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Hispanic Voters Key In Deciding Nevada's Tight Senate Race


Now another Republican who's trying to put distance between himself and Donald Trump. Joe Heck, who is running for the Senate seat in Nevada, disavowed Trump earlier this month and got some angry blowback. He's now nearly tied with Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto for the only Senate seat that Republicans have a shot at flipping. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: When your name is Joe Heck, it's too easy. Even the president wants to make fun of it.




OBAMA: Heck no.

CHANG: It's a phrase you hear everywhere at campaign rallies. And then when the Republican congressman announced earlier this month that he was no longer voting for Donald Trump, the Heck-ling (ph) only kicked into high gear.

OBAMA: What the Heck? What took you so long?

CHANG: The answer to that, Heck says, is very personal. The video of Trump talking about groping women without their consent was his breaking point. Heck says his wife was in a physically abusive relationship before he met her, and as a doctor, he's treated too many victims of sexual assault. It's a two-part answer he repeats a lot now, but what Heck won't answer is the follow-up question.

Who are you voting for for president?

JOE HECK: I'm still undecided, quite honestly, but I'm not voting for Hillary Clinton.

CHANG: Is there a box on the ballot that says none of the above?

HECK: There is. There is in Nevada.

CHANG: Do you think you're going to be checking that box?

HECK: I am undecided.

CHANG: I met up with Heck in Goldfield that day. It's three hours northwest of Las Vegas in the open desert. It's a ghost town.


CHANG: Only about 200 people still reside in this old mining town where Wyatt Earp used to live. Some of them regularly hang out at the Santa Fe Saloon.


CHANG: It's a place filled with cigarette smoke and country music playing through a TV.


RONNIE MILSAP: (Singing) 'Cause all of my good times are waiting right there for me.

LAUREL ARNOLD: I am the meanest bartender in the state of Nevada.

ARNOLD: Laurel Arnold (ph) has been the saloon's bartender for 19 years.

ARNOLD: A lot of people in Vegas don't realize there's anything outside of Vegas. You live where? And Reno's the same way.

CHANG: So when Heck campaign here, Arnold says it showed respect for rural Nevada, but there are concerns.


MILSAP: (Singing) I'm a stand-by-my-woman man.

TOM ORZEC: He needs to stand behind the party that he's standing behind.

CHANG: That's Tom Orzec (ph). He says Heck, who's an Army guy, should understand solidarity.

ORZEC: I mean, if he's going to be a Republican, he needs to be a Republican. You don't desert your team - is what it comes down to. There's tough times in every team, but you don't desert them. You stay with them, and you hang tight.

CHANG: Orzec says when Heck dumped Trump, it made him look like a politician, but he'll still vote for Heck, as will Edie Kopenick (ph), who says she's been offended by how Democrats are targeting certain groups of voters, like Hispanics.

EDIE KOPENICK: I don't like that. You know, we're all Americans. They should be just talking to the people, you know, not go over there and jolly up with the Hispanic Latino group.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

CHANG: But in a state where more than a quarter of the population is Hispanic, there's no question - turnout of these voters will be key to Democrats. And that's why the Culinary Workers Union has become a turnout machine.


CHANG: All day, every day, the union is delivering housekeepers, cooks and kitchen workers by the bus load to early voting places.

What hotels are you guys from?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Bellagio. Bellagio.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Bally's.

CHANG: Maria Gutierrez (ph) works at a snack bar in the Paris Hotel. She just voted and says Latinos like her will come out in force to vote against Trump this year.

MARIA GUTIERREZ: We don't do bad things. And why Trump attack us? Why?

CHANG: Now, Heck is telling Hispanic voters he's different from Trump, especially on immigration. He doesn't like the wall idea, and he supports a path to citizenship for the vast majority of immigrants here illegally, but that's not filtering through to voters like Gutierrez.


CHANG: You thought Joe Heck had the same immigration positions - exactly the same - as Donald Trump?


CHANG: Is that one of the reasons you voted against him?

GUTIERREZ: That's one of the reasons.

CHANG: Gutierrez says she had considered voting for Heck when he ditched Trump, but then she decided the two of them still seem too much alike, after all. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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