A mariachi band, a Latino neighbourhood, Spanish language posters and bold immigration pledges: Bernie Sanders was pulling out the stops for Nevada’s Hispanic vote.
Short of dancing salsa, the Democratic candidate did all he could to woo this crucial constituency at a rally on a soccer field in Las Vegas on Sunday night.
He surrounded himself with Latinos on stage and promised to fight for agricultural workers and to shelter families from deportation. It signalled the start of an effort to narrow Hillary Clinton’s wide lead with the state’s Latinos.
There was just one problem: the audience at the Cheyenne sports complex was mostly white.
Latinos largely shunned the call to “feel the Bern”, leaving the crowd to dance stiffly to the Mexican music and a question mark over the campaign’s prospects in Nevada.
“I do notice it’s very white,” said Nathan Rudig, 33, a research analyst, eyeing fellow Sanders supporters. “He’s going to need the Latino and African American vote.”
Leslie Vega, 26, an insurance agent, lamented that she seemed one of the few Latinas to brave a cold desert night to hear the Vermont senator.
“I’m the only member of my family here,” she said. Vega believed Sanders could win the nomination but called the crowd “minuscule”. It numbered about 2,000 – more than what other White House hopefuls routinely muster but low by Sanders’ standards.
He injected numerous immigration references into his standard stump speech, which railed at the “rigged” economy and corruption.
“The truth is that these guys on Wall Street have more wealth and power than you can possibly imagine but there is something that we have that they don’t have and that is what is here tonight – the people.”
In his Brooklyn rasp, Sanders recalled his Polish parents’ struggles as immigrants and called undocumented workers “part of the fabric of America”. On Monday he was due to address a gathering of immigration activists in downtown Las Vegas.
The low-key Latino presence on Sunday underlined the challenge the Democratic socialist faces in mobilising significant Hispanic support.
His call for a “people’s revolution” has electrified progressive supporters across the US and put him ahead in New Hampshire, one of the states which will kick off the election for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But in other states the 74-year-old lags badly with Latinos and African Americans, who prefer Clinton by a wide margin. Analysts say he is sunk unless he can close the gap.
A poll by impreMedia/Latino Decisions to be released on Monday will make sober reading for the Sanders camp. Some 41% of Latino registered voters in 14 battleground states either had not heard of him or had no opinion.
“That’s a big hurdle,” said Sylvia Manzano, of Latino Decisions. “He has a really tough task in terms of reaching voters.” Some 39% viewed Sanders favourably versus 20% who did not. Clinton’s respective numbers were 61% and 27%.
Read more: theguardian.com