LAS VEGAS, N.V. – Voters have less than a week left to decide which party controls Congress, and the balance of power in the Senate could come down to just a few key states like Nevada where the Senate race is looking like a toss up.
Political experts say Hispanic voters could be the deciding factor.
Janet Gonzalez Vasquez has lived in Las Vegas for 17 years and became a U.S. citizen last year.
This will be her first time voting.
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“I want to make sure that Hispanic people understand it’s very important (to vote),” she said while attending a Democratic Get Out The Vote block party at a Las Vegas Mexican restaurant.
The event featured Democratic candidates in Nevada including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, both running for re-election.
“Su voto es su voz,” some of the candidates announced. In English, that means “your vote is your voice.”
People who attended could enjoy the tunes of a Mariachi band and a performance from dancers dressed in traditional Mexican dancing dresses.
Mariachi bands have been a hallmark of some Senate campaign events.
Cortez Masto, a Democrat, is facing former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, and a recent Times/Siena poll of likely voters shows the two are tied.
Laxalt hosts some events under the campaign’s Latinos Con Laxalt Coalition, and closed out Hispanic Heritage month in mid-October with a fiesta, which also featured a Mariachi band and homemade tacos.
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He has released ads in Spanish and, at the beginning of the year, opened a Hispanic community center.
Opening Hispanic community centers for races across the country has been “very, very productive for our party and our campaigns all over the United States,” said Jaime Florez, the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic communications director.
Florez immigrated to the United States from Colombia in 1999.
He and many other Republicans have preached that a “red wave” or a “red tsunami” is coming.
“The Hispanic vote is going to be the decisive factor in every single election all over the country,” Florez said. “President Reagan used to say that Latinos are Republicans. They just don’t know,” Florez said.
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One Hispanic voter at Laxalt’s fiesta on Oct. 13 was a Democrat all her life, but now she votes Republican.
“I saw the hypocrisy,” Christina Aguilar Ramos said. “I saw that the Latino community was not being heard. We were being taken advantage of.”
Her siblings and 80-year-old mother have also switched parties.
“We’re talking about an 80-year-old woman who used to march with Cesar Chavez. We used to boycott grapes as a child, and we believed in the Democratic Party,” Ramos said. “We haven’t changed our values. We have not changed our morality. We have not changed our faith. The Democratic Party has changed, and we cannot identify with them anymore.”
At a rally with former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who recently denounced the Democratic Party, Laxalt told Fox News: “They [Latinos] understand we need a change, and that’s why we’re doing so well with the Hispanic community right now.”
Fox News reached out to Sen. Cortez Masto’s campaign multiple times by email and phone but did not get a response.
As outreach efforts targeting the Hispanic community have increased, some say more and more Latinos are leaving the Democratic Party.
But Dr. John Tuman, a political science professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, says tracking Hispanic voting patterns can be tough and at times misleading.
“From the voter registration data, it’s very difficult to parse out what’s happening,” Dr. Tuman said. “You can look at Hispanic surnames, but that’s a very imperfect way, so many researchers like myself don’t tend to look at that.”
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He says the only other way to track it is by looking at survey data, but “there really hasn’t been a lot of great survey work done of Latinos here in Nevada, at least in this cycle,” he said.
On a national level, some point to surprising 2020 election outcomes in Florida and south Texas as an example of a “red wave” among Hispanic voters. But Dr. Tuman says the data doesn’t support that in the cases of Nevada, Arizona and California.
What experts do know is that self-identification can play a role in who someone votes for.
Sen. Cortez Masto is Latina, and that matters to some voters, like Janet Gonzalez Vasquez.
“I know that she has ‘sangre Latina’ (Latin blood), and that’s very important to us,” Vasquez said. “I told my daughters, ‘one day I want you to continue with our traditions. If one day you guys will be a senator or something, I want you to remember where we’re coming from.’”
Ramos, on the other hand, says she will vote by issue, not ethnicity.
“Yes, we are Latino. Yes, we are proud of our heritage. I get all of that and I’m the first one to say it,” Ramos said. “But we’re American first and we conform to this country and we love this country. And that is why we are American first.”
Ramos, a disabled veteran, had to return to work because of the unaffordable economy.
When asked what her top issues are, she responded: “The economy, the economy, the economy.”
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That’s also one of the top issues for Alvaro Leiva, who is voting Democrat.
“I think the economy needs to be on the same level that we can all afford,” he said.
Seeing candidates make an effort to reach the Hispanic community is important to him “because sometimes we feel that we are just ignored.”
Outside the Nevada Senate race, many other candidates are also stepping up their outreach efforts to the Latino community.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s campaign tells Fox News they spent six figures on Spanish TV, radio, digital and print ads running since early July.
The campaign has also held over 40 events since early March and launched a Latino Advisory Council.
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“The governor knows Nevada’s Latino communities are integral to the Silver State’s future success which is why he’s prioritized building a campaign made of – and made for – all Nevadans,” said Reeves Oyster, the campaign’s spokesperson. “In his second term, the governor will continue fighting for our Latino communities by lowering costs, making it easier to start a small business, expanding affordable health care, protecting reproductive rights and making unprecedented investments in our schools and students.”
“Along with Latinos, independents are really going to be critical to the outcome because it’s pretty much in a dead heat right now,” Dr. Tuman said.