2020 Democrats seek their fortunes in Nevada

Michelle L. Price
Associated Press

Las Vegas – As the Democratic presidential race hurtles toward Nevada, candidates in the still-crowded field are jumping into their first test in a racially diverse state with solid union muscle and shaky plans for a presidential caucus.

Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg poses for photos with supporters during a town hall rally in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

Nevada has no obvious front-runner, though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders heads into the contest on strong footing. The state has received only a sliver of the attention of the first two states on the primary calendar, Iowa and New Hampshire. Looking at the jumbled field, the state’s most powerful union decided to take a pass on endorsing a candidate, rather than make a divisive choice or risk picking a loser. Most of the state’s most prominent officials have stayed neutral.

The open race has every Democrat spending much of the next week searching for fortunes in the state’s working-class neighborhoods, union halls, casino convention halls and stuccoed suburbs. For Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, it’s a chance to prove their staying power after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. For former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it could be a life preserver to rescue their bids after disappointing starts. For Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, it’s a chance to prove her third-place finish in New Hampshire wasn’t a fluke.

Democratic presidential candidate businessman Tom Steyer embraces a supporter at the Martin Luther King Jr. Senior Center, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Candidates are making a get-out-the-vote push Saturday morning as early voting starts, and they plan to attend a Saturday night fundraising gala for the Las Vegas-based Clark County Democratic Party. Several candidates are making the hourlong flight up to Reno, a city newly flush with tech money and California transplants, and are due back in Las Vegas on Wednesday for the ninth Democratic debate.

This year, with the results of Iowa’s caucuses muddled by technology and reporting problems, Nevada is under pressure to pull off a problem-free caucus. The Nevada State Democratic Party abandoned its original plans to use an app like the one that caused trouble in Iowa and has scrambled to come up with a new system to tabulate results.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to supporters during a rally at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.

The state party said this week that it will try to use simpler technology and a backup paper record, though election experts have warned that deploying new technology and processes without sufficient training can cause problems.

The party has been fortified and professionalized over the years by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The organizing force of the party and its allies is still referred to as the “Reid Machine,” and many of his former staffers hold key roles on the presidential campaigns.

The 80-year-old former senator, who retired in 2016 and has been battling cancer, has repeatedly said he won’t endorse before Nevada’s caucuses. His decision not to back a candidate in the still-volatile field has been echoed by many of Nevada’s top elected officials, including the governor, two Democratic senators and two of three Democratic members of the House.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a campaign rally at the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in Reno, Nev., Friday Feb. 14, 2020.

The state’s most powerful union also decided not to endorse. The 60,000-member casino workers’ Culinary Union announced Thursday it would work instead to get out the vote and defeat President Donald Trump in 2020. The decision was a particular blow to Biden, who has long-standing ties to the union and needed an extra boost heading into Nevada.

While no candidate has earned its backing, the union hasn’t been shy about discouraging support for Sanders and Warren, whose “Medicare For All” plans would move to a government-run insurance system.