About 10 miles away from Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, far from the glitzy casinos that the city’s visitors flock to, there is a suite in a strip mall full of about two dozen people chatting happily, greeting each other with kisses on cheeks, and enjoying a dinner featuring flautas. A woman passes out bingo cards.
They’re at a debate watch party for Make the Road Action Nevada, the state branch of a national organization that works with immigrants that’s streaming a Spanish version of the debate. The bingo cards — “es como la lotería!” someone explains — are in Spanish on one side, and English on the other. The boxes have subjects in them that could come up on the stage, like “Billionaire”, “DACA/TPS Undocumented”, and “Citizenship for All”, and the players are supposed to check them off when they do. At the end of the debate, they’ll be entered into a rifa, a drawing.
About an hour and a half into the debate, Elvira Dimas is disappointed. “Sadly, they haven’t spoken much about immigration … they haven’t spoken to Latinos,” says the 57-year-old housekeeper in Spanish. “I hoped for that.”
Soon, it’s clear the group as a whole is feeling the same way. Make the Road Action has endorsed presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, but they’ve been listening to the entire conversation. The members are surprised there is so little focus on immigration and their other key issues like minimum wage and climate change, despite their being such a large part of the state’s electorate.
Nevada is the first real test for Democratic presidential candidates on how they’ll fare with minority voters. Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two early states, are overwhelmingly white, and Latinos generally are a strong constituency for Democrats. Nevada, which is nearly 30 percent Latino and the first early primary state with a significant minority population, will caucus this Saturday.
One of the few times a Latino-specific topic comes up on stage is when Sen. Amy Klobuchar is questioned over not having been able to name Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in an interview with Telemundo last week. She was also pressed by former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg over her record on immigration, including voting to confirm a Trump nominee, Kevin McAleenan, as Customs and Border Protection Commissioner in 2018. (He later served as acting Homeland Security Secretary before resigning in late 2019.)
Candidates from the stage also nodded to the importance of investing in Latino entrepreneurship. But overall, discussion about the issues that directly affect Latinos was scarce, even after immigrant groups had gone out of their way to force the conversation ahead of and during Wednesday’s debate. Make the Road had dropped a banner prominently on the Strip earlier in the day, calling for “citizenship for all”. During the debate, protesters interrupted former Vice President Joe Biden while he was speaking from RAICES Action, demanding a “Migrant Justice Platform”.
“There was barely anything. I don’t know why. We expected them to go off since we’re in the state that we’re in,” Martin Macias, a 57-year-old McDonald’s employee, says in Spanish afterwards.
Another woman, Bachata “Diva” Maria, said that she does not expect the Democrats to delve too deeply into issues like immigration because they’re too preoccupied with figuring out how to beat President Donald Trump.
After the debate, the organization’s leadership announces that Make the Road Action will host a caucus training on Thursday. Someone asks if they’re going to do something to protest Trump’s Las Vegas rally on Friday, since they won’t meet again before then.
As for the game, only person calls “Bingo!” throughout the entire debate, but they all submit their pieces of paper for the rifa. It appears only luck will determine whether their issues get discussed on the national debate stage.