HENDERSON, NV — In the lead-up to Nevada’s notoriously hard-to-predict caucuses, Ted Cruz and radio personality Glenn Beck are taking great pains to remind voters that that the Texas senator and presidential hopeful is, in fact, Latino.
“I love how the media talks about Rubio and his ‘beautiful Cuban family,’ when Ted Cruz is standing right there,” Beck complained at a rally in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson on Sunday night. “Poor Ted needs to roll a cigar on his thigh for people to remember that he’s also Cuban.”
When Cruz himself took the stage nearly 40 minutes later to deafening cheers, he continued the theme, describing in detail how his father fought in the Cuban Revolution, survived imprisonment and torture, and came to the U.S. seeking a better life.
“He was 18 years old, couldn’t speak English, and has $100 sewn into his underwear,” Cruz told the rapt crowd. “He got a job washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour. He paid his way through school, and went on to start a small business.”
At the same moment, across town, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was telling his own parents’ coming-to-America story. Describing how they found work in local casinos when he was a child — his father as a bartender and his mother as a maid — he said, “Las Vegas for us will always be a place of new beginning and second chances.”
The Nevada audiences at Cruz’s and Rubio’s events have been overwhelmingly white, but the few Latino attendees told ThinkProgress the candidates are resonating with them.
“I think [Rubio is] a big supporter of the Hispanic community because of his background,” said Rocio Estrella, who has lived in Las Vegas for 24 years. “Out of all the candidates running in the Republican Party, he’s the one that’s going to give immigrants more of a chance to make their American dream, just like his parents did for him. I know he’s not going to separate families.”
Rodrigo Sanchez, an Air Force veteran whose parents and grandparents immigrated from Costa Rica, agreed. “When I see Marco, I see myself,” he said. “Like him, I’ve dealt with the circumstances of struggle, and because of my parents I’ve been able to get to a better place. He’s been able to live his version of the American dream, becoming a senator and now running for president. And he knows the American dream is now under attack.”
The Las Vegas rally was Sanchez’s third Rubio event. He told ThinkProgress that not only does he back the candidate’s plan to cut corporate taxes and get rid of environmental regulations, he thinks Rubio’s family background makes him more open to immigration reform.
“You have people who have been trying to come to this country legally and they’re still waiting in line,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for us to deport everyone. And the ones who are here who want to contribute and work hard, I think he has a plan to get them legal permanent residency and potentially to become a citizen.”
Rubio does not have such a plan. In fact, the freshman senator who once co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill now calls such a plan impossible. He has promised, if elected, to never create a path to citizenship, and to deport the DREAMers currently protected by an executive order. Cruz holds similar views, and has added that he would hire Donald Trump to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Neither has forcefully condemned Trump characterizing Latino immigrants as bearers of crime, drugs, and disease.
Progressive Latinos in Nevada say Cruz and Trump are not only alienating voters of color in the state, they’re betraying them.
“Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz ended up being traitors to our community,” said Astrid Silva, a Las Vegas DREAMer who recently joined Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “It’s unfortunate they are Latinos. They’re trying so hard to fit in with the Republican Party that they’re turning their backs on all of our families.”
Another Nevada DREAMer, Erika Castro, added, “Donald Trump has a hateful message, but he’s just a lot of talk. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have actually worked against our families. My brother, who is a U.S. citizen, is watching and listening. And those of us who are committed to becoming citizens, us future voters, we are listening to what they’re saying.”
Emily Zamora, whose mother immigrated from Brazil, told ThinkProgress she feels Cruz and Rubio take the Latino vote for granted. “They think they have our vote, but they don’t,” she said. “They are very successful now, but they should remember that they were struggling immigrant families once.”
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Candidates and pundits on both ends of the political spectrum have stressed that Latinos are not single-issue voters, and will make a decision in November based on more than immigration policy alone. But Zamora and other Las Vegas Latinos told ThinkProgress that Rubio and Cruz are similarly out of line with their community on a range of issues.
“We’re concerned about student loan debt, access to health care, making a livable wage, and passing immigration reform,” she said. “If these candidates aren’t going to support these issues then they are not going to be our president.”
Polling supports Zamora’s prediction. Latino voters nationwide overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage, which Cruz and Rubio do not support, and a strong majority support the Affordable Care Act, which Cruz and Rubio have promised to repeal. Nearly three quarters also want national standards to prevent global warming and climate change, which Cruz and Rubio have vowed to dismantle.
Nearly 30 percent of Nevada residents are Latino, including 17 percent of eligible voters, according to Pew. While the vast majority are Democrats — President Obama won 70 percent of the Latino vote in 2012 — conservative Latinos tell ThinkProgress they hope to have a major impact in Tuesday’s caucuses.
“Just because I’m Hispanic people assume I’m going to vote Democrat. Far from it,” Sanchez said. “I definitely feel that stigma, but I believe there’s a lot of conservatives in the Latino community who believe in family values and the kind of thought process of people like Marco Rubio.”
Henderson resident Rita Bonilla, who identifies as an American of Mexican ancestry, says she also feels a stigma for backing Republicans, but is so passionately opposed to immigration reform that she doesn’t care.
“Mexico is not sending doctors and lawyers here,” she said. “It is dragging our country down, because we are paying to bring the children of these people up to the level of our own American children. They come over here and have four or five children, which we call anchor babies.”
Bonilla, who has volunteered with armed vigilante Minutemen on the U.S.-Mexico border, told ThinkProgress she was supporting Trump before Cruz won her over on Sunday night. “I can sense and feel that he is a man who is dedicated to this country, and he feels the way that I feel: that we are losing our country,” she said.
Yet she lamented that she was one of just a small handful of Latinos among the hundreds of people attending the rally. “Why aren’t there any minorities here? Because the minorities want everything for free. That’s how the Democrats get them. Free phones, free food stamps, free medical [care]. They’re scared to death that Senator Cruz will take that away.”