Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., picked up the endorsement of a leading Latino activist who originally supported Heck's opponent in the race for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's seat.
"It is clear we need to change our fiscal policies in Washington, D.C., or else the country and Nevada will slip back into recession," Otto Merida, the founder of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said Monday. "As someone who owned and ran a small business, Dr. Heck understands what it takes to create jobs."
Merida previously endorsed the Democrat in the race, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. It's a reversal for an activist who played a role in plenty of swing-vote intrigue in recent Nevada elections.
In 2014, he led a Hispanic group that nearly backed a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, until Reid intervened to kill the endorsement. The race had potential implications for the 2016 Senate campaign. And in 2010, Merida joined "Republicans for Reid" to help the top Senate Democrat survive re-election in a Tea Party wave year.
That history makes Merida's defection from Reid's heir apparent, Cortez Masto, a little more interesting for Nevada Republicans. "For years, Democrats have held up Otto as a important spokesperson for the Nevada Hispanic community," an in-state GOP operative said. "It will be interesting to see how they try to spin this. This is probably one of the signs of Harry Reid's declining influence as he rides off into the sunset."
Heck's campaign attributed the endorsement to Merida's unhappiness with the state of the economy, following another disappointing Commerce Department report showing little growth in the economy.
"On behalf of Dr. Heck, who is on military duty this week, I want to thank Otto Merida for his support of our campaign to improve economic opportunities for the Latino community and all Nevadans," said Heck spokesman Brian Baluta. "For more than 40 years, Mr. Merida has been a powerful voice for Latinos and southern Nevada's entire economy. Dr. Heck is proud to have him as a partner because Mr. Merida knows that together we can build a stronger Nevada."
In Heck, Republicans fielded one of their most promising Senate candidates in the country to try to pick off Reid's seat, but that's a difficult task in Nevada in a presidential year, especially given the possibility that GOP nominee Donald Trump causes Hispanic Democrats to turn out in even larger numbers than usual. Merida's endorsement could help mitigate those risks, especially if Heck can build on the endorsement.
"As the founder of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, my mission has always been to support the entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino Community and encourage small businesses to expand for higher job growth," Merida said. "With his business knowledge and support for education, including his work to encourage Latino students to enter health care professions, Dr. Heck has demonstrated to our community he shares this vision."