By Luciana Lopez
MIAMI (Reuters) - The man answering a volunteer's knock on the door in the Kendall section of Miami-Dade County on Saturday was emphatic: Not only would he vote but “esperamos que la presidenta gane" - Spanish for "we hope Madam President wins."
Volunteers across Florida made a last-minute push to get voters to the polls this weekend with early voting ending on Sunday ahead of Election Day on Tuesday, pitting Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton, or "la presidenta," as the man at the door called her.
Latino voters like the man in Kendall and elsewhere could have an outsized influence in Tuesday's election. Early voting data may portend a jump in the number of Hispanic voters this year, especially in the key swing states of Nevada and Florida, and Clinton would likely be the biggest beneficiary.
Clinton has polled much stronger among Latino voters nationwide: a Washington Post/Univision poll released last week gave her 67 percent of the Hispanic vote to Trump's 19 percent. Trump has fared poorly with America's largest minority voting group, having repeatedly angered Hispanics with disparaging comments about their communities.
A recent poll conducted by the firms The Tarrance Group and Bendixen and Amandi found that Hispanic registered voters in Florida favor Clinton 60 percent to 30 percent. In Nevada the gap was even wider - 72 percent for Clinton and 19 percent for Trump.
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In Florida, the Clinton campaign estimates early Latino voting is up 139 percent, or more than twice as much, compared to 2012, according to a field report dated Wednesday.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale, a Florida expert, estimated that 170,000 more Hispanics had voted early or by mail as of Wednesday than had voted early or by mail in the entire 2012 election, according to a post on his blog.
“And keep in mind, because Hispanic is a self-identifying marker, studies have found that the real Hispanic vote is larger than the registration. So while Hispanics might make up 14.2 percent of the voters who have voted so far, in reality, the number is larger,” he wrote.
Despite the surge in early voting, there is no certainty about which candidate people chose for president. There is also no guarantee that the higher Latino turnout rate will continue on Election Day and that they and other minority voters will make enough of a difference to swing Florida and other states.
Trump kicked off his maverick campaign last year by describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and made a tough stance on immigration a signature part of his vision for America. He called for a wall to be built on the border and said an American-born federal judge could not do his job because of his Mexican heritage.
That rhetoric might be hurting him in an increasingly diverse Florida, where many election watchers believe Trump must win to have a chance to secure the minimum 270 votes in the Electoral College needed to claim the White House.
Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida who also does voting research, said Democrats have a strong lead among Hispanics who have voted early in Florida.
"From my perspective this is Hispanics in Florida reacting viscerally to Donald Trump," said Smith. "His scorched earth campaign against immigrants and especially Hispanics is coming home to roost in Florida."
DEMOCRATIC EDGE IN KEY COUNTY
The state of Nevada does not note race or ethnicity on its voter registration but other data there suggest Latinos also are turning out in force.
For one thing, Clark County has seen a surge in early voting. Between in-person and absentee voting, registered Democrats have now returned over 72,000 more ballots than registered Republicans there. Those figures do not indicate which candidate voters picked, only the party with which the voters are registered.
Friday alone saw 57,172 votes in person in Clark County. Photos making the rounds on social media showed especially long lines at a Cardenas market voting site, which stayed open late to accommodate the surge of voters.
Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, has a large Latino population – 30.6 percent, compared to 28.1 percent for Nevada as a whole, according to the U.S. Census.
Even more Republican votes elsewhere in the state are so far not enough to counterbalance that Democratic lead in Clark County. Overall, the Democrats have cast around 46,000 more ballots in Nevada than Republicans.
That’s not an accident, said Artie Blanco, the Nevada state coordinator for the progressive group For Our Future. Her organization and others banded together in a major get-out-the-vote push, especially among voters of color, and the coalition’s data suggest that the effort paid off.
Twenty-two percent of Democrats who voted on Friday had a conversation with someone from that progressive coalition at some point after Oct. 15, Blanco said. Among Latino voters on the last three voting days, the coalition had conversations with 14 percent of them after Oct. 15, according to the group’s data.
Trump on Saturday took a jab at the early voting turnout in Nevada.
“They didn’t get the kind of vote that they needed to stop us on Tuesday,” Trump said in Reno. “Tuesday is our day in this state.”
He said Reno and northern Nevada could “carry us all the way to Washington.”
But Blanco said the votes were instead the result of major work to bring out voters, especially people of color and that progressive organizations were not done yet.
“We have all these voters that we need to now go back and say, 'You’ve got one day,'” she said of those who had not yet cast ballots.
(Writing and reporting by Luciana Lopez; Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Bill Trott and Mary Milliken)