Nevada Voters Ready to Have Their Say With Saturday Caucus

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (CN) – The third state contest among Democrats vying for the presidential nomination takes place Saturday in Nevada, where caucus-goers will gather in schools, community centers and even major casinos like Bellagio to decide who gets delegates for the Democratic National Convention in July.

The caucus, six states’ version of a primary, allows voters a chance to meet face to face and try to persuade folks to get behind their candidates. It differs from a primary, where voters get a single choice.

From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate Wednesday at a Democratic presidential primary debate in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In a caucus, if your first choice doesn’t get enough support – 15% of the people on hand in Nevada – you get a second or third choice.

“Most people do have a list – this is my first choice, this is my second. It’s fascinating and insightful to get to talk to your neighbors about it,” said Dan Patterson, 48, from Boulder City, just outside Las Vegas.

As a precinct captain for the Sanders campaign, Patterson will help corral caucus-goers. Each campaign decides how to handle the caucus, and Sanders will have a captain for each precinct.

Patterson backs Sanders largely for the Vermont senator’s views on health care and the environment, and he thinks Sanders is the toughest candidate.

“He’s the least likely to sell out,” Patterson said, adding that his second choice is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. He has no third choice but feels confident Sanders will be viable in the first round.

The 2020 Nevada caucus includes six candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sanders, hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, and Warren.

The long list of candidates in the contest, now less than two weeks from Super Tuesday on March 3 when 14 states hold primaries, makes for an interesting run-up to the convention, said Michael Green, a history professor at University of Nevada who specializes in political history.

If no candidate has a majority of delegates by the Democratic convention in July, it could lead to something that hasn’t happened in more than three decades.

“If nobody ends up with a majority of delegates, then unless (candidates) can make a deal, the convention may go to a second ballot,” Green said.

Caucus-goers vote with their feet, by precinct – shuffling into changing groups through the two-hour process to whittle down the list of candidates. If a candidate doesn’t get 15% support among caucus-goers, those people can pick a second choice, then a third.

Nevada will send 48 delegates to the Democratic convention in July – 36 chosen via the caucuses and 12 allocated via a combination of internal Democratic rules.

Miguel Canales, 46, works for the Culinary Union Local 226, a political powerhouse in Nevada, helping members file grievances against employers. Canales worked a phone bank Thursday, calling union members to remind them to caucus and helping them figure out where to go.

He voted early, listing Biden as his first choice, followed by Buttigieg and Sanders.

He also chose based on health care, picking Biden because he has vowed to let Culinary Union members keep their popular health care plan. He thinks the party will unite after the Democratic convention in July.

“We’re all going to get together behind whoever the candidate is,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Nevada marks the first chance for candidates to woo minority urban voters.

More than 2.5 million of the 3 million Nevadans live in or near two cities – Las Vegas (2.2 million) and Reno (400,000). Census figures show the state is also much more diverse than the previous two Democratic primary contests. Nevada is roughly 48% white, while New Hampshire and Iowa are 93% and 91% white, respectively.

The candidates go into the caucus with Sanders leading in many national polls.

An Emerson College national poll released Wednesday showed Sanders with 29% support nationally among likely Democratic primary voters, followed by Biden with 22% and former New York City Mayor Bloomberg with 14%. Warren saw 12% support, then Buttigieg with 8%. Six percent in the poll chose Klobuchar, the final debate qualifier.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday also shows Sanders leading all comers with 27% support. Biden came in at 15% in that poll, while Bloomberg and Warren tied with 14%. Buttigieg garnered 13% in the NBC poll, while Klobuchar polled at 7%.

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