President Barack Obama is returning to familiar ground for his big immigration announcement on Friday: Del Sol High School.
The Las Vegas school was where Obama first launched his campaign to overhaul the immigration system in January 2013. While symbolic for policy reasons, the setting also serves as a powerful reminder to Republicans that the midterms, with their over-representation of older white voters, are over and 2016 has begun. Traditionally, Democrats do better during presidential election years because key parts of their base—Latinos, single women, and young people—are more likely to come out to the polls.
For Democrats thinking about the 2016 races, there’s no better place to set an immigration speech than a high school with a two-thirds Hispanic population in a swing state. Nevada has one of the fast-growing Latino populations, an influx that’s shifted the state’s politics towards Democrats in recent cycles. By the way, it’s also in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the soon-to-be out of power Senate leader who may face a tough reelection fight against Republican Governor Brian Sandoval. “This is personal to me,” Reid said in a statement on Wednesday. “There is no better place than Nevada for President Obama to outline the actions he is taking to keep families together, improve the economy and protect our national security.”
Reid isn’t the only Democratic candidate cheering Obama’s pick. With Senate races in Colorado, Nevada and Florida, all of which are also key presidential battlegrounds, Latinos will be a particularly important demographic in 2016. In 2012, Obama won 71 percent of Latino voters, a margin that gave an edge in those states even as their economies struggled to recover. Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton advisers, want to maintain that lead.
Of course, nearly two years ago, Obama’s pitch was slightly different.
“At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging,” he said then. “Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away. “
Since then, much has changed in Washington. Obama’s push for a Senate immigration bill was killed by House Republicans. Democrats were trounced in the midterm elections, losing control of the Senate. And now, Obama finds himself going it alone. Even a dinner Wednesday at the White House with congressional Democrats is simply an opportunity for the president to detail his proposal—not debate it. There won’t be “a lot of horse-trading or back-and-forth” tonight, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today. “This is more of an opportunity for the president to share his thinking.”
Top Senate Democrats seem fine with that arrangement. On Monday, Democratic leaders sent a letter to Obama backing up his legal authority to take unilateral action and urging him to “improve as much of the immigration system” as possible. “I believe the President should go big, as big as he can go,” Reid said in an interview with Spanish news station Univision on Tuesday. On Friday, Reid plans to attend the president’s address, and though it’s Obama who will be center stage in Nevada, the senator will certainly not be the only Democratic politician trying to capture a bit of the reflected political glow.