Esmeralda Villeda, born and raised in Las Vegas, has been politically engaged since high school, using her position as president of Rancho High School’s Hispanic Student Union to remind others of the importance of municipal elections and voting.
But, now 28, her political values have evolved.
A few years ago, she changed her voter registration to nonpartisan, preferring to support candidates based on policy and not political party.
“I make the conscious effort to educate myself and support the candidates that make decisions with scientific facts, not just, ‘Oh, this is what people want,’ or ‘This is what social media wants,’” Villeda said.
Villeda is part of Nevada’s growing Latino electorate that has shaken up the status quo during the last few election cycles, demonstrating its diversity and defying longstanding narratives that it’s a reliable stronghold for Democrats, who have relied on Latinos in past elections as a buffer in tight races.
Amid shifting demographics and a move to the Republican Party in states such as Florida and Texas, Latino voters and their political preferences are less predictable than ever before, and could play a major role in Nevada’s 2022 midterms, including heated re-election chances for Democrat incumbents Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Latinos made up nearly 20 percent of Nevada’s electorate in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center, with more than 400,000 eligible voters. The Silver State was ranked just behind Florida, where Latinos made up 17 percent of the electorate in 2020 and were key to securing the state’s vote for Trump in 2020, according to its proportion of Latino electorate.
Democrats are re-evaluating their messaging and approach to Latinos while Republicans are doubling down on strategies that appeared successful after the 2020 election saw a substantial vote shift, with 63 percent of Latinos voting for President Joe Biden, down from 71 percent of Latinos voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Biden won Nevada in 2020, the Democratic ticket lost ground from 2016 to 2020.
The question vexing election analysts and frightening Democratic campaigns is whether those margins will continue to shrink in November, propelling a red wave in Nevada.
Jessica Padron, civic engagement director for Make the Road Nevada, a left-leaning organization focused on the immigrant community, put the situation more bluntly: She said political parties often engage in half-hearted attempts to engage with the community, calling them “tokenizing photo exchanges” complete with taco trucks and mariachi bands.
“I think the big message for 2022 to Democrats in particular is, ‘It’s time to deliver,’” Padron said. “It’s not time to play around. It’s time to … have real conversations with the Latino community.”
Read the entire article: Nevada Latinos take center stage in midterms as electorate grows, shifts
The portion of the article is shared as part of our collaboration with The Nevada Independent. This story was originally published on March 20, 2022 and written by Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez.