WASHINGTON -- Haydee Ccance walked away from back to back speeches by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders on Wednesday feeling very impressed with Sanders and his education policies.
A child care worker who has lived for three years in the U.S. since immigrating from Peru, she said there are many talented young people in the Latino community who want to work, but aren’t able to afford good educations.
“O’Malley seems to me a bit more idealistic,” Ccance said after hearing the speeches at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference. “Sanders is a bit more of a realist.”
Democrats hold their first debate Oct. 13 in Las Vegas. Until then, the back-to-back speeches were a chance for Latinos attending the conference, many of them young people, to preview the two.
Although he spoke mostly about immigration reform and economic disparity, Sanders said it was unfair that in Germany, a person can pursue undergraduate, graduate education and go to medical school while people in the U.S. can’t afford to go to college.
“We must move to having the most educated population on Earth,” Sanders said, eliciting loud applause and a “¡Dalé!” from an audience member.
Hillary Clinton did not give a speech, but was scheduled to make brief remarks at Thursday’s CHCI gala, where she’ll present the CHCI chair’s award to chef José Andres. All candidates were invited. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was the only Republican to attend.
The renowned chef broke a contract to open a restaurant at a Washington, D.C. hotel Donald Trump is building after Trump bashed Mexicans and immigrants when he opened his presidential campaign.
Ccance, 43, said she’s never been to a speech by Clinton, but she said emphatically, “No estoy de acuerdo con Hillary.” “I don’t agree with Hillary.” She said she did not like what she was hearing on the news about Clinton's emails and she thought she was too occupied with raising money.
Clinton has been polling better among Latinos, while Sanders and O'Malley still remain unknowns to a big share of the community.
Vanessa Gutierrez, community engagement specialist with Ready for School in Holland, Mich., was more moved by O’Malley.
“I feel I understood all the actions he’s taken in the state of Maryland,” said Gutierrez. “We were talking about his resume and we are impressed with it and with how he has helped our community.”
O’Malley reminded the audience of that work in his speech, pointing out young people in the audience who do not have legal status but have had academic and other success and repeating his call for an end to immigration detention, except in extraordinary circumstances.
But before he launched into his immigration policies, he called for gun regulations, including banning assault weapons and making illegal gun trafficking a federal crime.
Gutierrez said Sanders also moved her to want to be involved in politics. “He appealed to me as a Hispanic young woman. My cultural background is coming from a low-income family.”
She said she is not convinced Clinton has the Democratic nomination sewn up and wants to hear her speak, because at this time she feels “she hasn’t delivered what she’s promised in the past.”
After his speech, Sanders acknowledged the Latino population in his home state of Vermont is small. But he said “you are going to see us moving very aggressively to introduce myself to the Latino community.”
Sanders recently added a Latino outreach staffer and a spokeswoman in Iowa to his staff.
“I will be in Tucson in a few days and I hope and expect that we will have good turnout from Latinos,” he said. He said his immigration reform and economic agenda appeals to the needs of working people, many of whom are Latino. That agenda, he said, “is a Latino agenda that I think will win approval among many Latinos.”
O'Malley has put hopes in the upcoming debate to help introduce himself to more Latinos and he said he'll emphasize his actions regarding immigration reform and to help Central American children who arrived on the U.S.-Mexico border by the tens of thousands in the summer of 2014.
"Right now in our party, the only two candidates people have heard of are the inevitable frontrunner and the senator from Vermont," O'Malley said referring to Clinton and Sanders. "So once the debates happen people will be able to listen to all of the candidates."
Separately, on Tuesday night, Vice President Joe Biden stopped by a reception held by Latino Victory Fund for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Media were not allowed in the event, but an attendee said Biden was well received by the attendees, largely Latino, and some were moved to tears by his speech on his Irish roots. “He really connected with folks,” the attendee said.