From a stage on the crowded athletic field of a Las Vegas high school, President Barack Obama got an important endorsement in Spanish: Superstar Mexican rock band Maná.
The support — and a song set — came where Obama spoke to more than 11,000 people Sunday evening: Desert Pines High School, set in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in a swing state where Hispanic voters stand to sway the election. “We have the conviction that Obama is the best candidate for all Latinos,” Maná frontman Fher Olvera said in Spanish, pointing to Obama’s plans for health care, education, and the DREAM Act. “Vote for the president who has cared most for Latinos and minorities.”
The event, scheduled a week before online voter registration ends in Nevada and three weeks before early voting begins, came as both parties have been investing heavily in the region’s Spanish-language TV and radio airtime.
Maná is known for pushing civic participation from the stage, and has worked closely with the nonpartisan Voto Latino organization in recent months to hold on-site voter registration during their concerts. In a press conference after the show, the band characterized their efforts less as political activism than a humanitarian effort for immigrants.
They also said Obama is the more peaceful of the candidates.
“It’s very important to live in peace,” Olvera said in Spanish. “It’s important for the Spaniards, for the Argentines, for all Latin America and Europe. The hope is for Obama, on a worldwide level.”
Formed in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1986, the band has sold more than 30 million albums and enjoys stunning popularity on Spanish-language radio in the U.S. They’ve racked up a record-setting seven No. 1 albums and nine No. 1 singles on Billboard’s “Hot Latin Songs” chart, and have four Grammys and seven Latin Grammys under their belts.
“They’ve been faithful followers of us for many years,” Olvera said of Hispanics in the United States, “and we want to give back a little of what they’ve given to us.”
Maná’s support could help energize Hispanics, which account for 27 percent of the population in a state that doesn’t reliably vote Democrat or Republican. Obama has been courting those voters with frequent appearances in Nevada. In his speech, which discussed energy policy, health care reform and other topics, Obama told audience members that their support for him was changing the immigrant experience.
“You’re the reason why a young immigrant who grew up here, who went to school here, who pledges allegiance to our flag, won’t be deported,” he said to cheers.
Romney and his representatives have also made frequent visits to Nevada. On Friday, Romney’s Spanish-speaking son, Craig Romney, stopped in Las Vegas. The candidate’s wife, Ann, spoke in Reno on Thursday.
Jose Mendoza, his wife Veronica and son Jose Jr. came to Sunday’s event in matching Maná T-shirts, fresh from a concert the band performed in Las Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend. They sang along and bobbed their heads to songs including “Labios Compartidos” as they leaned over a metal barrier to get a better view of the band.
Mendoza said the past four years have been tough. He voted for Obama in 2008, but his family has since lost their home in the mortgage crisis.
“It’s going to take a while,” Mendoza said of the economic recovery. “But the Republicans aren’t going to do anything for us.”
Veronica Mendoza, who wasn’t able to vote in 2008 but has since become a U.S. citizen, also said GOP efforts to court the Hispanic community have fallen flat.
“They’re just doing it because we’re the majority” among minorities, she said.