Republicans May Have Inadvertently Rallied Nevada Hispanics to Reid

Posted October 19, 2010 at 5:29pm

Updated: 7:07 p.m.

For nearly a year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been desperately trying to devise a way to energize Hispanic voters in his quest to secure a fifth term, and his GOP opponent and a GOP-linked group may have just handed him two.

Democrats and Hispanic groups said Tuesday that they believe Republicans have inadvertently delivered themselves a double whammy that could increase Latino voter turnout in Nevada, where public polls have shown Reid tied for months with his tea party-influenced challenger, Sharron Angle.

“Sharron Angle and this [GOP group] have made immigration a central issue for Latino voters in Nevada,” said Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, a Latino activist group. “That is bad news for Sharron Angle. I think it’s a game changer.”

Angle’s campaign has been running an advertisement featuring ominous depictions of Latinos crossing the U.S. border. But she recently told a group of Hispanic high schoolers in Las Vegas that the ad might not include Hispanics after all. To prove her point, she told the Rancho High School Hispanic Union that she could not be sure all of its members are Hispanic. “Some of you look a little more Asian to me,” she said.

Then a group called Latinos for Reform, which is run by a Republican activist, announced Monday that it is poised to run an ad encouraging Hispanic voters in Nevada to protest Democrats’ inaction on comprehensive immigration legislation by not voting. Under pressure from Hispanic leaders, Univision TV announced Tuesday that it would not run the ad. Telemundo told the Associated Press that it would not broadcast the TV spot if approached.

Almost every local newscast in both Las Vegas and Reno has prominently followed the two stories in recent days, and Spanish-language outlets have similarly beat the drum, with stories running locally and nationally on Univision and Telemundo, as well as on Hispanic talk radio. Hispanic leaders in Nevada held a news conference Monday evening denouncing the GOP-sponsored ad, which helped to spur news coverage.

But Nevada Republican Party spokesman Jahan Wilcox said that with unemployment among Hispanic Nevadans at more than 20 percent, “Hispanics and all Nevadans know that the best way to get Nevada moving again is to fire Harry Reid. … It’s time for a change, and the best person for change is Sharron Angle and her pro-jobs agenda.”

But Sharry said he thinks the combination of both controversies “is going to mobilize Latino voters in ways that heretofore have proven somewhat challenging” for Reid and Democrats in the state.

Reid has tried to galvanize Hispanic activists, first by promising to deal with an immigration overhaul this year. But after South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Republican negotiator, began to back away from any bipartisan deals this summer, Reid blamed the GOP for preventing him from bringing the issue to the Senate floor.

Right before Congress adjourned for the election, Reid also attempted to tee up a vote on the DREAM Act as part of his planned debate on the Defense authorization bill. Republicans blocked the Senate from moving to the authorization for a variety of reasons, including the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for illegal-immigrant children who join the military or go to college.

The DREAM Act gambit may have worked somewhat, given that Latino Decisions, a Hispanic polling firm, has found a steady uptick in Latino voter enthusiasm nationwide over the past few weeks. Latino Decisions’ most recent poll from Oct. 11 showed that 50 percent of registered Latino voters, including those in Nevada, said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting in November, up from 40 percent in a similar poll released Sept. 27.

Regardless, Democrats in general are energized by Angle’s gaffes and the feeling that the race could be turning in their favor at a crucial moment. One Democratic operative said Angle’s comments to the high school students could be this campaign’s “Macaca moment,” a reference to former Sen. George Allen’s use of a racial insult during the Virginia Republican’s failed 2006 campaign.

Sensing momentum, Reid has come out strongly against Angle, after being criticized last week for not acting aggressively enough toward her views during a nationally televised debate.

“Her mouth does not have the ability to speak the truth,” Reid said Monday, referring to her statement that her ad was not necessarily depicting Hispanics.

But Angle’s campaign rejected the notion that she was confusing different ethnicities of people. “Sharron is making the point that this country is a melting pot, and you cannot judge people based on stereotypes or the way they look,” Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen told CNN.

But the issue may not be going away, given that national cable news outlets have picked up on the story and national Hispanic leaders have begun to denounce what they say is anti-Hispanic sentiment in the Nevada race.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who campaigned for Reid this weekend in Nevada, said both Angle and the GOP-sponsored ad make it obvious for whom Hispanics should vote.

“She is using scary images of brown people in her TV ads and wants to criminalize immigrants,” Gutierrez said in a statement provided to Roll Call. “Then she turns around and claims the people in the ad might be Asian or may be from Canada? Come on, the choice in Nevada could not be clearer.”