Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is seeking to capitalize on the Hispanic support that delivered him a victory in Nevada by boosting turnout in California and Texas on Super Tuesday.
The two states are home to half the country’s Latino population, and the Sanders campaign is growing confident about a strong showing at the polls in both states on March 3 given the Nevada results.
According to an early analysis of Latino precincts in Nevada by the UCLA Latino Politics and Policy Institute (LPPI), Sanders won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in Nevada.
The campaign’s estimates have Sanders taking 73 percent of the Hispanic vote in the state, according to Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sanders.
Sanders delivered his Nevada victory speech before a celebratory crowd in San Antonio, underscoring the determination of the Sanders campaign to take Texas.
Texas and California are like Nevada in that they host a majority Mexican American Latino voter base, which Sanders has proven more than capable of wooing.
But there are also important differences with Nevada.
In California, registered independents must proactively request a presidential primary ballot, adding another step to the process of voting.
In Texas, Hispanic leaders have long complained of complicated voter registration systems and long lines at polling stations that discourage participation, especially among younger and first-time voters.
Sanders may face more difficult challenges in winning over Hispanic voters in Florida, which holds its contest in mid-March.
Many Hispanics in Florida are livid over comments made by Sanders in a Sunday interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that credited Cuba’s former dictator Fidel Castro for improving health care and education in the island nation.
Sanders prefaced his comment with opposition to “the authoritarian nature” of the Castro regime, but he also touched a third rail of Florida — and Latin American refugee — politics. Most Cuban Americans are either victims or direct descendants of victims of the authoritarianism of the Castro regime.
“I’m gonna be very careful with my words here, but I am a Cuban. And my grandparents, because of Fidel Castro, lost everything and had to flee. My grandfather went to jail. My uncle — my grandmother’s brother — went to jail multiple times. Another one spent 10 years in jail. OK, this is a story of Florida, Cubans and Latinos under Fidel Castro,” said Alex Barrio, a Democrat running for a seat in the Florida legislature.
“To say what he said on ‘60 Minutes’ — to try to defend Fidel — is an insult,” he added.
Sanders is likely to be hit over the comments at Tuesday’s presidential debate in South Carolina. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg in particular has a reason to go after Sanders over the issue.
“This is a prime rib for Bloomberg to go after Bernie, because Bloomberg’s best state is probably going to be Florida,” said Barrio.
Two weeks after Florida, Puerto Ricans will head to the polls for their Democratic primary, a contest that will gain relevance assuming no candidate has yet won a majority of pledged delegates.
Puerto Rico’s 59 delegates will be up for grabs March 29, in a race that’s unlike any other in the country.
The Puerto Rico primary was traditionally held in June, and it was a winner-take-all affair that usually came as a front-runner was already headed to the convention.
This year’s primary will award delegates to any candidate who takes more than 15 percent of the vote.
Bloomberg, Biden and Sanders have become regular features on the airwaves in Puerto Rico, including over the widely watched Caribbean Series baseball tournament.
Sanders also has powerful surrogates on the island, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Sanders’s campaign co-chairwoman.
And the Sanders campaign is confident Puerto Ricans will respond to its message of revolution.
“The people of Puerto Rico saw their government pretty much abandon them. So I think they are very, very much in favor of joining the revolution,” said Rocha.