Young Latinos could breach Clinton’s firewall

Sen. Bernie Sanders shakes hands during a campaign event in Reno on Saturday. He’s counting on young voters in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
Sen. Bernie Sanders shakes hands during a campaign event in Reno on Saturday. He’s counting on young voters in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. The Associated Press

Hillary Clinton is the youngster in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race, six years junior to Bernie Sanders. But you wouldn’t know that from the youthful voters who have flocked to Sanders and his message of income inequality, a rigged political system and free college education for all.

The enthusiasm for Sanders among young voters might have prompted Clinton to change her narrative, which highlights her experience and her status as the first woman poised to be commander-in-chief.

Instead, she’s relying on two historically underrepresented voter groups – Latinos and African Americans – to defeat the Sanders youth movement in Nevada and South Carolina. Conventional wisdom among political operatives is that Latinos and African Americans will create a minority firewall to push Clinton to the nomination.

Nevada’s population is 28 percent Latino, and a new poll found a dead heat heading into Saturday’s caucuses. Thursday night, MSNBC and Telemundo are co-hosting a town hall in Las Vegas, to be broadcast in English and Spanish.

In South Carolina, African Americans account for 28 percent, and polls show Clinton with a double-digit lead.

While Clinton has an 80 percent favorability rating with African Americans, Latinos could be another story. As a demographic group, Latinos are significantly younger than non-Hispanics. In the most critical blue states, Latinos make up a significant share of those millennial voters who supported Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Things get more complicated in states including Nevada, Arizona and California, where Latinos comprise between 20 and 39 percent of the population. Latinos in these critical states have among the highest poverty rates and fewest vocational job opportunities. In California, they pay some of the highest housing costs in the nation.

The challenges faced by Latinos track perfectly with Sanders’ message – the system is rigged to favor the rich and powerful, income inequality is expanding along with rents and food costs, and if your children can even get into college, good luck paying for it. Those economic issues are oppressive, everyday realities for Latinos – far more urgent than the need to elect the first woman president.

Recently, Clinton’s support level among Latinos has begun to erode. If the Clinton firewall crumbles, the best voters to explain why will be Latinos.

Mike Madrid, a partner at GrassrootsLab, a political consulting and research firm based in Sacramento, advises Republican and Latino candidates. He can be contacted at