Clinton-Sanders battle for Hispanic voters intensifies

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The battle for Hispanic voters in the Democratic presidential primary is just getting started.

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSan Diego newspaper endorses Clinton Clinton proposes 'reserve' program for volunteers Voters want more from Clinton, Trump on fiscal issues, poll says MORE’s presidential campaign says the strong support it received from Hispanics in Nevada on Saturday will translate to other parts of the country and help her win the Democratic nomination. But Team Sanders isn’t ceding any ground, knowing that it must win more minority voters to beat Clinton.

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Despite entrance-exit polls in Nevada that indicated Bernie SandersBernie SandersClinton's 'superpredators' comment most damaging by either candidate It's Bernie Sanders vs. Gary Johnson for millennial votes States urged to bolster election security MORE won the sought-after voting bloc, Clinton aides claim otherwise. They point to the final results, which show that Clinton won Clark County — a heavily Hispanic community — by 11 points. It›s not possible, they say, that she lost the Hispanic vote but still won the state by a relatively comfortable margin. They also note that Clinton won all the at-large voting sites on the Las Vegas strip.

The Hispanic vote is particularly important in Super Tuesday states such as Texas, Colorado and Virginia, where voters will cast their ballots on March 1, as well as in states such as Florida, which vote later in the month.

“I think the support from Latinos proved what we have been saying all along,” said one former Clinton aide. “The support from that community is very real.”

But Sanders, who pummeled Clinton in the predominantly white state of New Hampshire, is vying hard for Hispanic support. And his aides say Clinton has a problem with the demographic.

“What we learned today is that Hillary Clinton’s firewall with Latino voters is a myth,” said Arturo Carmona, the deputy political director for the Sanders campaign, in a statement Saturday. “The Latino community responded strongly to Bernie Sanders’s message of immigration reform and creating an economy that works for all families.»

Clinton aide Nick Merrill didn’t hold back in his response to that statement, calling it “complete and utter bullshit” on Twitter.

The Sanders campaign has vowed to continue to lure Hispanic voters to its column in states such as Colorado, Arizona, Texas and California. And one Democratic strategist said the fact that the poll numbers are in dispute “says everything we need to know … it was competitive.”

Still, Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Reno, said if the Silver State were any indication, Clinton would do well with Hispanic communities across the country.

“She won among Latinos,” Herzik said, adding that Clinton was better organized on the ground and her message was “far clearer and much better focused than Sanders,” particularly in the final days, when she went from casino to casino on the Las Vegas Strip and spent time with workers there.

And when it came to immigration reform, Clinton was also effective in sending a message of “I can get it done. I will do this,” Herzik said. “She came across as more believable than Sanders.”

Herzik pointed to the final town hall, which aired on MSNBC two days before the caucuses, where Clinton’s message appeared to resonate with caucusgoers. He also highlighted a campaign ad that aired in the final week and shows a teary-eyed 10-year-old girl at a campaign event who tells Clinton she’s afraid her parents will be deported.

Clinton called the girl “really brave” and tells her “not to worry too much.”

“Let me do the worrying. I’ll do all the worrying. Is that a deal?” she says before giving the girl a hug and telling her she promises to do everything she can to help.

Democratic strategist Lynda Tran said Clinton has an “extraordinarily strong record on immigration reform, including supporting the effort and standing with so-called Dreamers.” But one lesson from the caucus, she said, “has to be ensuring Hillary Clinton also makes the case to Latino and Hispanic voters when it comes to economic issues and kitchen-table concerns that are critically important to these communities.”

Tran said Clinton also will “need to be clear how her vision for tackling climate change and addressing student debt and other parts of her platform are connected to both job creation and improving economic opportunity for everyone — including Latinos.”

Asked what their plans were to keep Hispanics in their column, Clinton campaign aides on Monday highlighted their Hispanic-to-Hispanic phone banks where voters can interact with one another. They also pointed to organized events including the one in San Antonio, Texas, “that showed a tremendous amount of excitement” for Clinton and her surrogates, including Democratic Reps. Joaquín Castro (Texas) and Xavier BecerraXavier Becerra78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto The Trail 2016: The fallout Buzz builds on Becerra’s future plans MORE (Calif.).

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member who backed then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaClinton proposes 'reserve' program for volunteers Trump’s law and order promises won’t make America any safer Memo to Trump: No cable news or Twitter until debate homework is done MORE (D-Ill.) over Clinton in 2008, is now backing the former secretary of State. He has ripped Sanders’s record on immigration reform, most recently calling it “troubling.” In a column written for Univision, the congressman accused Sanders — who voted against comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 — of breaking with Democrats and standing with “the hard-line anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party.”

In explaining his vote, Sanders has noted that union officials had major concerns with that immigration reform measure.

The Clinton campaign dispatched former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonNewsweek hit with cyberattack after posting Trump Cuba story WATCH: Impatient Obama waits for Bill Clinton to board Air Force One Trump’s law and order promises won’t make America any safer MORE to Colorado over the weekend and to Texas on Monday, where he reinforced his wife’s message.

“We need to stop talking about sending 11 million immigrants home. We need to stop talking about throwing these Dreamers out of college,” he said. “If you really sent all these people home and built a wall, it would have the dual benefit of collapsing the economy and making everyone in Latin America furious.

“That doesn’t seem to me like a really good strategy in an interdependent world where we need to grow the economy and we need more partners and fewer enemies. We need to do this together.”

The next Democratic primary is Saturday in South Carolina, where Clinton — who enjoys strong support among African-Americans — is expected to cruise to victory.

Ben Kamisar contributed.