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NORTH LAS VEGAS — Melissa Morales knows the repeated door knocks can get annoying, but she doesn’t really care. With her fellow Democrats facing tough headwinds and white voters showing a higher interest in this November’s elections than non-white voters in polls, the Latino voters she and her team are trying to fire up can handle another ring at the bell.
“Unless you’re a hardcore Republican Trump voter who told us you never want to see us again, we’re probably going to be back on your door again,” Morales says as she eats her huevos con chorizoIn a Mexican restaurant known for large celebrations and well-seasoned seafood. “This is personal for us.”
Morales is the founder, executive director, and 34-year old executive director of Somos Votantes. She is currently in Nevada to visit her 10 members, which are expected to more than double before the end of this month. So far, they’ve hit 100,000 doors in three key states this cycle—Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada—and are on pace to reach 1 million by Election Day. She coordinated $33 million in donations between the non-profit and the political action committee last cycle to educate voters. Morales has not shown any signs of slowing down on donors or voters this cycle. Her organization is also working to integrate social services, such as free citizenship renewals and assistance with DACA renewals, into their events.
Nevada is the effort’s highest priority, both because the Latino community holds about 20% of the electoral power and because the first and only Latina sent to the Senate, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, is on the ballot this fall. Expect the state to be tight, and there is a fiercely contested Senate race between Cortez Mato and Republican Adam Laxalt. 25 million has been spent by the candidates, with over 80% coming directly from Cortez Massto. Outside organizations have already spent over $21 million, so fall TV ads time is becoming more scarce than ever.
(For the record, Cortez Masto has called for a federal ban on efforts from non-profit groups like Somos Votantes that don’t disclose donations and filter cash to politics, and Laxalt’s campaign has highlighted other groups flooding the state with so-called dark money on Cortez Masto’s behalf.)
Strategists in both parties say the airwaves won’t be where the Nevada Senate race will be won. Rather, the determinant will be activity at the margins, including highly targeted digital ads, efforts by groups like the state’s influential Culinary Union, and, yes, volunteers sweating through their clothes as they knock on thousands of doors.
Morales drove to the corner, with the sun shining brightly and temperatures around 100°F. Morales met up with other staff members who were enjoying their Tuesday afternoon in a neighborhood with Spanish-speaking residents. Although the bilingual pitch took a lot of practice, most people did not respond to their calls. That is perfectly normal in such complicated canvasses. After no one responded, canvassers left behind a PAC funded card which made both the case in favor of Cortez Masto and the one against Laxalt.
Somos organizer Victor Villanueva dutifully went to almost every door on one street, urging those who could vote to do so and those who couldn’t to urge their families to support Cortez Masto’s re-election. He’s looking for recent immigrants, potential voters who are just turning 18, and families hit by the high price of back-to-school supplies. If they’re game, he also leaves behind a yard sign and encourages supporters to record a video message explaining what will win their vote.
“We want someone who will help us get our share,” says Maria de Jesús Perez, a 46-year-old resident on Villanueva’s route who isn’t a voter but who has family members who are. A resident in the United States for the last 18 years, she posed with a Cortez Masto yard sign for a photo, and said she’d tell her family members that the Senator is for Latinos.
Up the block, 54-year-old Liviera Blanco told Villanueva she wasn’t sure if she was even eligible to vote. Villanueva took the information down and promised to do a follow-up on the full-time caregiver. The woman, who was holding a Cortez-Masto sign in her yard, explained to Villanueva why Washington needed additional support for special-needs children.
Most conversations before August 1 involved listening to the voters to find out what their desired leaders were doing. However, these scripts have been transformed into persuasive chats. Nevada implemented a permanent ballot-mailing system last year. These will be sent soon, with the primary elections behind us. The airwaves are already clogged with ads, and social media is a choose-your-own-adventure reality. In other words, it’s Go Time for Morales’ team.
Morales observes that the polling is the same as all others and can see the danger signs for Democrats. While Hispanic and Latino voters have been roughly consistent with the broader disapproval numbers staring down Biden, the interest in this fall’s elections is decidedly more muted for them and Republicans have been making in-roads with that demographic. Gallup found a gap of 12 points between non-white and white voters’ interest in the election. The difference is even greater when it concerns enthusiasm. For Democrats, the fact that 60% of voters are not white indicates a greater concern. Put simply: Democrats can’t win if only white people vote and, right now, they seem to be the ones eager to show up in November.
Morales will be living out of her car in an airport cafeteria for three months while she tries to convince voters in Arizona and Nevada that Latinos are at stake if Republicans get the banner night they expect. Morales isn’t ready to cede anything, but she knows a fight is coming. “It’s always closer than it should be,” she says. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be competitive.”
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