bernie sanders
Bernie 2016 buttons sit outside a caucus location at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada February 20, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker

Who won the Latino vote in Nevada, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? The fact that reporters are even asking the question is a huge victory for Sen. Sanders, who began to court the Latino for the first time in his political career just a few months ago. Nevada caucus results clearly show that Clinton won the state 52 percent to 47 percent, netting 19 delegates to Sanders’ 15 delegates. Overall, it was a loss for Team Bernie. But the Senator’s Latino outreach staff saw a silver lining a CBS exit polls, which indicated that Sanders had won the Latino vote by an 8 point margin.

“What we learned today is that Hillary Clinton’s firewall with Latino voters is a myth,” Sanders campaign deputy political director Arturo Carmona told the New York Times , echoing a statement from Sanders Nevada state director and former Dream activist Cesar Vargas.

Hillary Clinton’s team disputed the methodology of the exit poll, citing an internal report that they commissioned from Latino decisions. For example, the report questioned how many of the CBS questionnaires were completed in Spanish, in a state where “35 percent” of Nevada voters are “foreign born.” On the day of the Nevada Caucus, Clinton Latino outreach director Lorella Praelli retweeted stories supporting her candidate.

The tit-for-tat argument over the Latino vote in Nevada might be missing the larger point: Bernie Sanders shouldn’t have had a chance.

The Clinton campaign started organizing in Nevada weeks earlier, and with more resources. They mobilized a veritable army of prominent Latino surrogates: civil right legend Dolores Huerta, actress Eva Longoria, and many others. They won political endorsements from former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to HUD Director Julián Castro, and Celebrity endorsements like Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera.

Bernie Sanders did attract high-profile staffers from the Latino community, but few expected that to help him overcome his biggest hurdle: name recognition. As I wrote for the Latin Times in September, “ A July 16 poll [by] Univision found that 68 percent of Latino Democrats voters didn’t know who Bernie Sanders was, and only 3 percent said that they would vote for him for president.”

Maybe Sanders won the majority of Latinos in Nevada. Maybe he didn't. But what his campaign proved is that at around half of Latino Democrats in a given state can not only know who he is, but actually vote for him. That is not only a testament to his campaign staff, but also the shiny newness of his platform, which makes big promises on issues that Latino voters, especially young Latino voters, care about very much: the economy, healthcare, immigration and drug war reform.

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