Inside Pete Buttigieg's make-or-break appeal to Latino voters in Nevada

  • Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is making an appeal to Nevada voters in an effort to prove he can win over a diverse state.
  • Buttigieg touted his credentials helping undocumented immigrants in South Bend, Indiana and marched with a bilingual group of Culinary Union workers fighting to win labor contracts from casinos.
  • After strong finishes in two mostly white primary states, Buttigieg's performance in Nevada may either cement or upend the narrative about his relationship with black and brown voters.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Pete Buttigieg is making a pitch to Latino voters as he tries for a strong showing at Nevada's caucuses on Saturday to prove he has staying power as a Democratic candidate for president.

At this week's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, he discussed his advocacy for undocumented immigrants as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, attacked the record of rival Sen. Amy Klobuchar on immigration, and spoke Spanish in a state where 29% of the population is Hispanic

To the group known as DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, he said, "Este país es tu país también" — "This country is your country too."

Buttigieg's efforts leave little doubt that he seeks to change the perception that he can't win over voters of color, with whom both he and Klobuchar have polled particularly poorly. After strong finishes in two mostly white states — he topped the Iowa caucuses and placed second in the New Hampshire primary — the former mayor's performance in Nevada may either cement or upend the narrative about his relationship with black and brown voters.

Along with California, Texas, New Mexico, and Hawaii, Nevada is one of the nation's five majority-minority states, and it's the first racially diverse state to hold a nominating contest. Buttigieg's showing there could be a harbinger of what's to come in South Carolina, a state where black voters make up the majority of the Democratic electorate. 

"If Pete Buttigieg does not do well in Nevada and South Carolina, it will make putting the resources together for a successful Super Tuesday effort challenging," Megan Jones, a Nevada-based political strategist, told Insider. "It will have proven what the pundits and media have said for months, that he can't get diverse support to win a general election."

Pete ButtigiegAP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A make or break moment

Described as a "make or break" moment for his candidacy, the Buttigieg campaign has prepared for the Nevada caucuses by opening a dozen offices and putting more than 55 organizers and operatives on the ground there. 

Nevada's demographics have made his campaign stops in the Silver State stand out, Buttigieg told me.

"One of the things that's exciting to me about Nevada," he said, "is some of the most diverse crowds we've yet seen during my campaign events have been during my visits to Las Vegas in particular, which demographically reflects today what the whole country is going to look like in the 2050s, which is what I often talk about as the years that we should be aiming our policies towards."

During the Nevada Democratic Party's "First in the West" event in November, which celebrated the state being first in its region to vote for a nominee, Buttigieg's supporters looked just as he described them.

With yellow boom sticks and Pete 2020 shirts emblazoned with rainbows, they were Latino, white, black, and Asian American. And hours before the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, Buttigieg marched along to cumbia music with a bilingual group of Nevada Culinary Union workers fighting to win labor contracts from Station Casinos. Four other presidential candidates — Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — participated in the march as well. 

This month, Culinary Union members have made headlines for criticizing the Medicare for All plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, another candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, for fear it would replace their private healthcare with a government-run model. Buttigieg raised the concerns about Medicare for All during the debate.

"As a matter of fact, you're the one who is at war with the Culinary Union right here in Las Vegas," he told Sanders, Nevada's frontrunner. "We can actually deliver health care without taking it away from anyone. We can actually empower workers and lift wages without further polarizing this country." 

Aligning himself with Nevada's Culinary Union, which is 54% Latino and the state's largest immigrant organization, isn't the only way Buttigieg has framed himself as Hispanic-friendly. He has increasingly discussed his 2016 effort with the South Bend nonprofit La Casa de Amistad to develop a "Community Resident Card" that undocumented immigrants can use at city agencies and businesses, including schools, libraries, pharmacies, and banks. La Casa de Amistad funded the program and distributed the cards, while the mayor signed an executive order requiring South Bend institutions to accept them as ID.

"One thing I realized very quickly as mayor is that I'm responsible for supporting every resident of our community regardless of citizenship status, and we saw a lot of people who were at risk because they didn't have a way to get ID," Buttigieg told Insider.

South Bend is home to roughly 4,500 undocumented immigrants, and more than 2,000 have reportedly signed up for the Community Resident Card. Buttigieg said he wanted to help the undocumented population since the federal government has failed to prioritize "meaningful" immigration reform.

"Now immigration is one of many issues that are important to the Latino community where I live, including entrepreneurship, economic opportunity, safety, and healthcare," he said.

Today, Latinos have more political clout nationally than ever.

"We are now the second-largest voting bloc," said Danny Turkel, spokesman for advocacy group Voto Latino. "Latinos are on average decades younger than the average white voter. As our influence grows and grows, it will be harder to ignore us."

Pete ButtigiegAP Photo/Patrick Semansky

'Nevada's role will be pivotal in deciding who the next president is'

Hispanics may have more influence in Nevada and the nation alike, but successful candidates will court a variety of voters, according to Mariela Hernandez, Latino advocate for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

"Candidates can't focus on one pocket of voters," she told me. "They have to cultivate relationships with communities of color. Talk to those voters about issues that really hit home. The work I have seen the candidates and their staff here do with communities of color has been very impactful. You have a good team of on the ground folks who have worked on outreach to the black community, to the Latino community, to the Asian American community."

But some Nevadans feel that both the press and the candidates haven't given their state as much attention as Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, which votes February 29. Politico reported earlier this month that, of the first four voting states, Warren, for one, has visited Nevada the least.

"We're the newest early state, I think the most demonstrative of where the country is at," Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela told me about its significance. "I think Nevada's role will be pivotal in deciding who the next president is."

Cancela is a senior adviser to Biden's presidential campaign and former Culinary Union political director.

"Nevada is certainly much more representative of the rest of the country than either Iowa or New Hampshire," she said. "There's a broad diverse coalition of people from all walks of life."

Buttigieg has also been making appeals to Nevada's unions — from culinary workers in Las Vegas to autoworkers in Reno.

One factor will determine how well he performs in Nevada, especially among voters of color, he told Insider.

"I want to make sure that I've done my job of conveying all of the answers and the policies that we envision," he said.

Related: Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg

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Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg works the grill during the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Nati Harnik/AP)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigeig speaks during a news conference January 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Buttigeig held a news conference to announce that he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Democratic Party fundraising dinner, the Liberty and Justice Celebration, in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign rally in front of the State House after filing his declaration of candidacy papers to get his name on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S. October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg visits the gift shop after filing his declaration of candidacy papers to get his name on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S. October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
ROCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - NOVEMBER 11: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets people after making a Veterans Day address at the Rochester Opera House on November 11, 2019 in Rochester, New Hampshire. Buttigieg is on the last day of a four day bus tour as he campaigns across the state. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 547 -- Pictured: (l-r) South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during an interview with host Seth Meyers on June 22, 2017 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, center, speaks with attendees during a campaign stop in Ankeny, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. A flurry of proposals to slap new taxes on the ultra-wealthy, extend Medicare to all Americans and make college debt-free reflect a rapidly changing Democratic Party that sees a sharp left turn as the path to defeating President Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during a campaign stop in Ankeny, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. A flurry of proposals to slap new taxes on the ultra-wealthy, extend Medicare to all Americans and make college debt-free reflect a rapidly changing Democratic Party that sees a sharp left turn as the path to defeating President Donald Trump. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
THE VIEW - Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visits ABC's 'The View' on Thursday, January 31, 2019. 'The View' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 am-12:00 noon, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) JOY BEHAR, PETER BUTTIGIEG, SUNNY HOSTIN
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is exploring a Presidential candidacy speaks at the University of Chicago on February 13, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joshua Lott / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: 32nd Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is seen arriving at 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' at the Ed Sullivan Theater on February 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 09: Pete Buttigieg speaks onstage at Conversations About America's Future: Mayor Pete Buttigieg during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater on March 8, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest Pete Buttigieg during Thursday's February 14, 2019 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 07: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks on stage at 2019 ESSENCE Festival Presented By Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 07, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 07: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 25th Essence Festival at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 07, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)
PROVINCETOWN, MA - JULY 5: Signs emblazoned with "Pete Town" are left behind after a rally for U.S. presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, IN Pete Buttigieg in Provincetown, MA on July 5, 2019. Hundreds of people were in attendance for the democratic presidential hopeful. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PROVINCETOWN, MA - JULY 5: Theresa Moehlman, left, and Andrea Sawyer attend a rally for U.S. presidential candidate and mayor South Bend, IN Pete Buttigieg in Provincetown, MA on July 5, 2019. Hundreds of people were in attendance for the Democratic presidential hopeful. (Photo by Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg (L) meets with Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg (L) speaks with Rev. Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on July 2, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Buttigieg is dealing with racial tension in South Bend following the shooting death of Eric Logan, a black man, who was shot by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, who is white. O'Neill shot Logan while investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg greets residents before the start of a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg greets residents before the start of a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JUNE 29: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a Peace Walk hosted by Christ Temple Apostolic Church on June 29, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. The event was held as the funeral for Eric Logan was being held in nearby Mishawaka. Logan was shot and killed by South Bend Police Sgt. Ryan O'Neill who was investigating a report of car break-ins in the area. Logan was reported to be holding a knife when he was shot. The shooting caused outrage in the community and turmoil for Buttigieg as a mayor and as a candidate. “It’s a mess” said Buttigieg referring to the shooting during the presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - JUNE 28: Democratic Presidential candidate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former housing secretary Julian Castro, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speak to the media as they visit the outside of a detention center for migrant children on June 28, 2019 in Homestead, Florida. Democratic presidential candidates visited the detention center, which is the nation's largest center for detaining immigrant children, as the candidates spend time in the Miami area after participating in a nationally televised debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NBC NEWS ELECTION COVERAGE -- The First Democratic Debate -- Pictured: Pete Buttigieg, at The Knight Concert Hall, Miami Florida on Thursday, June 27, 2019-- (Photo by: Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, June 27, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 22: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg addresses the crowd at the 2019 South Carolina Democratic Party State Convention on June 22, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. Democratic presidential hopefuls are converging on South Carolina this weekend for a host of events where the candidates can directly address an important voting bloc in the Democratic primary. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - JUNE 15: Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg attends the 2019 Blue Commonwealth Gala fundraiser June 15, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Nearly 1,800 attended the event featuring Buttigieg and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 15: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in the Black Economic Alliance Forum at the Charleston Music Hall on June 15, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina. The Black Economic Alliance, is a nonpartisan group founded by Black executives and business leaders, and is hosting the forum in order to help Black voters understand the candidate's platforms. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 12: Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg shakes a woamans hand as he attends a rally protesting against President Donald Trump policies outside of the White House in Washington on Wednesday June 12, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA - JUNE 09: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner on June 9, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nearly all of the 23 Democratic candidates running for president were campaigning in Iowa this weekend. President Donald Trump has two events scheduled in the state on Tuesday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2019/06/11: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States answers question during a press gaggle after delivering an hour long speech on foreign policy and security at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JUNE 08: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg arrives for a campaign stop at the Capital City Pride Fest on June 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Most of the more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president are campaigning at various locations in Iowa this weekend. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
SHOWALTER FOUNTAIN, BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2019/06/10: Screen printed posters dry after Jim Beck, of badkneests, made them as a fundraiser for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, at the Showalter Fountain on the campus of Indiana University. Beck was exchanging the posters for a donation he will contribute to Buttigieg's presidential campaign before a representative of the auditorium said he had to move to the free speech zone blocks away in Dunn Meadow. Tickets for Buttigieg's speech on foreign policy and national security Tuesday were being distributed nearby at the Indiana University Auditorium. For those who didn't get tickets Monday, according to a press release, "A standby line for general public who did not claim a ticket will be recognized beginning at 9:30 a.m. in front of the School of Art, Architecture, and Design just west of the Auditorium.". (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IOWA - JUNE 08: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign stop at the Capital City Pride Fest on June 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. Most of the more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president are campaigning at various locations in Iowa this weekend. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 06: Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg speaks to a crowd at the African American Leadership Council on June 6, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. The DNC hosted its African American Leadership Council (AALC) Summit at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)
MSNBC - Election Coverage "Hardball Town Hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Chris Matthews" -- Pictured: (l-r) Chris Matthews, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Photo by: David Moir/MSNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 01: Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg hold signs as he speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Several Democratic presidential candidates are speaking at the California Democratic Convention that runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg (R) answers questions from reporter Robert Costa (L) at a Washington Post Live discussion May 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Buttigieg’s appearance was the first of the Washington Post’s “2020 Candidates” series of discussions. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 22: Mayor Pete Buttigieg poses backstage at Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Conversation with The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart interview at 92nd Street Y on May 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 20: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a grassroots fundraiser at the Wynwood Walls on May 20, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Buttigieg is one of more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 20: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a grassroots fundraiser at the Wynwood Walls on May 20, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Buttigieg is one of more than 20 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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