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Friday September 18th, 2020 4:49PM

On Western swing, Trump aims to court pivotal Latino voters

By The Associated Press
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Donald Trump on Sunday aimed for further inroads with Latinos who could prove vital in closely contested states that could determine the White House race, promoting economic gains they made before the coronavirus pandemic.

Though Trump has made scores of inflammatory and derogatory comments about Latinos, his campaign is growing confident that he has won some support that could help in Florida, Arizona and Nevada, his target this weekend. He hosted a roundtable discussion with Latinos in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon before a nighttime rally, his first indoors since one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was blamed for a surge of coronavirus infections.

Winning support from Latinos has been an uphill climb for Trump, whose hard-line immigration policies and sometimes virulent depiction of immigrants have alienated many Hispanics.

In the first moments of his 2016 campaign, he declared that many Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” He has drawn criticism for his tepid response to a hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico, his polices to separate children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border and his efforts to dismantle an Obama-era program that allows young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S.

“They understand the situation at the southern border. They want people to come in, and so do I, but they want them to do it legally," Trump told a small group of supporters in Las Vegas. “While Joe Biden has failed, I have delivered for Latinos."

There is increasing concern about Democrats that their nominee, the former vice president, has not done enough to court Latino voters. His running mate, California Sen. Sen. Kamala Harris, did little to sway Florida’s booming and politically influential Latino population during a stop there this past week. Biden has not set foot in Arizona or Nevada during the general election campaign, which he has mainly conducted virtually because of the coronavirus.

Trump tailored his pitch to Latinos on Sunday, noting their low unemployment rate before COVID-19 reached American shores and affirming his anti-abortion stance. He again hammered home his recent push on law and order, saying that recent violence in American cities endangered Latinos.

“Sleepy Joe Biden has spent 47 years in politics being terrible to Hispanics. Now he is relying on Castro lover Bernie Sanders to help him out,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “That won’t work!”

Sanders, a Vermont senator who ran against Biden in the primary but later endorsed his rival, took heat earlier this year for a television interview in which he lauded Fidel Castro for a literacy program and asserted that it was “unfair to simply say everything is bad” in Cuba.

Estimates from the Pew Research Center and AP VoteCast show that about 3 in 10 Latino voters supported Trump in 2016 and Republican candidates in 2018. That’s also consistent with long-term trends in party identification among Latino voters, according to Pew.

Like Arizona and Nevada, Florida has a heterogeneous population, but Hispanic voters there tend to be somewhat more Republican-leaning than Hispanic voters nationwide because of the state’s Cuban American population. A recent Florida poll shows support from Latinos about even between Trump and Biden.

Nationally, little public polling is available to measure the opinions of Latino voters this year and whether they differ from four years ago. The Biden campaign has consistently denounced Trump’s policies as hurting Latino immigrants and workers.

The push for Latinos comes during a Western swing in which Trump has looked to expand his paths to victory while unleashing a torrent of unsubstantiated claims that Democrats were trying to steal the election.

After holding a pair of fundraisers in the Las Vegas area on Sunday, expected to raise $18 million, Trump will hold an indoor rally in the warehouse of a manufacturing plant in nearby Henderson. After abandoning rallies for months when the pandemic first arrived, Trump scheduled one in June in a Tulsa arena that featured seas of empty seats and, per local officials, prompted a spike in cases.

Recognizing that many supporters were uncomfortable to gather in a large group indoors, where the virus spreads more easily, the Trump campaign shifted to holding smaller, outdoor rallies, usually at airplane hangers. But those rallies have grown in size in recent weeks, with little social distancing and few masks.

And on Sunday, they return indoors, in part as a nod to the Las Vegas heat. Temperature checks will given to all upon entrance while masks will be encouraged but not mandated.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States," campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has limited in-person gatherings indoors and outdoors to 50 people since May, a recommendation based on White House reopening guidelines. Trump defied local authorities the night before by holding a rally in tiny Minden after his initial plan for such a gathering in Reno was stopped out of concern it would have violated coronavirus health guidelines.

In 90-plus minutes of grievances and attacks before supporters, Trump charged that the state’s Democratic governor tried to block him and repeated his false claim that mail-in ballots would taint the election result.

Trump narrowly lost Nevada in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and the state has trended further toward the Democrats in the past decade. But Trump’s campaign has built its ground game to turn out voter while Democrats, by contrast, have largely relied on virtual campaign efforts during the pandemic, save for the casino workers’ Culinary Union, which has sent workers door to door.

After Nevada, Trump planned to visit California on Monday for a briefing on the devastating wildfires racing through the region. He has largely been silent on the blazes. Afterward, he'll head to Arizona, a state his campaign fears may be slipping away, where he will host another event aimed at Latinos.

___

Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

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