Updated Feb. 17, 2:35 p.m. | The Senate showdown over immigration could help Minority Leader Harry Reid energize Latino voters in what is expected to be a tough re-election fight — giving him little incentive to cut a deal.
“There is no political downside for Sen. Reid here,” said Jose Parra, a former staffer for the Nevada Democrat and now head of ProsperoLatino, a Latino-focused public relations firm.
Senate Democrats, led by Reid, have already voted three times to block a House-passed bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, thanks to provisions that would gut President Barack Obama’s executive actions shielding millions of immigrants from deportation. Another vote — and another filibuster — are expected after the Presidents Day recess as a department shutdown looms at the end of the month.
Reid didn't budge after the ruling of a Texas judge late Monday temporarily halting the executive actions .
"He's an attorney," Parra said. "He knows that this sort of ruling is so preliminary that I don't think it will factor in his thinking at all."
Reid ripped the ruling in a statement Tuesday.
"President Obama is well within his established Constitutional authority and the legal process will bear that out," Reid said. "The only effect of this ruling is to delay justice for thousands of families in Nevada and across the country. Governors, mayors and law enforcement officers have emphasized that these programs are good public policy, help our economy and keep our communities safe."
Reid is no stranger to Latino outreach. His office has already been working with churches in Nevada, where the Silver State Democrat's staff have been holding workshops to help Latinos sign up for the deferred-action programs.
“It’s a tremendous contrast where you have Reid, once again, protecting the community and these [Republican] guys doing everything they can to separate families,” Parra said. “That’s how it’s portrayed in Hispanic media. This is a family unity issue. And you have Reid holding the line, keeping his caucus together.”
According to a report released last month by the Center for American Progress, Latinos will make up almost 19 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters in 2016, up from 16 percent in 2012. Non-Hispanic white voters will drop from 65 percent of eligible voters to 60 percent.
“One of the keys to winning in Nevada is ensuring a strong Latino turnout in the election,” a former Reid campaign operative said. “That is already going to be helped by the fact that it is a presidential year and the fact that Republicans are actively poking the Latino community in the eye with a big stick is going to prove very problematic for them certainly in a state like Nevada, where the Hispanic community has extraordinary political clout.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group backing an immigration overhaul, believes the prospect of a Reid victory in 2016 could rest with Latinos, as it did in 2010.
“Everyone who looked at the race recognizes that there was a much bigger than expected turnout of Latinos,” Sharry said.
Prior to Election Day in 2010, Reid was widely expected to lose, with most polls showing him trailing Republican opponent Sharron Angle . But with the help of Latino voters, Reid ended up winning by more than 5 percent.
Latino clout has already split the Nevada GOP.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has voted with Reid to filibuster the DHS appropriations bill — the only Republican to do so — while the three Nevada House Republicans, Mark Amodei, Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy, voted for the bill.
There's also been a rift at the state level, with Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt joining a federal lawsuit against Obama's actions without the support of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval.
As for the implications for 2016, it's not hard to see how Reid will use the fight.
“The ads write themselves, don’t they?” Sharry said. “Immigration is not everybody’s top issue, but it becomes a litmus test issue, it becomes a clear signal of, ‘Are you with us or not?’”
Republicans remain unconvinced that an issue in early 2015 will be a major factor come November 2016.
“If I had a dollar for every time last cycle Democrats said an issue was going to be what won their race or the majority I would be on a beach enjoying my retirement,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Andrea Bozek. “It’s a very big mistake for anyone to say that a debate happening in February of 2015 is going to impact a race in two years.”
Bozek argued that Reid sealed his fate after leading a divisive Senate, with Democrats losing their majority last year.
“Harry Reid was responsible for the most dysfunctional Senate in history and he is already underwater in Nevada,” Bozek said.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. Related: Republicans Fear 2010 Redux in Nevada Senate Race After Another Eye Surgery, Harry Reid Due Back After Recess The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.