Hundreds of San Antonio Democrats crowded inside the Alamo Brewery beer hall on Tuesday night, as the party’s top candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and former Secretary of State and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton took their places on stage in Nevada for the first Democratic debate.
The debate also introduced Americans to lesser-known candidates including the former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and former Virginia senator Jim Webb. The focus of the questions and the debate, however, rested squarely on Clinton and Sanders.
“I believe that she will win!” the crowd chanted after Lorella Praeli, the director of Latino outreach for Hillary for America. “The Latino movement for Hillary starts on Thursday, but I think it starts here, tonight!”
Hosted by San Antonio for Hillary, the crowd was largely made of young voters and established local Democratic leadership who have publicly endorsed Clinton, including Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert and former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the evening’s emcee. Many attendees mentioned that the biggest issues for them were immigration, equal pay and the disappearing middle class.
The debate was staged in Las Vegas, Nevada, a state with a large Hispanic population.
“Sanders definitely represents the Latinos more, the only problem is that Latinos don’t know it,” Peter Gomez, a law student at St. Mary’s University said. Gomez also works as a secretary for The Bexar County Young Tejano Democrats, which has not yet endorsed any candidate. “Most Latinos know the candidates from Univision, and Clinton supports Univision. (But) look at the records. Sanders has supported us for a long, long time.”
Until a few months ago, Sanders was relatively unknown to voters and ignored by Clinton’s campaign. According to a CBS News/ New York Times Poll, Clinton still leads the race with a 58% lead, with Sanders closing in at 27%. If Vice President Joe Biden does announce his intent to enter the race, he attracts 15% of Democratic voters.
Attendees, event speakers, and the Democratic candidates themselves referenced the measured, civil statements made on stage Tuesday night and compared them to the rhetoric used by GOP candidates concerning immigration and women’s health issues that have divided many voters, even those within the Democratic Party.
“This election for me is about women’s rights above all,” said Breshna Daniella Shah Martinez, a military service member at Ft. Sam Houston. “I think women’s issues have been on the forefront lately, and we need someone who understands that.
“I think Sanders is great, and he’s a viable candidate, but I hate to use the word, but I think he’s a little too socialist for a capitalist society like ours,” Martinez added. “Clinton has been pro-immigration, and pro-health care. I hope the Hispanic population will not vote against their interests, because they often do.
“Our interests here is our status, our life in the United States, the tools that any candidate can offer in order to stay in the country and progress,” Martinez said of Latino voters in the 2016 Presidential race.
Van de Putte, a longtime Hillary supporter, believes Clinton has established herself as an ally to San Antonio and the city’s large Latino population.
“She’s no stranger to this community; she knocked on my grandmother’s door in 1972,” Van de Putte said of Clinton’s work in a presidential campaign on Westside San Antonio in 1972. “Everytime she has been here, even as First Lady, she has had a real affection for San Antonio.”
Attendees enjoyed a variety of Alamo beers, and those who donated to Clinton’s campaign received a free drink and a commemorative T-shirt designed by local artist Cruz Ortiz.
San Antonio for Hillary expects volunteers and supporters to welcome Clinton at Sunset Station on Thursday morning, where she will be meeting with local leaders and individuals organizing grassroots movements.