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Nevada is a crucial state for the midterm elections

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are a handful of states that could end up tipping the balance of power in the U.S. Congress. Nevada is one of them. Democratic U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto faces Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, who's backed by former President Donald Trump. Three other congressional Democrats in the state are facing stiff challenges. So is Nevada's Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak. Our co-host A Martínez went to Nevada to talk with voters who could make the difference.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All these contests could be heavily swayed by Latino and working class voters in Clark County, Nevada's most populous jurisdiction, where 4 out of every 5 Latinos in the state live. That's why we went there to speak with some of those workers and the Democrats and Republicans racing to win their support.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

MARTÍNEZ: The battle for Las Vegas' working class is playing out here in Sunrise Manor, a majority Latino neighborhood on the city's east side.

HELDER TOSTE: Hi there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello.

TOSTE: Is this the Reyes (ph) family?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

TOSTE: Is Daridez (ph) home?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: No, no. He's not here. No.

TOSTE: No. I have information for him, actually, for the upcoming election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK.

TOSTE: We're just talking to Latino voters about participating.

MARTÍNEZ: Helder Toste is with Operacion Vamos. It's the National Republican Senatorial Committee's get-out-the-vote campaign targeting Latinos.

TOSTE: Nevada's sort of like the new Florida in that it's a state that becomes more diverse but is also voting more Republican.

MARTÍNEZ: He says there's a growing number of Republican voters in this neighborhood.

TOSTE: And so we think if we keep up the pressure, we're going to be able to flip the state.

MARTÍNEZ: Operation Vamos has reached out to more than 300,000 voters in Nevada since April, according to Toste. There are more than 2 million registered voters in the state, and their goal is to drive support for GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRAVEL CRUNCHING)

MARTÍNEZ: Toste walks up to front doors holding Republican literature in Spanish and English. He says many people in this neighborhood work long hours on construction sites or in the glitzy hotels and casinos lining the Las Vegas strip. On one street, he spots two young Latino men sitting in folding chairs on a driveway.

TOSTE: (Speaking Spanish).

GUILLERMO PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

TOSTE: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: He meets Guillermo Perez (ph), who's unwinding with his cousin after work. Perez says he doesn't follow politics closely, but his uncle supports Nevada's Democratic governor. He says his uncle told him the Republican challenger, Joe Lombardo, would be bad for Latinos.

PEREZ: It won't go good for, you know, for us, the Hispanics and, you know, our people, you know, like immigrants and stuff like that. You know about Joe Arpaio from Arizona.

TOSTE: Yeah. I mean...

PEREZ: You know, he's kind of the same guy.

TOSTE: I don't think...

PEREZ: Well, from what I heard, he's kind of like the same guy as him.

MARTÍNEZ: Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona. He was convicted in 2017 for willfully defying court orders to stop detaining undocumented immigrants and racially profiling Latino drivers, but was later pardoned by the Trump administration. Despite what he's heard about Lombardo, Perez says he does not identify as a Democrat. His friends say good things about Trump, and his mom votes Republican. Lately, though, he's been thinking about getting more civically engaged.

PEREZ: I have never even voted. But this year, I think me and my lady are also willing to vote, you know, because we're at that age where it's like, you know, quit playing around. We need to look out for our communities and stuff and see what's good for our children, you know, because we do have kids now.

MARTÍNEZ: Toste says he can't be sure if Perez will vote his way, but he thinks just having a conversation is important.

TOSTE: Part of it is like the exchange of ideas, you know, offering a different perspective. And part of it is, you know, at the end of the day, you never know.

MARTÍNEZ: He says a voter who seems on the fence or disengaged right now could easily vote Republican later.

TOSTE: If we can get 20% of the vote in this precinct, which is normally very Democrat, that's great. If I get 25, what's happening? We're taking votes directly from the Democrat side because that's who they've been voting for.

MARTÍNEZ: Not far from Sunrise Manor, Democrats are working just as diligently to keep Nevada blue.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We win.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: We win.

MARTÍNEZ: This is a packed auditorium at the headquarters of the local Culinary Workers Union. Dozens of people who work in Las Vegas' hospitality industry are gathered here for a meeting that feels like a political rally. The union is a powerful turnout machine for Democrats.

TED PAPPAGEORGE: Working-class people are dealing with inflation. We got these giant oil companies that are price-gouging us with high prices of gas at the pump.

MARTÍNEZ: Ted Pappageorge is its secretary-treasurer.

PAPPAGEORGE: We know Republicans aren't going to take on big oil. Republicans aren't going to take on Wall Street landlords. They're in love with big oil. They're in love with Wall Street landlords.

MARTÍNEZ: After the meeting, Pappageorge sits down with us for an interview in a back room. He says Culinary Workers Union members have been hitting Las Vegas neighborhoods hard, collecting signatures for a petition in support of rent control.

PAPPAGEORGE: At the top of that petition, our voters will see, and our members, Governor Sisolak, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. They've been in this fight from the beginning. And when we have those kind of conversations, the voters - we're seeing the energy, and we lay out a plan to win.

MARTÍNEZ: A big part of that plan is getting some face time with voters.

LINDA HUNT: Hi, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Good. How are you?

HUNT: I'm great. My name is Linda Hunt with the Culinary Union.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Hi.

MARTÍNEZ: Linda Hunt works in food service at a local casino. She's taken a leave of absence from her job to knock on doors for the union. Canvassing the city's north side, she talks to voters about economic policies that Nevada Democrats supported, such as pandemic unemployment benefits.

HUNT: And they also made it possible for us to get that $600 a week.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK. Yes.

HUNT: Yes, unemployment. That was awesome.

MARTÍNEZ: She leaves this voter with some Democratic Party literature and says it was a productive chat.

HUNT: I feel awesome. You know, anytime you hear a voter say that they support the cause, that's what we're here for, to stay blue up and down the ballot.

MARTÍNEZ: Hunt also meets people she can't reach. Some are too busy working. Others don't see the point in voting, or they just don't agree with her, like Yolanda Palacios (ph). She spoke with us right after union members made their pitch on her doorstep.

YOLANDA PALACIOS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTÍNEZ: Palacios says she doesn't like the liberalism of Democrats. She says she's conservative, and that's what guides her vote. Democrats say they are concerned about Latino voters supporting Republicans, but they're even more concerned about low turnout.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LE FREAK")

CHIC: (Singing) Ah, freak out.

MARTÍNEZ: In north Las Vegas, music is blasting at the Pearson Community Center. It's an early voting site in a largely Black neighborhood. Jon Ralston meets us there. He's a journalist who's covered Nevada politics for nearly 40 years. He says Democrats have managed to hold on to power in the state since 2016, but their dominance is not guaranteed.

JON RALSTON: The real problems the Democrats have here are the same they have all over the country, which is Joe Biden's numbers are terrible. Even in Democratic polls, they are under 40% in Nevada. And when you have a U.S. senator who's a Democrat, it's easy to tie her to Joe Biden and the problems that people see the Democrats having caused.

MARTÍNEZ: And Republicans are capitalizing on that. Ralston says the late Senator Harry Reid helped harness the voting power of Clark County's Latinos.

RALSTON: He used to go to a Hispanic meeting and say, it's great that you're all here, but none of you are registered. And even the ones that are don't vote. You need to change that.

MARTÍNEZ: The Republican and Democratic candidates in Nevada's U.S. Senate contest appear locked in a tight race. Representatives from both parties say they plan to keep knocking on doors all the way through Election Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.