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Polls Show Sanders Is The Top Democratic Presidential Candidate For Latino Voters


Poll after poll shows Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is the top choice for Latino voters. This weekend, one of the most high-profile Latina politicians, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigns with the Vermont senator. But just how did a man who represents one of the whitest states in the country come to resonate with the largest nonwhite eligible voting group? NPR's Asma Khalid reports from the early voting state of Nevada.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The other week, I swung by a Spanish-language roundtable in Las Vegas hosted by the Sanders campaign. And I listened as a Puerto Rican labor activist tried to spread the Sanders gospel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KHALID: "Senator Sanders," he said, "has always been committed to workers and immigrants." After the event wrapped up, I met Shawn Navarro. He volunteers for the campaign. And he told me Latinos are tired of politicians who waltz into their neighborhoods, speak a bit of Spanish, eat tacos and then walk away without delivering real results.

SHAWN NAVARRO: There is a huge distrust amongst the Latinx community with the Democratic Party, that they're not falling through in the promises but playing lip service to it.

KHALID: Sanders, he insists, is different.

NAVARRO: I like to call him Tio Bernie 'cause he reminds a lot of - in the Latinx community of, like, like your grandpa or kind of your tio. Like, he's kind of stern, a little grumpy at times. But at the same time, you really know he's looking out for you.

MATT BARRETO: I don't think it's a surprise to see Bernie Sanders doing well with Latinos.

KHALID: That's Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions. He says part of Sanders' strength comes down to hiring. The campaign says it has more than 100 Latino staffers around the country. That includes Susana Cervantes, the Nevada state field director.

SUSANA CERVANTES: And this gives a unique perspective and understanding about how to campaign and how to do it differently using nontraditional campaign tactics, trying to be culturally relevant.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

KHALID: Nearly every night at the East Las Vegas campaign office, volunteers call potential caucusgoers. Sometimes they make the pitch in English, sometimes in Spanish. Activists in Nevada, even those who are not endorsing Sanders, acknowledge his campaign is doing a lot of outreach. Benjamin Garcia, a day laborer who also works on immigration issues with the group Arriba Las Vegas, says the only candidate he has consistently received mailers from is Sanders.

BENJAMIN GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KHALID: Garcia says, "Sanders is listening to the immigrant community."


BERNIE SANDERS: On our first day in office, through executive orders, we will overturn all of Trump's racist executive orders on immigration.


KHALID: Sanders is calling for a sweeping overhaul of immigration policy, including a moratorium on all deportations, and he wants to break up Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The pollster, Matt Barreto, says Sanders' popularity is driven by young Latinos.

BARRETO: Latinos are the youngest population in the United States. That's where a bulk of the Latino electorate is, and so focusing on those younger voters is a smart idea.

KHALID: But it's also a risky strategy, based on the assumption that Sanders can turn out young voters en masse and then win the support of their parents and grandparents. Currently in polls, Joe Biden has a lead with Latinos over the age of 50. Still, if Sanders could win Latinos, he could put a dent in Biden's path to the nomination. Latinos have a more influential role in the primaries this year. The two biggest states in the country, California and Texas, vote on the first Tuesday in March. And in both states, about 40% of the population is Latino.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITNEY BALLEN'S "GO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.