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CNN PRESENTS

Latino in America: Courting Their Vote

Aired October 7, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR AND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Just weeks until the election and it's a dead heat in the race for the White House. Millions of Latinos voters could make all the difference.

HECTOR BARRETO, JR., CHAIRMAN, LATINO COALITION: The Hispanic vote is going to be critically important this election.

O'BRIEN: The battleground states hanging in the balance. Outreach is amping up.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: Unprecedented effort. Lots of money in Nevada, in Colorado, in Virginia, in Florida.

O'BRIEN: In Nevada, both parties pull out all the stops to woo Latinos and their leaders.

STATE SEN. RUBEN KIHUEN (D), NEVADA: I think they have much bigger interest in this race.

O'BRIEN: They wanted Latinos voters?

KIHUEN: They wanted Latinos to come out and vote.

O'BRIEN: Thousands of Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote every month. They face a struggling economy, broken promises and harsh immigration rhetoric.

Do you think Democrats and Republicans understand Latinos here in Nevada?

CECILIA ALDANA, REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: Neither party understands what is needed for the Hispanics.

O'BRIEN: Neither party?

ALDANA: Neither party.

O'BRIEN: So who will win them over? LATINO IN AMERICA, COURTING THEIR VOTE.

Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the gambling capitals of the world, beyond the glitz and glamour, in the shadow of high rollers and high-stakes gambling is high-stakes politics.

This is the Las Vegas you rarely see. Nevada is home to one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country. More than a quarter of the state's population is now Hispanic. In 2008, those Latino voters helped turn this historically Republican state Democratic. And again, all eyes are on this crucial swing state and its six electoral votes.

BARRETO: The goal is to get as much support as we can from the Hispanic community.

O'BRIEN: Hector Barreto is one of the people in charge of Latino outreach nationally for Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

Do you think Latinos are going to determine who's the next president?

BARRETO: They could. Obviously, it's a growing electorate and it's going to continue to grow in the elections to come. So I don't think either party can take that vote for granted.

O'BRIEN: Democrats are fighting to hold on to Nevada, with political heavy hitters like Senate majority leader Harry Reid courting the Latino community. It's a huge opportunity. Nearly 300,000 Nevada voters are Latinos.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: All over the country, but no more magnified any place than Nevada is the Hispanic vote.

O'BRIEN: But Republicans want to take the state back. In seven out of the last 10 elections, Nevada voted Republican.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We understand to win, you don't -- you have to win the Hispanic vote. We have to be engaged.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": I'm Anderson Cooper in Las Vegas tonight. The presidential candidates come here to win the west.

O'BRIEN: In October 2011, the Republican presidential candidates rolled into town with their money and their message.

COOPER: Herman Cain, let me start with you. Would you build an entire fence along the entire border and would you have it be electrified?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I will build a double-walled fence.

O'BRIEN: There's tough talk on immigration.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You have enough Border Patrol agents to oversee the fence and number two you turn off the magnets like tuition breaks or other breaks that draw people into this country illegally.

COOPER: We have a question in the audience.

O'BRIEN: In the audience is Las Vegas businessman Robert Zavala. A Republican voter anxious to ask the question on the minds of many Latinos voters. ROBERT ZAVALA, LAS VEGAS BUSINESSMAN: We have 50 million Latinos and not all of us are illegal. What is the message from you guys to our Latino community?

O'BRIEN: Is it a tough thing to be Republican and Latinos here?

ZAVALA: Yes, it is.

O'BRIEN: How so?

ZAVALA: I have to all the time defend the party, say, look, you know, that's not all of us. Our community is not only about immigration. The Latino community is like any other community. They want jobs. They want a better education for their kids.

What is the message that we take to the grassroots?

O'BRIEN: Hours after the GOP debate in a different session, Zavala is still pressing his own party's leaders for answers.

ZAVALA: You have nothing but Latinos leaders in here but we don't know how to reach them out there. The Democrats are kicking our behind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need you out here, talking us to, to the Latinos.

O'BRIEN: Republican Cecilia Aldana shares Zavala's dissatisfaction.

ZAVALA: The Republican leadership has to send a message to our community.

O'BRIEN: What is your frustration with the Republican Party?

ALDANA: They don't see what Hispanics go through every day and how is it other parties are taking advantage of that. They don't see it as a problem.

O'BRIEN: So you think the Republicans aren't fighting for your vote?

ALDANA: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: But Cecilia wants to fight for their votes and is pushing the GOP leadership to join her and take their message to the Latino community.

ALDANA: I have never seen them trying to be out there and express their voices, you know? I'm not afraid to tell people what I stand for, so I want them to be with me out there trying to teach and educate the population.

I have a gorgeous view of the sunrise. It gives me the energy I need every day.

O'BRIEN: Cecilia moved from Peru to the United States 30 years ago to pursue her American dream. ALDANA: It was hard for me in the beginning. So I made a decision, I said, you know what, I need to feed my children. I don't care. I'm going to work as a housekeeper.

O'BRIEN: She rose from being a housekeeper to a bank teller to running a lucrative chain of medical clinics.

ALDANA: We are at the clinic. This is the main location. So I'm going to park exactly.

O'BRIEN: Cecilia spotted an opportunity to cater to Latinos.

ALDANA: Hi, Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cecilia.

ALDANA: How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

O'BRIEN: Cecilia ran nine clinics, 130 employees. The recession led her to shutdown some clinics and lay off 60 workers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The bad economy has delivered blow after blow, jobs disappear, savings drying up, homes losing value and now there's a new class of working poor. Families who once enjoyed six-figure incomes now lose their homes.

ALDANA: That's me. If I didn't make the changes I had to make, you know, with the company, we close five clinics, it was really painful. But we did it and finally we are almost debt free and we're back to hiring again.

O'BRIEN: At the core of Cecilia's success, she says her conservative believes and values.

ALDANA: I'm a conservative woman, so I believe in personal responsibility, I believe on the American dream. I came to this country to work hard. I don't want government telling me what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2804.

O'BRIEN: State Senator Ruben Kihuen also believes in the American dream.

KIHUEN: Patricia, how are you? My name is Ruben Kihuen.

O'BRIEN: He, too, is fighting for the Latino vote but for the Democrats.

KIHUEN: What are your top issues? What are you most concerned about right? The economy, jobs, health care?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The economy, the foreclosures in the housing.

KIHUEN: Foreclosures? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Today, Nevada is suffering through high levels of foreclosures, 12 percent unemployment, with the Latino community especially hard hit. A recent CNN/ORC poll shows three-quarters of Latinos are more concerned about the economy than immigration policy.

KIHUEN: Since most of these people work in the casino industry and the tourism industry, if the casino and the tourism industry is not making money, they lay people off. So these are the first line of workers who get laid off when times are hard. And so when these people get laid off, they can't pay their bills. When they can't pay their bills, they lose their home. So we have a lot of work to do.

O'BRIEN: These are problems plaguing Latinos across the country, problems Latinos look to their politicians to solve. But is either party really listening?

KIHUEN: How you doing, sir?

O'BRIEN: Ahead --

KIHUEN: Ruben Kihuen, running for U.S. Congress.

O'BRIEN: Ruben's quest to become Nevada's first ever Latino congressman.

KIHUEN: I'm Ruben Kihuen, running for U.S. Congress here in Las Vegas. Hopefully I can earn your support.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KIHUEN: Hi, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good. How are you?

KIHUEN: Good. Ruben Kihuen. Here is my card. That's it. Hopefully I can count on your support. How are you? Who is this good-looking gentleman here?

O'BRIEN: Congressional candidate Ruben Kihuen knows how to work a room.

KIHUEN: Ladies, good luck.

O'BRIEN: Talking to some of the most powerful Latino leaders in Nevada.

KIHUEN: Mr. Governor.

O'BRIEN: Like Republican Brian Sandoval, the state's first Latino governor.

GOV. BRIAN SANDOVAL (R), NEVADA: How are you doing?

KIHUEN: Thank you for coming. I'm doing good. I've been telling people, I said, look, I'm not the most famous candidate, I'm not the one with the most money, but I'm the one with the biggest heart and the most energy.

SANDOVAL: Just keep working.

KIHUEN: Good to see you here. Thanks for coming.

SANDOVAL: Yes. Nice seeing you. Good luck.

KIHUEN: Can Senator Reid count on your support?

O'BRIEN: Ruben has more than luck on his side. He has Democratic Senator Harry Reid as his mentor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nevada senator, Harry Reid.

O'BRIEN: Reid gave Ruben his start in politics, handling events in the Latino community.

KIHUEN: A lot of community leaders here start saying, wow, this guy Ruben, you know, he is doing a good job for Senator Reid, maybe he can run for office some day.

O'BRIEN: And that's exactly what Ruben did, winning a seat in the Nevada state assembly when he was just 26.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

O'BRIEN: Now at 31 --

KIHUEN: Hi, how are you?

O'BRIEN: -- he has a much loftier goal.

KIHUEN: Ruben Kihuen, running for U.S. Congress.

O'BRIEN: The state's Latino population has skyrocketed, up 87 percent, more than 700,000 Latinos over the last decade.

KIHUEN: How are you? You look warm.

O'BRIEN: Redistricting resulted in one district becoming heavily Hispanic.

KIHUEN: Constituents that I have been representing for the past years were calling and saying, Ruben, you should run. So I met with a lot of people for many weeks, went out to Washington, D.C. I met with Senator Reid.

O'BRIEN: Did he encourage you to run?

KIHUEN: Senator Reid is the type of person, if he doesn't want you to run, he will tell you directly, you should not run. But the fact that he didn't discourage me from running meant, to me, that this was an opportunity for me to run.

Thank you so much. Are you guys ready to go out door to door?

O'BRIEN: So Ruben launched a grassroots campaign. Sharing his experience as a Latino immigrant who achieved his own American dreams, after emigrating from Mexico with his family when he was 6.

KIHUEN: This is where my family and I first lived, here in Las Vegas. When you get here with nothing and you get to live in a house with four bedrooms in front of a park, my father had a car. We had a home. He had a job. That is the American dream.

I think to understand the issues of the people who live in this area, you have to have lived through the same experience that they have lived. My family has lost a home, you know, to foreclosure. We -- you know, I have parents who have been unemployed, both of them. We've been in situations where we didn't know where our next paycheck was going to come from or how we were going to put food at the table that night.

O'BRIEN: Through hard work, Ruben says, all the members of his family have realized their American dream, but others in the Latino community are struggling.

KIHUEN: We want these people who live in these homes to have an opportunity to move up if they want to and right now they are losing hope because those opportunities are not there.

O'BRIEN: Ruben is running in a district with 500,000 Latinos. The largest Latino population in the state.

KIHUEN: I need your help.

O'BRIEN: He says electing him to Congress would give Latinos a vote.

KIHUEN: Hi, everybody.

O'BRIEN: And Democratic leaders hope Ruben's candidacy would bring more Latinos out to the polls.

But in the fall of 2011, candidate Kihuen discovers he's got competition in the Democratic primary, Congresswoman Dina Titus. Titus is an extremely experienced and well-financed politician. Ruben is young and fresh and culturally connected.

KIHUEN: I might not raise as much money as her but I have hundreds of volunteers ready to go knock on doors. Those young voters that are willing to make phone calls for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To hear about Ruben, to see his face.

O'BRIEN: More than 60,000 Latinos turn 18 across the country and some Democratic leaders believe Ruben could be the right man to connect to them.

Debbie Rios is the president of the Hispanic Student Union at Rancho High School, Ruben's alma matter.

DEBBIE RIOS, STUDENT, RANCHO HIGH SCHOOL: If you go and you have a Ruben shirt, please wear it.

O'BRIEN: Debbie's passion goes beyond politics, it's also personal. Her brother and many of her friends are in this country illegally. The Dream Act could have protected them from deportation. It went down to defeat by the Senate in 2010.

RIOS: Having friends who are so close who had that chance to being able to have some kind of legal status here and then knowing that it wasn't possible, it was very heartbreaking.

O'BRIEN: Political radio host and registered Democrat, Miguel Barrientos, is also disappointed with his party.

MIGUEL BARRIENTOS, POLITICAL TALK SHOW HOST: Seventy-some percent of the Latinos population went with Barack Obama to get him elected. When than happens, everybody is fired up. I mean, the students are happy, we're going to get Dream Act. Everybody is talking immigration reforms coming in. And then the first 100 days go by and, oh, well, nada.

O'BRIEN: President Obama has upset Latinos by deporting more undocumented immigrants than any other administration in U.S. history.

To Debbie Rios, and other Latinos, part of the solution is more Hispanic leaders in Washington, D.C., like Ruben Kihuen.

KIHUEN: You know, I don't have as much money as my opponent. So I got to --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the thing is, you got all the Hispanics behind you.

KIHUEN: Well, you know, that's what I'm hoping for.

O'BRIEN: Ruben's trying to build the momentum and the base he needs to win. Even appearing on Republican business woman Cecilia Aldana's new TV show.

Though Ruben is a Democrat, Cecilia's support for Latinos crosses party lines.

KIHUEN: So when I get to the United States Congress, I will be that voice for the viewers, just an average person in Washington, D.C.

ALDANA: He impressed me today. Absolutely impressed me today. Forty-three percent is Hispanics. He should be the one representing that district.

O'BRIEN: It seems Ruben has support of his community.

KIHUEN: Ruben Kihuen, hi, how are you.

O'BRIEN: And powerful Democratic leaders but is it enough to make him Nevada's first Latino congressman?

KIHUEN: A new face. That's what it is. A new approach. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALDANA: You ought to see the faces on the children when they see Santa Claus.

O'BRIEN: December 2011. A season of giving. And Cecilia Aldana's favorite time of year.

ALDANA: OK. Misto. I collected, between the purchase and the donations, 5,500 toys.

O'BRIEN: Every year, Cecilia helps sponsor a toy and food drive for Nevada's neediest.

ALDANA: This is a reality. This is exactly what happens in Las Vegas.

O'BRIEN: The unemployment rate for Latinos in Nevada is 15.2 percent. It doubled after the recession of 2008 when the construction industry collapsed.

ALDANA: What really makes me extremely sad is no politician understands what happens every day in our lives.

O'BRIEN: Even Republican Party leaders admit they need to do more.

SPICER: I think in a lot of cases, we have some work to do.

O'BRIEN: Sean Spicer is with the Republican National Committee.

SPICER: I think if you look at it on paper, we should be the home for every Latino. Hands down. No question. Unfortunately, I think we haven't always done the best job of reaching out to them and talking to them about it.

O'BRIEN: Lack of outreach has led Latinos to form their own opinions, based on the Republicans tough stance on immigration. In fact, a recent CNN/ORC poll shows nearly 70 percent of Latinos believe Democrats care more about them, while only 24 percent say Republicans care more.

What do you think most Hispanics in Nevada think of the Republican Party?

ALDANA: They immediately go and say we don't trust Republicans, they're all evil. You know, they are no good people.

O'BRIEN: That's what Hispanics here say?

ALDANA: Why, Soledad? Why do they say that? It's because they hear that on the news every day. And I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative Republican. I'm out there working hard, making sure I create jobs for more people.

O'BRIEN: Cecilia feels she is doing her part but the Republican Party itself is struggling. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is the economy weak?

O'BRIEN: While Nevada's Republican Party is supporting Ron Paul, the national Republican Party is unifying behind Mitt Romney.

ALDANA: We are having a rally for Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: To people like Cecilia, it seems there is no clear party direction. No easy way to be involved. Until Mitt Romney comes to town.

ALDANA: I'm talking to some of the Romney people to see what I can do to help them to recruit Hispanics.

O'BRIEN: At last, Cecilia feels engaged by her party.

ROMNEY: We've seen record numbers of foreclosures. I don't have to tell you that. We need new leadership in Washington.

ALDANA: It totally inspires me, you know, it gives me hope for the future. So I can't wait for him to become president.

O'BRIEN: Republican or Democrat, Nevada's Latino community shares the same hope for its future. Sending one of their own to Congress. For Democrats that would be State Senator Ruben Kihuen.

January 24, 2012, Washington, D.C.

KIHUEN: You know, I get the chills every time I walk by this building.

O'BRIEN: Congressional candidate Kihuen has traveled across the country as a guest of his mentor, Senator Harry Reid. He is attending the State of the Union Address.

KIHUEN: This is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. God willing, we win this election in June and in November and next year, I'll be serving in this body as a member of Congress, listening to that speech.

O'BRIEN: While in Washington, Ruben makes a point to meet with key Latino congressmen. Of the 530 members currently in Congress, 28 are Latinos, eight Republicans, 20 Democrats.

REP. CHARLIE GONZALEZ (D), CONGRESSIONAL HISPANIC CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: You all right?

KIHUEN: I'm doing well. I'm waiting to meet with Congressman Becerra.

O'BRIEN: Like Charlie Gonzalez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

KIHUEN: Should be there a few more offices.

O'BRIEN: And Congressman Xavier Becerra from California. KIHUEN: Congressman.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Are you going to be watching the State of the Union?

KIHUEN: Yes, actually I'm here as a guest of Senator Reid.

O'BRIEN: With each meeting, Ruben's confidence builds.

KIHUEN: I'm a state senator running for Congress.

GONZALEZ: And he'll be here in about a year.

KIHUEN: I'm working hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

O'BRIEN: That night, the State of the Union.

What was it like?

KIHUEN: When you're invited to sit there and be among the 600 most powerful people in the world, possibly, you know, including the president of the United States of America, and you get to witness this event in person, it's life-changing.

O'BRIEN: Then the next morning, an important meeting. Senator Harry Reid, Ruben's mentor and a kingmaker in Congress.

So for the folks in Washington, D.C., how important was it that you were a Latino in a district that was heavily Latino 40-some odd percent and that you were an immigrant?

KIHUEN: I think they had much bigger interest in this race. Nevada is a battleground state. It's a purple state. It's gone Republican, it's gone Democrat.

O'BRIEN: They wanted Latino votes.

KIHUEN: They wanted Latinos to come out and vote. So they know that by having a Latino on the general election ballot it was going to help increase their turnout. So, you know, they had their own vested interest in this.

O'BRIEN: It seemed to me that you had a ton of momentum, both in D.C., you know, and with your constituents.

KIHUEN: You know, there was a picture that came out on the "Las Vegas Sun" where Senator Reid had his arm around me. And so a lot of people were saying, wow, we know who Senator Reid is supporting.

O'BRIEN: The trip to Washington leaves Ruben riding high. But back in Las Vegas trouble is brewing. Ruben's competitor, Dina Titus, is beating him in the every poll.

There must have been people in your campaign who are crunching those numbers and saying, Ruben, we're in trouble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon. Here are tonight's headlines.

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In just 24 hours, the meningitis outbreak has grown by almost a third. The CDC confirms 91 cases of fungal meningitis in nine states, including seven deaths. That's 27 new cases since yesterday. Nearly half in Michigan. Meningitis is linked to contaminated steroid injections often used to ease back and neck pain. The company that distributed the tainted steroid issued a voluntary recall for all of its products.

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KIHUEN: I'm Ruben Kihuen, I'm running for United States Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

KIHUEN: Well, thank you, my friend.

O'BRIEN: Ruben Kihuen, energetic, enthused.

KIHUEN: I'm one of the youngest senators here in Nevada.

O'BRIEN: And emboldened by his trip to Washington, D.C. is back in Las Vegas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, Ruben.

O'BRIEN: Continuing his campaign to become Nevada's first Latino congressman. But the polls are telling a different story.

There must have been people in your campaign who are crunching those numbers and saying, Ruben, we're in trouble.

KIHUEN: We were not focused on what that poll or any of those polls were saying because I was confident that by the time Election Day came around, they knew who Ruben Kihuen was and what he planned on doing for them. O'BRIEN: Then, on February 7th, 2012, just two weeks after Ruben's D.C. trip, a surprising turn. Kihuen releases this statement and withdraws from the race.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Here at home, State Senator Ruben Kihuen has dropped out of the race.

O'BRIEN: Rancho High School is the home base for Ruben's volunteer youth support. Both students and teachers struggle with the news.

RIOS: It's so shocking because just this Saturday, we were out canvassing for him and his campaign manager was there and, you know, the field director was there and how could this have happened?

ISAAC BARRON, TEACHER, RANCHO HIGH SCHOOL: The only time I think I've been -- I think I sat or maybe as effected is when I found out the Dream Act had not passed.

O'BRIEN: The students expect to hear from Ruben personally. Instead his sister --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mary Anna Kihuen.

MARY ANNA KIHUEN, RUBEN KIHUEN'S SISTER: Thank you, guys.

O'BRIEN: Faces their disappoint.

M. KIHUEN: It was you guys that really made his campaign last five, six months that it did.

BARRIENTOS: All the indications was Ruben is our candidate, and he will go to Congress.

O'BRIEN: Miguel Barrientos, a producer and host for KRLV Radio in Las Vegas.

BARRIENTOS: Ruben would have kept the party strong. He would have kept the Latinos more on the Democratic ticket, but after that, I think it's going to be -- it's going to reflect on how people are going to get elect here in southern Nevada.

O'BRIEN: A week passes and a once highly visible Ruben Kihuen has still not made a public appearance. Speculation builds about his withdrawal from the race.

Until Ruben appears on Miguel's Spanish radio show to face those who believed in him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Harry Reid was really so interested in the Hispanic vote --

KIHUEN: The reality is, you know, some people don't understand it but the reality is that we didn't have the money.

BARRIENTOS: So, OK, Ruben, if the issue is money.

O'BRIEN: Miguel doesn't buy it.

BARRIENTOS: Harry Reid was able to raise $30 million for his Senate race. I'm sure he would -- with a couple phone calls, he would have raised $1 million for Ruben Kihuen if he really wanted to help the Latino community.

KIHUEN: Because I knew once you've made that decision --

O'BRIEN: Regardless of the reasons, Ruben struggles with his decision to drop out.

KIHUEN: And again, it was tough. I mean don't get me wrong. It was tough for me.

O'BRIEN: How tough?

KIHUEN: For me, I couldn't sleep the day before because I wasn't sure if I should stay in the race or not. We had the volunteers, we had the people support. We had the community, you know, behind my campaign.

O'BRIEN: But?

KIHUEN: We had community leaders.

O'BRIEN: But?

KIHUEN: But this was going to have a negative impact ultimately for President Obama's campaign here in Nevada because I know that worse case scenario, had I lost that primary, those voters who were nontraditional voters, who were excited to see my candidacy, were going to be discouraged to go out there and support anyone in the general election.

O'BRIEN: Ruben says with the weight of re-electing President Obama on his shoulders and the dream of his community on his back, he took one for the team. His party, not his people.

Are some Latinos mad about that? You know, that the person who has to take one for the team is the young up and coming Latino who can bring out the Latino vote which, by the way, is big in this state? But when push came to shove, it's not going to be you this time?

KIHUEN: You know, I'm -- I don't know. I mean, I've heard of a lot of, you know, mixed messages from people. I know some people did call me and some people were disappointed with the Democratic Party. That they did -- you know, that they should come out and supporting me publicly, you know, if they're really so concerned about getting Latinos out to vote, they should have supported the Latino candidate.

O'BRIEN: Senator Reid's office says the decision to drop out of the race was Kihuen's.

From Ruben's balcony the strip offers a constant reminder why he got into the race in the first place. KIHUEN: If you look at that big green hotel over there, that's where my mom works. And as we speak, that's where she's working. She's a housekeeper at the MGM Grand. Part of the reason why I was doing this was because of my mom and because of my father, and so when I look out there, I think about my mom that's working right now, her dream of seeing me serving in Congress is going to have to be put on hold. But I'm still committed to it as ever. It just didn't happen in 2012.

O'BRIEN: Republican Cecilia Aldana still has high hopes for 2012. Inspired after working at the Republican caucus supporting frontrunner Mitt Romney, Cecilia sets her sights on becoming a delegate to the national convention.

Is that going to happen?

ALDANA: No, it didn't happen. I don't know how exactly that works but I was not one of the names on the list. I don't know what the process is. But my name wasn't there so I guess it broke my heart.

O'BRIEN: With Nevada's Republican Party in disarray, splintered between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney supporters, and no clear strategy, Cecilia is left with a challenge.

ALDANA: You are a Nevada Hispanic.

O'BRIEN: How to win over the Latino vote for Republicans on her own.

And with Ruben out of the race, have Democrats jeopardized getting the Latino vote in Nevada?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This is a big day for Debbie Rios. Today she's graduating from Rancho High School. She starts college in the fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Debbie Lorraine Rios.

O'BRIEN: Something her undocumented older brother could not do. Debbie Rios is becoming an adult in a school district where the population is booming. Nearly 50 percent of kindergarteners are Latinos.

Though Latinos are the largest minority group in the country, they are politically underrepresented nationwide. Here in Nevada, Democrat Ruben Kihuen abandoned his bid to become the state's first Latinos congressman.

KIHUEN: Hello, Rancho High School.

O'BRIEN: But urges the Rancho graduates to keep on fighting.

KIHUEN: We must remember that the road to success leads through hard work, patience, persistence and perseverance.

O'BRIEN: Ruben is persevering by joining his party's outreach to Latino voters. Are Democrats engaging in Latino voters here?

KIHUEN: Yes. Yes, I am seeing a lot of activity from the president's campaign, from even some of our local candidates. They understand the value of the Latino vote and they're making an effort to go out there to the events. You need to invest in the Latino vote in order to get Latinos to come out and vote.

O'BRIEN: And you feel like the Democrat are investing?

KIHUEN: They are investing.

O'BRIEN: Regardless of what happened with you?

KIHUEN: Yes. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Many Latinos are disappointed with the Democrats. After President Obama failed to tackle the immigration reform he promised, after the 2010 defeat of the Dream Act, and in Nevada, many Latinos resent the lack of support for leaders like Ruben.

BARRIENTOS: I think that the leadership is seeking the Latino votes, but the way we saw it with the Ruben Kihuen issue is they're not ready to give us the political power. I think it's a missed opportunity for the Democrat leadership.

O'BRIEN: Five months before the election, President Obama independently makes a decision that changes the game.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.

O'BRIEN: The president's executive decision temporarily allows undocumented young people to stay in the U.S. and apply for a work permit. A strategy that directly targets young voters under 30, like Debbie Rios. The Republicans say it isn't the right solution. Mitt Romney, now the party's candidate, fires back.

ROMNEY: I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis.

O'BRIEN: On the ground, the national parties are dialing into the Latino community. And both parties come to Nevada for the National Council of La Raza's annual conference.

JANET MURGUIA, NCLR PRESIDENT AND CEO: We need to define ourselves.

O'BRIEN: Janet Murguia is La Raza's president.

MURGUIA: We saw Latinos be a swing vote in 2010 and in 2008 when Barack Obama was put into office and when Harry Reid was elected into office. As it turns out, they tipped the scales and I think everyone credits the Latino community with having made the difference in those elections. O'BRIEN: The NCLR conference has been a center stage for Latino politics. Candidates Obama and McCain spoke here in 2008, but neither candidate attend in 2012. Janet Murguia says it's a missed opportunity.

MURGUIA: It's important to tap into that growing power of the Latino community and to encourage as many Latinos and Hispanics to be full participants in the electoral process.

O'BRIEN: Which is exactly what Cecilia Aldana is now focusing on.

ALDANA: We're conservatives. And we're trying to educate the population on the different options.

O'BRIEN: Frustrated by the split in Nevada's Republican Party, Cecilia moves forward on her own. Though still a hardcore Republican, she decides to join an independent conservative group.

ALDANA: I became part of Nevada Hispanic, it was created by one of my greatest friends. We believe in strong immigration. We believe on the family.

O'BRIEN: Why not work with the Republican Party?

ALDANA: I think you can achieve more doing what I'm doing because I don't tell you how to vote. I want to teach you how this country works.

O'BRIEN: The Republican Party's outreach is slowly taking shape. With the state party in disarray, the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign start their own separate outreach. They call it Team Nevada. Hector Barreto helped lead Mitt Romney's official Latino outreach.

Romney and Team Nevada opened their offices in Las Vegas. And that was April. And there were plenty of people in Nevada, Latinos, who felt it was -- it was really late by then. Do you think that was late?

BARRETO: No. I don't feel it was late. And again, a lot of times, people aren't really even plugging in until you get to this time of the year.

O'BRIEN: But are Republicans plugging into Nevada Latinos?

The Latinos in the state of Nevada, is that your focus for the campaign?

BARRETO: Well, no, as I mentioned to you, I personally have been in Colorado campaigning. I've been in Ohio. I'm going to Wisconsin this week.

O'BRIEN: But you just told me that you think Nevada could be a critical swing state with --

BARRETO: Well, it is. But we can do more than one state at the same time.

O'BRIEN: And he'll have to, with Obama and Romney nearly tied in the polls and just weeks left until the election, the Latino vote is especially crucial.

Up next, Democrats and Republicans bring Latino issues and players to the biggest stage next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The Democratic National Convention, the party's biggest political pep rally of the year. Front and center is State Senator Ruben Kihuen, one of the party's biggest fans. Months earlier Ruben took one for the team, as he describes it, dropping out of the highly contested congressional race for District One in Nevada. He says he feared his candidacy would divide the Democratic Party. Tonight, Ruben represents Nevada as the Democratic National committeeman.

KIHUEN: I ran for national committeeman, got elected. So this is part of my responsibility to be here but also because I'm one of the main surrogates also for the president's campaign back home.

MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO (D), SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: My grandmother didn't live to see us begin our lives in public service but she probably would have thought it extraordinary.

O'BRIEN: Julian Castro, it's the first time a Latino is doing the keynote at the DNC, which surprised me to some degree. It's an important role that's obviously a message that's being sent to Latinos.

KIHUEN: I think his message is the message of, you know, the American dream is still alive, and if we work hard, we sacrifice, still out there. It was similar to my message when I was campaigning for Congress. And so for me to witness this, it's historic.

CASTRO: The journey that brought me here tonight began many --

O'BRIEN: With the election a virtual dead heat, both parties are desperate to connect with the nation's 24 million eligible Latino voters.

The Republicans' pitch at their convention? They're the party that's true to the conservative beliefs Latinos value most.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There was no limit how far I could go because I was an American.

O'BRIEN: Republican Cecilia Aldana dreamed of going as a delegate to the convention. It didn't happen, so Cecilia shifted her efforts away from the Republican Party and toward an independent conservative group called Nevada Hispanics. She is now the chairwoman.

Should the Republican Party look at you and say, this is what we need to win Hispanics. If we don't get Hispanics eventually we are really not going to be competitive? ALDANA: Yes. They need to make a note on what I'm doing every day is what --

O'BRIEN: But they don't -- they don't make a note?

ALDANA: They don't make a note.

O'BRIEN: But the party needs to be making note and fast. Cecilia Aldana is doing her part and believes her independent effort could deliver 5,000 to 10,000 conservative votes for Mitt Romney.

BARRETO: I spoke to Cecilia last week, I met with her.

O'BRIEN: Hector Barreto helps lead's Mitt Romney's official Latino outreach.

BARRETO: You know, she has an organization, she's doing a lot of grassroots, too.

O'BRIEN: She told me she started doing that on her own when she couldn't get into the campaign.

BARRETO: Yes. Well, and you know what, that's what leaders do. You know, she is a leader. You know, they don't wait for anybody.

O'BRIEN: Wouldn't it take more sense to take someone like that who's clearly a leader --

BARRETO: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: -- and wants to see Governor Romney win?

BARRETO: Absolutely. Well, and as I mentioned to you --

O'BRIEN: And embrace her? And --

BARRETO: As I'm sure that Cecilia is going to be a big supporter and a big contributor to the campaign going forward.

O'BRIEN: And she already is. I mean I think that's my point.

BARRETO: Yes, she is.

O'BRIEN: She is a supporter.

BARRETO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And contributor financially.

BARRETO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Who would like to see Governor Romney as president. Can't figure out how to get in and she believes -- her interpretation is the campaign is disorganize and is not really focusing on Hispanics in Nevada.

BARRETO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That the Romney campaign doesn't really care.

BARRETO: Sure. Well, and you know, what happens in campaigns also is campaigns change. You know, you're running a primary campaign, you don't have a lot of resources to put on the ground. You get into the general campaign, and especially if you're the nominee, and now you have more resources and you have more staff, and these things change very, very quickly.

O'BRIEN: But Governor Romney isn't doing himself any favors. Especially when this tape from a spring fundraiser is released.

ROMNEY: My dad, you probably know, was the governor of Michigan, and was the head of a car company, but he was born in Mexico. And had he have been born to Mexican parents, I would have had a better shot of winning but he was not.

O'BRIEN: With the election weeks away, Nevada is still up for grabs. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is one of President Obama's key campaigners for the Latino vote.

Do you think the state of Nevada is going to pick the next president?

VILLARAIGOSA: Twenty-four out of the last 25 elections they have picked the president. As Nevada goes, so goes the nation. But I see a very close election.

O'BRIEN: Today there are 51 million Latinos in the country, roughly half are eligible to vote and their votes are critical to winning the election, but what about their voices? When will their numbers translate into political power?

VILLARAIGOSA: I have said this to Democrats and Republicans alike. We know that when Latinos see more candidates coming from their community there's no question that that has a way of kind of energizing the Latino vote.

O'BRIEN: Ruben Kihuen hopes to be one of those candidates in the future.

Will you run for office again?

KIHUEN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Will you be a congressman?

KIHUEN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: One day?

KIHUEN: One day. Yes.

O'BRIEN: When?

KIHUEN: I still aspire to be that first Latino congressman from the state of Nevada, and you know, it's just going to have to wait a little longer.

O'BRIEN: Has your American dream changed?

KIHUEN: Not at all. You know, I'm living the American dream every day. I mean, I'm enjoying this American dream that my family and I have been afforded in this country. You know, and that is the reason why we came here. That is the reason why my parents sacrificed so much. I don't need to be in Congress to be living the American dream.