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Despite Trump's Alienating Rhetoric, Arizona GOP Tries To Woo Latinos


This week, Michelle Obama, Chelsea Clinton and Bernie Sanders are paying visits to Arizona. They're campaigning for Hillary Clinton. Latino voters have put that one solidly Republican state in play. Arizona Republicans are trying to woo Latinos, but they're finding that's a challenge with Donald Trump at the top of their ticket. Jude Joffe-Block of member station KJZZ reports.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: Here in Arizona's Santa Cruz County on the Mexican border, more than 80 percent of the population is Latino, but only 16 percent of voters are registered as Republicans. Thirty-three year old Sergio Arellano has been trying to lure more of these voters to the GOP, but this year has been tricky.

SERGIO ARELLANO: What we encounter on the grassroots is, Republicans are racist; Republicans and Trump wants to deport everybody, want to build a wall.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Arellano is the son of Mexican immigrants and works for both the Republican National Committee and state party. He wants to spread the message that Republicans are about opportunity and jobs.

ARELLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

BLANCA CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

ARELLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

JOFFE-BLOCK: We're going door to door in the border city Nogales. First-time voter Blanca Castro. answers. She's from Mexico and recently naturalized. She tells Arellano she backs Clinton.

ARELLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

JOFFE-BLOCK: Arellano tries to tell her Donald Trump will bring jobs.

ARELLANO: (Speaking Spanish).

JOFFE-BLOCK: But Castro isn't convinced, and that's hardly surprising. Some polls show fewer than 20 percent of Latinos support the Republican nominee. Many Latinos have not forgiven Trump for saying that Mexico is sending rapists and criminals across the border.

CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

JOFFE-BLOCK: Castro says, "you have to understand. I'm Mexican, and at least Clinton isn't racist." However she does vow to support a local Republican candidate for county supervisor. As we walk away, we can overhear Castro's family inside the house talking and laughing.

Were they talking trash about Trump?

ARELLANO: The husband was talking about - that you should have told them that Trump is a crook.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Still, in Arellano's book, this interaction was a partial success.

ARELLANO: Democrat for president, Republican for supervisor.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Hello, may I speak with...

That supervisor candidate is himself a recent convert to the GOP. I met him at the party's brand new campaign office in Nogales, the first of its kind here in this strongly Democratic county.

MIKE MELENDEZ: My name is Mike Melendez, and I'm running for Supervisor District 1 here in Santa Cruz County.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Inside the office, a handful of volunteers, most of them Latino and bilingual, make phone calls to voters. The office doubles as a store where Melendez sells crafts from his native Mexico. He says there are more Latinos like him ready to be flipped.

MELENDEZ: I didn't understand why was I a Democrat, so - because everybody here locally was Democrat or still thinks that they are, but they're thinking Republican - family values and pro-life.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Meanwhile Sergio Arellano continues his quest to persuade these voters. Twenty-year-old Yolanda Mejia, an independent, answers the door.

YOLANDA MEJIA: I just always said that if Bernie never made it, that I was just going to vote for Trump because he's a better alternative than Hillary.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Bingo. Arellano invites her to join his team.

ARELLANO: I feel happy. It's pretty good, but I don't want her to stop at Trump. I want her to fill out the whole ballot Republican.

JOFFE-BLOCK: No matter what happens in the presidential race, Arellano hopes his work will build inroads for the GOP with Latinos in this part of the state. For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Nogales, Ariz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jude Joffe-Block
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