Driving on any freeway in Las Vegas, you’re likely to see Tom Steyer’s face. Turn on the radio, you might hear his voice. Turn on the television, you’ll probably run across his campaign ad.
But Alondra Escobedo didn’t expect to run into the Democratic presidential candidate near the snack aisle at her local Mexican grocery store Wednesday night.
Steyer, flanked by twin signs for his campaign, was standing on a low stage in front of a display of chips, popcorn and peanuts at an east Las Vegas market, speaking about his immigration policy to several dozen people seated in folding chairs.
Steyer, a billionaire environmental activist from California, was on a two-day campaign swing through Nevada, riding high on recent polling showing him ascendant in the early voting state. Steyer entered the 2020 race late and has only started building up his staff in Nevada in recent months. He is making a concerted push to reach Latinos with Spanish-language ads, and is ramping up his appearances in the state, including his visit this week.
Steyer, worth an estimated $1.6 billion according to Forbes, has become a familiar face after running television ads over the past few years calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Since jumping into the presidential race in July, he’s spent tens of millions of dollars on campaign ads, and in Nevada, he’s had the airwaves largely to himself until recently, when fellow candidate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg launched TV ads.
Steyer has so far mostly drawn modest crowds to his campaign events. He’s eschewed big rallies, instead turning up at a number of issue-focused town halls — or, as was the case Wednesday night, near Aisle 8 at the grocery store with immigrant advocacy group Mi Familia Vota.
“When I saw him here, I thought this is amazing how he’s actually coming out to local places with us here because I definitely wouldn’t see Trump in any of these places,” Escobedo said.
The 23-year-old Democrat said she hasn’t seen any other presidential candidates besides Steyer, but she knew Steyer from his TV commercials.
“In the Hispanic channels, he pops up a lot because he is supporting the Hispanic heritage, immigrants,” she said. “I even told my husband, like, it’s amazing how in his commercials, what stood out to me was his diversity of people.”
Nevada, considered the first test of a candidate’s appeal before a diverse electorate, boasts a population that’s 29% Latino — a population that Steyer’s campaign has made a concerted effort to court.
In December, he launched Spanish ads on television. His two-day swing through Las Vegas this week included two events with a Latino-focus, along with an appearance at a Native American forum and a wide-ranging town hall.
Campaigning at the grocery store, Steyer decried Trump’s immigration policies and pledged to push for comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the millions of immigrants living in the country without legal permission.
“They are part of this society. They’ve been contributing to this society. They deserve papers,” Steyer said. “They deserve a legal status, and I believe that they deserve a path to citizenship.”
He also made a point to say that he’s spent $3 million since Trump took office to hire lawyers to represent people under threat of deportation and that the nonprofit he founded, NextGen America, “has registered and encouraged to vote literally hundreds of thousands of Latinos and Latinas.”
On Thursday morning, Steyer spoke to members of the casino workers’ Culinary Union, a Latino-majority labor group that’s considered one of the most coveted endorsements in Nevada Democratic politics.
“Whether you know him or not, you know him if you live in Las Vegas,” D. Taylor, a former Culinary Union president and current president of the union’s national affiliate Unite Here, said as he introduced Steyer.
Taylor recounted how he saw a Steyer billboard, campaign flyer and television ad all within the last 24 hours.
Before the Culinary Union, whose members prize their health care, Steyer pledged to preserve private insurance while offering a public, government-run insurance option for Americans who want it. He also described his work over the years in California advocating for unions, calling for a $15 hourly minimum wage and overtime pay for farm workers. Several in the crowd responded “wow” and applauded.
Marc Morgan, a member of the union who works at a downtown Las Vegas casino, said he’d seen Steyer’s commercials but never knew much about him before seeing him speak Thursday.
He called Steyer “very passionate” and said the candidate’s yearslong call to remove Trump by impeachment was a plus.
“I’d never been in favor of Trump anyway, so Hallelujah to him,” Morgan said.
Veralyn Vedora, a 67-year old casino singer from Las Vegas who attended Steyer’s Thursday night town hall, said he’s her top candidate. She likes former Vice President Joe Biden but doesn’t think he’s aggressive enough against Trump, unlike Steyer, whom she said “won’t let Trump get away with anything.”
“I just hope that he gets the nomination,” she said of Steyer. “I think he’s underestimated by a lot of people.”