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In Nevada, Latino Activists Go Door-Knocking For Biden

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Canvassing has been a tried and true way for campaigns to get out the vote. But while going door to door isn't as popular during a pandemic, Latino activists working to get out the vote in the swing state of Nevada are doubling down on it. From Reno, Benjamin Payne has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

ENRIQUETA LAYUNE: (Speaking Spanish).

BENJAMIN PAYNE, BYLINE: Enriqueta Layune is waiting to see if anyone will answer the door at this house in a working-class neighborhood of Reno. During a pandemic, people are even more hesitant than usual to talk to canvassers. But finally, a young man comes outside.

LAYUNE: (Speaking Spanish).

JAVIER MOLDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

LAYUNE: (Speaking Spanish).

PAYNE: As a hotel housekeeper, Layune is used to knocking on doors, but this is her first time canvassing in a presidential election. She made the two-hour trek from her home in Sacramento to help her union get out the vote for Joe Biden in the swing state of Nevada - in particular, its swingiest county, Washoe. But Layune isn't taking it for granted that Democrats will repeat their 2016 victory in the Silver State. And this election is personal to her.

LAYUNE: This president - he start to take out the DACA. I say no.

PAYNE: She's talking about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Among those DACA recipients is Layune's adult son, who came to the country when he was a baby. President Trump has tried and so far failed to eliminate the program. Biden says he will protect it.

LAYUNE: A lot of people, they don't know their countries. My son always say, man, I don't know how is to live in Mexico. I never go there.

PAYNE: Layune's canvassing is part of a larger effort by her union's sister organization, the Culinary Workers Union. It represents about 60,000 hospitality workers in Nevada, the majority of whom are Latino. The union began canvassing for Biden in August, well before the Biden campaign itself started knocking on doors in Nevada.

GEOCONDA ARGUELO-KLINE: Right now, you know, the Latino community's been suffering with this pandemic.

PAYNE: Geoconda Arguelo-Kline is the secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union. She says President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has hit Latinos especially hard. In Nevada, Latinos make up about 30% of the population but account for more coronavirus infections than any other group.

ARGUELO-KLINE: We cannot afford another four years for President Trump, and we need to be sure Biden become the president.

PAYNE: But it wasn't Biden who most Latinos in the state caucused for back in February. Bernie Sanders was the most popular candidate. An analysis by UCLA found that of majority-Latino precincts, 70% backed Sanders. This has led to some concern among Democrats that Biden isn't motivating Latino voters. But Adrian Pantoja doesn't see it that way.

ADRIAN PANTOJA: That enthusiasm gap is not there. We see a highly energized Latino population.

PAYNE: Pantoja is an analyst for Latino Decisions, a public opinion firm focused on Latinos. He says that when it comes to getting Latinos to the polls, enthusiasm doesn't matter nearly as much as voter contact.

PANTOJA: People vote because they either have the resources to go to politics or because politics comes to them. And when it comes to Latinos, which is a resource-poor community, politics coming to them is pivotal.

PAYNE: Back on the streets of Reno, I speak with Javier Moldonado, the young man Layune was canvassing. He tells me his vote is going to Biden. When I ask why, he talks less about Biden and more about Trump.

MOLDONADO: He'll say something, but he'll never really think about how he's going to do it. And later on, he just does the opposite of what he actually said he's going to do in general. That just tells me that he doesn't know what he's doing.

PAYNE: As for Layune, herself, she won't be voting at all - not because she doesn't want to, but because she can't. As a green card holder without U.S. citizenship, canvassing is as close as she'll get to the ballot box this election cycle.

For NPR News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Reno. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.