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Latino vote key in Nevada, a swing state ravaged by housing crisis
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Reno, Nev. • It's dark, early and quiet when Julian Soriano awakens, gets dressed and prepares to travel three hours to a job that won't come close to covering the monthly mortgage payment on a house he's about to lose anyway.

In the kitchen at 1:30 a.m, his parents are up as well. Flora Soriano stands over sizzling onions and eggs frying in a pan while Gonzalo Soriano's gnarled, weathered hands stuff an ice chest with drinks.

The 27-year-old, wearing an orange sweatshirt and jeans, watches his parents for a moment before heading out to the truck to get a heavy safety harness for the bridgework he's about to do. The job will last a week. There are no employment guarantees beyond that, so he has to take it. To turn work down now may mean not being considered for stable work later. And if Soriano learned anything during the recession, it's this: A job is everything.

"I feel bad," Soriano said. "My parents came to this country for a better life for us."

He doesn't know if a better life is possible now. He doesn't know if it can be better again, though a barrage of political ads suggest it can by voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

Both campaigns view Latinos like Soriano as critical in Washoe County — a swing county in a swing state. But political promises — even delivered in Spanish — can't compete with the personal stories told and retold by those living through Nevada's mortgage meltdown. Which is why real-estate agents Lolis Vazquez and Kristene Biglieri look at Soriano — their client — and take their voting cues from his experience.

The election • It's the six degrees of separation. Tumbling dominoes. The fate of one affecting many. In Washoe County, it seems everyone knows someone who has been battered by the mortgage crisis. Their stories form the framework in which voting decisions are made.

Andres Ramirez, a political consultant who has worked two decades in Nevada, said the Latino vote in the Silver State has overperformed in the past two election cycles. In 2008, Latinos accounted for 13 percent of the registered voters and 15 percent of the total turnout — so they had a significant impact at the ballot box. Obama won Nevada by 12 points and Washoe County by 12.6 percent.

In 2010, Latinos were 14 percent of registered voters and accounted for 16 percent of the total turnout, which is math Ramirez said most certainly helped Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., win a tough re-election. Ramirez said the trend lines show a similar pattern developing for November.

"We're experiencing overperformance because we're a battleground state," Ramirez said. "When you have a competitive race, turnout tends to go up."

But it's not only the ads or the campaign canvassing that's going to drive the vote. In Latino communities, he said, the biggest influences are word of mouth among families and trusted sources.

Not to mention Jorge Ramos — the ubiquitous Univision news anchor.

"He's like the Oprah for the Latino community," Ramirez said. "If he says something is good or bad, it's like gospel."

But Ramos doesn't weigh in on issues often, so the personal tales of the past few years in the mortgage crisis bring enormous heft to one-on-one conversations about politics.

Vazquez and Biglieri have been shaped by this crisis in a way they've never felt before. And while they spread blame around — the banks and Congress in particular — they also point to Obama-directed programs, which didn't seem to save many homes.

Seeing Soriano — and his brother, Mauro Soriano — being forced to leave their homes has helped put them in the Romney camp.

"I don't really like either one," Vazquez said of the candidates. "But we need someone with business experience. We've had four years of the other and nothing got done."

Danger zone • The triage units of the burst housing bubble are small real-estate offices where Vazquez and Biglieri work. The tools are fax machines, thick folders stuffed with documents and a large white board that tracks addresses of properties in distress.

The duo, who dub themselves The Gringa and The Mexican, work 10-hour days six days a week navigating the byzantine process by which banks repeatedly demand pay stubs and monthly bill obligations.

In Julian Soriano's case, he fell into the danger zone in November after steadily losing hours of work pouring concrete. It was the same with his brother. When Julian thought it might be time to sell the house — which he bought for $247,000 in 2005 — he was told with a straight face that he could get $79,000 for it.

He was advised to start looking for another place to live.

"I was going to grow old here," he said. "I never thought to leave."

Instead, he was forced to hollow out his American dream — getting rid of the furniture and trying to store all of the memories he had in the house in his head: The family barbecues. The nights watching television with his girlfriend after a long day of work. Giving his parents a place to live after they spent years supporting him.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, Soriano and his dad stand in the shade of the backyard patio. They talk a little politics. Soriano isn't sure who he'll vote for. He looks to his dad, who thinks for a few moments before a smile creeps across his face and he jabs a finger in the air.

"Clinton!" he says.

Close contest • Polls show the race in Nevada much tighter than the margin by which Obama won in 2008. The most recent polls show Obama up by around 5 points. The political math in Nevada boils down to this: Democrats need a big turnout and big margins in Clark County and then hope to break even or win in Washoe County. Republicans look to curb losses in Clark County and win Washoe County.

The Latino population in Washoe County is 22.7 percent — a little more than 96,600 people. There are 219,815 registered voters in the county, and the split between the two parties is almost even.

Daniel Burk, Washoe County registrar, said an unusual aftermath of the mortgage crisis in Nevada was the displacement of voters who have lost their homes since 2008. Using a tracking system that cross-references change-of-address forms at the U.S. Postal Service and through the Registrar's Office, Burk said 14,500 voters fell off the rolls in Washoe County — 4,000 of whom moved out of the county and 500 who died. The rest, Burk said, didn't re-register.

"It's a hell of a lot," Burk said.

Under Nevada law, if a person changes addresses within Washoe County, they can show up on Election Day and vote without re-registering. If they leave the county, they have to re-register. But there isn't data on the reasons why voters aren't at those locations anymore — though Burk suspects foreclosures have had an impact.

They certainly did on Nico Moreno.

Foreclosure trauma • On a Sunday afternoon, the sun beats down on an AstroTurf soccer field in Sparks. It's so hot, people cluster beneath small umbrellas and white canopies to watch the game. The players run with flushed faces and in sweat-soaked jerseys. Kids have made squirt guns out of water bottles. Parents don't object when hit with a cool stream of relief.

With Moreno's team ahead by four goals in the second half, the other team decides it's too hot to continue and begins to walk off the field. Moreno shrugs his shoulders at the sudden decision to prematurely end the game and jogs off the field to greet his wife and three young children.

Sara Moreno said their house went into foreclosure and caused enough trauma in the family that the oldest daughter — 11 — had trouble sleeping in the rental where they're living now.

"It was bad. How do you explain such a complicated thing to children?" she asked.

Nico Moreno and fellow real-estate agent Yeyson Garabito — also a victim of a foreclosure — know many of the agents who work closely in Washoe County's Latino community. They've learned from each other and swapped information on which banks are the best and worst to deal with.

Garabito, who has worked with Biglieri and Vazquez, said he's supporting Obama because "he's got nothing to lose" if he wins a second term. Moreno agreed and said the second term is when things get done because the president doesn't have to run for re-election.

"I think he [Obama] can do more because he's already been dealing with" the mortgage crisis, Moreno said. "With Romney, he'd have to start all over again."

After the team gathered on the field for a quick picture, Moreno saw one of his clients gathering up an umbrella and chairs with two young kids in tow.

It was Deisi Gonzalez — an events planner based in Sparks. The 26-year-old smiled, gave him a hug and told him Monday was the big day — the day she was scheduled to take her U.S. citizenship test.

Milestone • Inside her modest two-story home, Gonzalez is beaming and clutching a piece of paper.

"I passed," she said. "I'm so excited. I was bragging about it all day."

Her 11-year-old daughter gave her a squeeze. There hasn't been a lot to be happy about recently. The house is messy, and Gonzalez admitted it's been hard to be motivated knowing she's going to lose the home soon. She recently went through a divorce, which made the monthly mortgage payment unmanageable. But she said she couldn't sell the house because it was so deep underwater. Gonzalez and her ex-husband bought it in 2006 for $274,000. The best they could sell it for would be $99,000. And because Nevada is what is known as a recourse state, the banks have the legal right to sue for the loss or the difference in the balance.

"It's been very hard on us," she said. "The children are used to living in this house."

They know things aren't looking good. All three of them sleep together in Gonzalez's room — with the oldest sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. She's about to start middle school and is hoping her mother will be able to keep them in the same Silver Lake neighborhood where her uncle lives across the street, allowing her mom to work while he watches the kids.

Through the difficulty, Gonzalez sees becoming a U.S. citizen as a highlight and couldn't wait to take the oath on Wednesday. Even as she loses her home — the American dream — in the process.

"It's strange to have both of those things happen," she said. "I wish we could stay in the house, but we just can't do it."

She plans to register to vote right away. Gonzalez said she believes she has survived the economic storm and wants to participate in the election.

"I want to vote," she said. "It's important."

Already, she has begun reading up on Obama and Romney and talking with family and friends about both of them. She has even had conversations with her daughter about it. Gonzalez said she just doesn't know enough yet about their political stands to lean toward either candidate.

So for now, she's undecided.

A swing voter. In a swing county. In a swing state, which could be crucial to determining who her first U.S. president will be.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero —

Swinging the vote: About this series

The Salt Lake Tribune, in partnership with the Institute for Justice and Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, explored the Latino vote in two Western battleground states in this year's presidential election. In today's part two, The Tribune delves into the home-foreclosure crisis and its potential impact on the Latino vote in Washoe County — a swing county in the swing state of Nevada. In part one, published Saturday, the focus was on Latinos in Colorado not participating in politics. Both Utah neighboring states are considered critical to victory by the Obama and Romney campaigns, and both acknowledge the importance of the Latino vote. Editor's Note: Podrá encontrar este artículo traducido al español en nuestra página de Internet

Some Latinos say Romney is the choice because of his business sense, while others pick Obama because of his experience dealing with the housing crisis.
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