Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is courting the growing Latino population in Western swing states. His strategy includes relying on local groups, such as Nevada's Latinas for McCain, to help get out the vote.
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Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy

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Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy

Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy

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Part of John McCain's strategy this fall is going after swing states in the West, including New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. To do that, he'll likely have to attract a solid number of Latino voters, which means the Arizona senator will be relying heavily on local leaders in the Latino community.

As part of our series on the Latino vote, NPR's David Greene went to Nevada to check out the McCain ground operation.

DAVID GREENE: When it comes to the Latino vote, John McCain is managing his expectations. His campaign says he'd be more than satisfied if he can match President Bush in 2004. Mr. Bush carried about 40 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. But individual states can be more important than any national number, and in Nevada this year, John McCain was out with radio ads in Spanish in early June, just as the Democrats were settling on a nominee.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

GREENE: McCain's ads in Nevada have focused on shared values, and they've touched on Latinos' economic concerns. McCain himself landed in Nevada a few weeks ago to open his state headquarters outside Las Vegas.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Hi, everybody.

GREENE: He told a room full of volunteers that he'll give as many speeches as he can, but he said the election in Nevada will come down to what people were doing for him on the ground.

Sen. McCAIN: There's no way that I can ever thank you enough for the hours that you'll put in on behalf of the future of this nation.

GREENE: One group planning to put in a lot of hours is Latinas for McCain. Seven of these women agreed to meet me for breakfast to talk about their plans for this fall. We ate at this posh country club with a hazy view of the Vegas Strip in the distance.

Ms. TIBI ELLIS (National Ambassador, Latinas for McCain): We see the Strip, so we can see the mountains. It's a really nice area because it seems to be a little bit on a hillside, so we can see the whole city.

GREENE: That's Tibi Ellis. She is the national ambassador for the group. She's honest about what she's up against. She says Democrats have shown they can register new Latino voters in huge numbers, but Tibi insists the Democrats don't worry her.

Ms. ELLIS: Historically, they get them registered, but they don't get them out to vote. We get them out to vote.

GREENE: To get Latinos out to vote, the McCain campaign hopes to talk a lot about family values and issues like abortion. It's a pitch that will be made on the ground by people such as Teresa Ramirez. She was sitting across from me at breakfast.

Ms. TERESA RAMIREZ (Latinas for McCain): I'm ready to help Mr. McCain with anything I can do with the Spanish community. Like I said, I have a salon and day spa, and I have more chance to talk to a lot of our clients.

GREENE: And Teresa says one thing she'll discuss with her clients is how Barack Obama's Movement for Change scares her. She says it reminds her of Latin American leaders who called for change, then took their countries down dangerous paths. Teresa points to Venezuela. She also brings up Cuba.

Ms. RAMIREZ: Look at what happened with Fidel Castro. They wanted change. Look what change they do - terrible change.

GREENE: As Teresa is working her day spa customers in the city, a man named Sal Ledesma will be doing his part for McCain way out in the desert.

Mr. SAL LEDESMA (Member, Republican National Hispanic Assembly): Okay, well David, welcome to Pahrump. This is the center and the heart of Pahrump.

GREENE: Pahrump, Nevada, is an hour west of Vegas. It's home to about 40,000 people and a handful of casinos. Sal met me at the Harvest Cafe, inside the Nugget Casino. He's a fan of the food.

Mr. LEDESMA: It's open 24/7. In fact, if you come early enough, 11:00 to 8:00 AM, breakfast is $1.99, and steak and eggs is $2.99.

GREENE: Sal is a longtime Republican and a member of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. Sal's starting a chapter for the group in Pahrump, and he's not waiting for the McCain campaign or the Republican Party to get him the voting data he needs. Sal just went to the county and spent 228 bucks on a CD. It has the names and addresses of registered voters in Nye County, the vast swath of Nevada where he lives.

Mr. LEDESMA: I could have paid just $228 or more and sat down with McCain and had lunch yesterday.

GREENE: But the CD, he said, is far more valuable.

Mr. LEDESMA: Well, this one is in Excel, and you can actually scroll through.

GREENE: The last time the Republican Party was so good at kind of churning out these lists and getting people on the ground, you're not confident that would've been happening this time?

Mr. LEDESMA: Well, I'm here. I've been trying to get the information. I don't got it yet. I do have it, but I got it a different way.

GREENE: Got CD, will travel. Sal says he's ready to hunt for McCain votes around rural Nevada, which often means driving hours before finding anything close to a town. But these rural towns are where Republicans need to win big.

For one thing, Sal says he has his message ready for Latino women who backed Hillary Clinton. Sal says he'll tell them that Barack Obama stole their dream for a female president, and he'll say McCain shares their commitment to traditional family values and their opposition to abortion.

Mr. LEDESMA: And I guarantee you, as I go into the communities and give classes to people, I'll make sure they know the difference. You had your chance, and you lost it. You know, do you want to support the candidate that took away your chance at the White House, or do you want to support a candidate that has more qualifications to support the views you believe in?

GREENE: As Sal finished up his sandwich in this little casino, he said he couldn't wait to get out and start knocking on some doors. David Greene, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: As part of his report, you just heard David speak with a group called Latinas for McCain. He tells us these women had a lot more to say about why they're backing John McCain and not Barack Obama, and he'll have more on the group later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

To read and listen to other stories in NPR's ongoing series on Hispanic voters, go to's election 2008 page.

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