LAS VEGAS, Nevada — The most frequent question from the audience to Democratic presidential candidates at a forum of Latino voters Thursday evening was: How will you counter President Donald Trump’s message on the economy?
Several candidates appeared at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) forum at the College of Southern Nevada as the focus of the campaign shifted to the Nevada caucuses, to be held Feb. 22.
But few seemed to have an answer for concerns about Trump’s strong economic performance.
Billionaire left-wing donor Tom Steyer said that while unemployment was low, the Trump economy was not creating jobs that could support a family.
Joel B. Pollak
Most candidates offered some variation on that answer.
Latinos are a growing share of the state’s population, and the Nevada caucus is the first early presidential contest that gives that community a significant voice in the selection of the parties’ respective nominees.
Though immigration is an important issue to many in the community, the economy remains a top issue as well.
Several hundred local voters came to hear the candidates’ pitches. Many were undecided — their task made more difficult, some told Breitbart News, by the sheer number of candidates in the field.
Steyer led off the program. He promised the LULAC audience that he would “corporate stranglehold on our government,” provide a “living wage” and “clean air and clean water.” He also pointed to his past work on the issue of climate change.
On immigration, he said he had been involved personally in the issue for decades: “My family has been supporting immigration to California for 35 years through our church.” He said he had personally given $3 million to help with the legal fees and other expenses of Latino migrants. And he said he wanted to “decriminalize the border” and “get rid of the wall.”
Steyer called President Trump’s border enforcement a “crime against humanity” and added: “He’s not opposed to immigration. He’s opposed to immigration by non-white people.”
Next, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addressed the gathering via videoconference. He told the LULAC audience: “Your generation is the generation with the energy that we need to help us old people transform this country.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed the forum in person. He fielded questions about his health care policy, which differs from Sanders’s “Medicare for All” plan in that it would offer Medicare as a “choice” to non-seniors.
Buttigieg addressed the concerns of unions in Nevada, who have vocally opposed the idea of losing private health insurance plans provided through their collective bargaining agreements. “Who are we to tell them that they are to give up those plans?” Buttigieg asked. “I’m going to listen to workers who say that they want to be able to keep their plans. … I’m not willing to force it on people.”
The multilingual mayor switched back and forth between English and Spanish to the delight of the audience.
A member of the audience accused Buttigieg of “repeatedly dodg[ing]” questions about China’s concentration camps for Muslims and suggested that if he would not challenge China to close its camps, he would not close detention facilities at the U.S. border. The mayor, surprised, said that he had condemned China for that and that the U.S. should “engage[e] the entire international community” to stop the oppression of Chinese Muslims.
One of the moderators then asked Buttigieg directly if he would close the border detention facilities. Buttigieg dodged, saying, “There will always be some kind of facilities for people coming through.” He added, though, that there should not be for-profit facilities that detain children.
Asked by a member of the audience what his most important issue was, Buttigieg evaded the question — as he has in the past: “A little hard to pick one right now. But I think we need to fix our democracy.”
One member of the audience accused him of failing to stop police violence against minorities in South Bend. Buttigieg cited steps that he took to make sure that minorities were involved in decision making over public safety and to listen to the concerns of minority communities.
He drew cheers when he told a “DACA student” — one brought to the country illegally as a child and shielded from deportation by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy — that America was his country, also, and that he would be first in line for citizenship when he implemented his “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens.
Klobuchar rounded out the program. She cited her work on the most recent immigration reform bill — also known as the “Gang of Eight” — which failed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives because of concerns that it would allow some illegal aliens to achieve legal status before the border was fully secure.
Asked by a moderator whether she would “abolish” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or merely “reform” it, Klobuchar chose the latter, saying it needed more congressional oversight.
A member of the audience accused Klobuchar of overzealous prosecution of minorities. Klobuchar disputed that, saying that black American incarceration rates had declined during her eight years as the lead prosecutor in Hennepin County. She did say, however, that if she could change one thing, it would be to avoid using grand juries to obtain indictments in cases involving police shootings.
The auditorium was only about two-thirds full, perhaps hinting at the challenges Democrats have faced with voter turnout thus far in the 2020 primary cycle.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This story is developing.