NORTH LAS VEGAS -- His old working-class neighborhood in North Las Vegas, where Marco Rubio spent six impressionable years of his youth, looks more like the majority of Latino America than Rubio’s hometown of West Miami. Restaurants sell tacos. Bars advertise soccer matches. Conversations sound distinctly Mexican.
The Florida senator says he feels right at home. He’s speaking at the Catholic school he attended “for a month” before pleading with his parents to go back to public school with his friends. He’s just driven past the community pool where he learned how to swim.
“I learned a lot about the American Dream in Nevada,” Rubio says.
But when he switches to Spanish, he’s unmistakably a Miami Cuban.
As Rubio campaigns to become the nation’s first Hispanic president, the Republican must try to figure out how to win over the largest swing demographic in the country: Latinos, who lean Democratic and in some cases aren’t sure the conservative Rubio is really one of them just because his surname ends in a vowel.
Rubio, like most other politicians, doesn’t want to talk about divisions among Hispanics of different descent — even if those contrasts are reflected in public-opinion polls and political consultants devise unique approaches for each group. Candidates seek to unite, not divide.
“I’ve never asked people to relate to me because of how I pronounce my last name,” he told reporters Saturday. “I ask them to relate because of my history.”
That history as the son of immigrants forms a centerpiece of Rubio’s presidential candidacy. It’s aimed at connecting with people — not just immigrants, and certainly not just Hispanics — at an emotional level, the level that helps many, if not most, voters decide how to vote.