By Anthony Galloway, NBC News producer
Anyone who has experienced the Las Vegas desert heat, even in mid-October, knows it takes a special kind of person to spend an entire day outside in it. But Xavier Rivas and Aurora Espinosa are undeterred. Rivas, a business development consultant, volunteers daily with Sen. John McCain's campaign, talking to locals and business owners about why McCain should be president. Espinosa, a maid on leave from Harrah's hotel and casino, has spent the last two months walking door-to-door educating fellow Culinary Union members about why Sen. Barack Obama is the right pick.
Both Rivas and Espinosa are especially well suited for this task. They are Latino and bilingual and live in Nevada, where ten percent of registered voters are Latino, too. It's a number significant enough to tip the scales of the election in this close toss-up state.
Their candidates' campaigns know this and are focusing special attention on Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico because of their high Latino populations and close positions in the polls.
Despite the importance of the immigration issue in past elections, this year many Latinos have said the economy is priority number one.
Espinosa walks daily in North Las Vegas where bank-owned homes are common and residents laid off from jobs at Vegas casinos have resorted to selling their cars to make ends meet. Espinosa is supporting her daughter, who has had a hard time finding a job after graduating from a medical trade school, and worries about her son who is fighting in Iraq.
Rivas travels monthly between Nevada and Mexico. He was a supporter of Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. But after Richardson ended his campaign, Rivas moved over to McCain. He thinks his candidate will be better for immigration, trade and small business, and he proclaims this in hour-long Spanish radio broadcasts.
To say Latinos have become excited this election season would be an understatement. Some of them are new citizens. Many others are newly registered voters. There's a sense of pride in this community, knowing their vote is important and believing participation is part of the American Dream. This was fully evident as correspondent Chris Jansing and I stood outside an early voting location and watched as a middle-aged Latino father walked out with his arm around his young son. By the smile on his face and the cadence of his voice, I'd guess it was his first time voting. In a private moment, seeming to reference Obama's historic candidacy as an African-American, he told his son, "If we keep voting like this in every election, someday we will have a president, too."