of standing with and fighting for the Latino community, de Jesus added.
“In the caucus in Nevada, it will come down to organization and momentum,” de Jesus said. “Bernie has momentum and Hillary has a long relationship with the Latino community, and we’ll see who has the better ground game.”