U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio smiles as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks to reporters before a campaign event in Anderson, South Carolina February 18, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio smiles as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks to reporters before a campaign event in Anderson, South Carolina February 18, 2016.

Credit:

Reuters/Chris Keane

Much of the media attention is focused on South Carolina right now heading into Saturday's Republican primary there. But don't forget Nevada. The state will be the first voting this campaign season with a sizeable Latino population: 28 percent.

Last time around, 80 percent of Latinos in Nevada voted for Barack Obama in the general election. Nationally, 75 percent chose Obama over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and many argue the Latino vote delivered Obama the presidency.

Fernando Romero, president of the organization Hispanics in Politics, Nevada’s oldest political organization for Latinos, said Latinos in his state care about the same issues as everyone — the economy, healthcare, and schools — but comprehensive immigration reform remains the key voting issue.

"People (candidates) talk about it and then they stop after the elections," said Romero. "This time, I think the young people aren't going to accept that."

Nevada's Democrats will caucus this weekend and Republican voters will select their presidential candidate next Tuesday.

Romero’s group is nonpartisan, but speaking as an individual, he said he had been a registered Democrat for 48 years. No longer.

“I’ve been hoping that good things happen. I’m not going to slam President Obama, I think he’s doing a good job and has done a good job, however, he made a promise to our community eight years ago that he never delivered,” said Romero, referring to Obama’s pledge to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Romero acknowledges the uphill battle the president faced with Republicans controlling first one then both houses of Congress. But Romero faults the president for not working on the issue when Democrats held majorities in Congress early in his presidency. Romero is wary of falling for the same bait.

“Nine months ago when Hillary Clinton made basically the same promise, ‘I’m going to deliver (immigration reform) within my first 100 days, I went to the election department and I changed my party affiliation.”

Romero might be an outlier though — Latinos in Nevada still seem to heavily favor the Democratic presidential candidates, and Hillary Clinton has held a sizeable advantage. But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has sharply increased his ground game among the state's Latinos.

“The in-roads are there,” said Romero referring to the Sanders campaign. “He (Sanders) is really having a number of young Latino activists being a part of his campaign.”

But what about the Republicans? What members of the GOP might inspire Latinos in Nevada?

“Marco Rubio,” said Romero. “He and (Ohio Governor) John Kasich are the ones that are talking more positively about immigration reform.”

Rubio also spent part of his childhood in Nevada where his parents held union jobs.

Romero said the other Latino running for president, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is toxic to Hispanics across the nation.

“Ted Cruz does not appeal to Latinos in the west, or the east, or the south, or the north,” said Romero. “He has already said, with his eyes looking right into the camera, ‘If you came here without the proper documentation, you will never be a United States citizen.’ And that is harsh.”

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