Clinton and Sanders battle for the Latino vote

Latino Votes.jpg (Jeff Gillan / KSNV)

65 years separate a woman who's known struggle, from a young man who's yet to really know life.

But that could be a dynamic that plays out Saturday as both the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns wonder how many Latino voters come out to caucus. For each campaign, victory could depend on it.

With more than 194,000 Latino voters statewide, the Clinton campaign has carefully cultivated support in a community thought to be a rock-solid bulwark. It has spent months on relationships, phone calls and door-knocks.

The Sanders campaign, too, is reaching out, blanketing Latino neighborhoods with volunteers and literature. It is making a strong play to take Latinos out of Clinton's back pocket.

Which brings us to Dolores Huerta, 85, and Isaiah Wires, 20.

Huerta is a civil rights icon, a farmworkers advocate who marched alongside Cesar Chavez. Wires is a Centennial High School graduate, who's about to take his first plunge into democracy.

"I'm only 20, so this is my first time able to vote, and I'm really excited," Wires told me as he finished work at a warehouse in the shadow of the Strip. He supports Sanders and plans to caucus on Saturday.

"I think the younger generation likes that he, what he's talking about is bringing about some really big change," Wires said, " and that's what we need in America is really big change."

On this Tuesday, the Clinton campaign brought Huerta to town. I met her at Clinton's office in heavily Latino East Las Vegas, where she was greeted with applause and a reception fitting someone who helped change history.

"I think most of the people in the Latino community don't know Bernie Sanders," she told me. "I know he's tried to introduce himself now but there's not very much of a connection there."

Both Sanders and Clinton support immigration reform. Clinton, just weeks after announcing her run came to Las Vegas and at Rancho High School called for a full and equal path to citizenship for those here illegally.

Sanders calls for a "roadmap to citizenship" for the 11 million living in America's shadows. Both Sanders and Clinton say they would go beyond what President Obama has done to protect undocumented children and their families.

Clinton has been endorsed by local "Dreamers," young people brought here by their undocumented parents. The Sanders campaign, too, plans an event this week with "Dreamers" who support the Vermont Senator.

But what upsets Clinton and her allies are Sanders' 2007 vote against an immigration reform bill.

"I think Bernie Sanders made one very big mistake," Huerta said. "It was a devastating blow to all of us at that time."

Sanders says he voted against the bill because he was worried it would drive down American wages. He also disliked a guest worker provision in the bill that he felt was akin to "slavery."

To 20-year-old Isaiah Wires, Sanders' heart is in the right place.

"His father was an immigrant, so he definitely has a connection to the immigrant lifestyle. His immigration plan is pretty good. I like the whole path to citizenship," Wires said.

According to 2014 US Census data, Latinos comprised almost 28% of Nevada's population. In Clark County, home to 73% of state residents, that figure is higher: 30%. The last time Democrats had a competitive caucus, in 2008, Latinos made up 15% of those who voted.

And so the fight comes down to who will vote on Saturday. For each campaign, the biggest question is who will show up.

For Huerta, Hillary Clinton "has shown where her heart is."

For Wires, "I just hope Bernie can come out on top."

This new voter also had another message: "Don't forget to caucus on February 20th."

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