Democrats Descend on Nevada and Eye It as a Bellwether

Democratic presidential candidates South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., businessman Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney stand onstage during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party Sunday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(CN) – If Harry Reid is correct, the glitzy frivolity of the Las Vegas Strip belies Nevada’s role as a critical early predictor of who will secure the Democratic nomination.

“We are the first state in the West and the first state that is representative of the rest of this country,” Reid told a gaggle of reporters before the First in the West Event at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

The event featured the full slate of Democratic candidates vying to find the footing necessary to make a quality showing in the early phase of the Democratic primary.

Iowa holds its caucus on February 3, marking the beginning of the primary season. New Hampshire follows close behind on February 11 and then Nevada on the 22nd.

“Iowa is not representative of our country,” Reid said when discussing the importance of Nevada. “It is 90 percent white and New Hampshire is less diverse. Nevada is a diverse state.”

Nearly a quarter of the Silver State is Latino and the demographic is growing. It’s 10% Asian American and 10% Black and increasingly urban.

Reid and other Nevada officials are keen to make the case that it will be Nevada, not the earlier two states that will decide how the primary ultimate breaks, and for whom.

The candidates appear to have gotten the message, with all 14 candidates, including the front-runners, campaigned actively in and around Nevada throughout the weekend culminating in Sunday’s event.

Joe Biden is leading the polls in Nevada at this preliminary stage by a sizeable margin (10 percentage points).

Biden’s electability has always been central to his pitch and Sunday night was no different.

“We have to be very careful about who we nominate,” Biden said. “We can’t run the risk of nominating somebody who cannot beat Trump.”

It was a shopworn spiel from Biden and the other presidential candidates who took the stage immediately following the former vice-president walked the well-worn path of their stump speeches.

Senator Bernie Sanders, second in Nevada according to the latest CBS News/Yougov poll, gave his familiar speech regarding immigration, healthcare, criminal justice reform and taxes.

“Many in the billionaire class are getting very nervous, very emotional,” he said, alluding to recent reports in the press of various wealthy individuals decrying the liberal tax policies proposed by Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren is in a dead heat with Sanders for second in the poll.

Warren notably shied away from touting Medicare for All, as some have pointed to her recent slide in national polls as evidence of the electorate’s unwillingness to embrace a transformative healthcare policy that could require a significant tax hike.

Instead, Warren focused on her message of economic justice, talking up a wealth tax and the need for healthier unions.

“Unions built America’s middle class and they will help rebuild the middle class,” Warren said.

Pete Buttigieg, who has surged in Iowa lately, took time in his speech to carve out differences between his ideas and the more progressive wing of the party.

“I stand ready to deliver Medicare for all those who want it,” he said, saying those with private plans they prefer would be allowed to keep them under his plan.

Buttigieg is poised to take over as the moderate candidate should Biden flounder and many pundits point to the possibility that the mayor of South Bend could make a run all his own.

But to return to Reid’s idea, Iowa, in particular, and New Hampshire too, have the potential to function as outliers rather than reliable indicators.

Their large white populations, low voter turnout, lack of urban populations and distinctive narrow corporate interests create conditions that could give candidates early leads who may not retain them once the urban centers that represent the Democratic strongholds weigh in.

“I get asked more about ethanol than any kind of transit,” said Julian Castro, one of the candidates who talked to reporters after delivering remarks.

Senator Corey Booker said Iowa and New Hampshire do have advantages though, namely they are small enough to give all candidates to get their messages out without needing enormous war chests to run television adds in a place like California, Florida and Texas.

Iowa is also Midwestern, a place where Senator Amy Klobuchar hopes to excel, as she spent part of her speech in Las Vegas burnishing her Midwestern credentials.

For Democrats, Iowa could provide a roadmap for retaking Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, retaining Minnesota and even dreaming of getting back Ohio. New Hampshire is a battleground state with the kind of rural individuals who once voted for Obama and then voted for Trump.

It’s not that there is nothing to be gleaned.

But if Democrats believe they can take Arizona and if they nurture ambitions for Texas, Nevada will be the key.

If Nevada is an early indication, Biden can take solace and Buttigieg has a lot of work to do. He has 9% of the Silver State public, according to the latest poll.

But Reid says polls are fickle and unreliable at this stage.

“Right now, it’s very fluid regarding who is going to be our nominee,” the former senator said. “People are always going to be looking for why somebody is doing better or worse in a given week.”

Reid said he is confident the Democrats have a robust and diverse slate of Democratic candidates, but not everyone is so sure.

Newly minted candidate Deval Patrick made an appearance at the event, meeting with reporters before the event.

Some cast his late entrance as general unease within the party about the viability of the current slate of candidates, but Patrick said his decision to enter was about what he could bring to bear.

“It’s not a frustration with the field today it’s about what I think I can offer,” he said. “I have worked and solved problems in the public sector, the private sector and in the nonprofit world.”

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