LAS VEGAS — Marco Rubio often tries to win over voters here by talking about the shared experiences he has with many Nevada voters, having lived in Las Vegas when his parents worked in casino hotels as a bartender and a maid.
But one close Rubio family member won’t be voting for him in the Republican caucuses next month because he’s an elected Democrat.
“I love my cousin, but at the same time I’m a Democrat,” said Moises “Mo” Denis, 54, a Nevada legislator who was the state’s first Latino Senate majority leader.
This week, as Denis walked by the home Rubio lived in as a child — a modest one-story house in the College Park neighborhood — Denis said he is proud of his cousin, who is aiming for the White House.
He said the senator from Florida, with whom he keeps in touch, is not the typical presidential contender because he “didn’t live in big houses and have fancy cars.”
But they differ on policies, certainly on immigration. Denis, who represents a district with a large number of Mexican immigrants, supports a path to citizenship for undocumented people and worked to get driver’s licenses for them.
Democrats in Nevada, particularly Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, have spent a lot of time and effort responding to the needs of Latinos, while “Republicans are the Johnny-come-lately,” Denis said.
Denis’s mother and Rubio’s mother are sisters. Denis is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Rubio attended during the years he lived here as a child. Rubio has been courting Mormon support, and his Nevada state campaign chairman, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchinson, is a prominent member of the church.
Rubio returned to his Catholic faith and the family moved back to Miami, where he attended high school and eventually started his political career.
Denis, who is bilingual like Rubio and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, said his cousin and Bush would do better with Latinos in a general election than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Denis said Cruz is mostly known for wanting to deport undocumented immigrants. He said Nevada’s large Latino population — which is largely of Mexican origin — will vote according to “how people stand on the issues, and how they treat immigrants will be particularly important.”
He said that means Democrats have a huge advantage.
Denis actively campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but with his cousin running this time and as a Republican, he’s planning to stay on the sidelines.