Democrats Down To The Wire In Largely Unpredictable Nevada

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are battling today for votes in a caucus whose outcome could go either way.

Clinton Sanders January Debate

While Republicans in South Carolina will spend today voting, Democrats in Nevada have a caucus that appears to be going down to the wire:

LAS VEGAS — In a storefront on this city’s heavily Latino east side, the civil rights leader Dolores Huerta rallied a dozen volunteers for Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night, relating in Spanish a Mexican saying about people who go near a cactus only when it is bearing fruit.

“Bernie hasn’t been around,” Ms. Huerta said, referring to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s opponent in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday. “He came to see the Latinos when they had the fruit.”

Fifteen minutes away, the Mexican actor and game-show host Marco Antonio Regil stood in the backyard of a suburban home, urging on volunteers for Mr. Sanders and his vow to fight income inequality.

He recalled growing up in Tijuana, with its wide gap between the rich and the poor. “We cannot allow that extreme social disparity to happen in America,” Mr. Regil said.

The dueling pep rallies pointed to how hotly contested the race here has become — particularly among Latino voters. Nevada was once supposed to be a firewall for Mrs. Clinton, its large minority population primed to accelerate her drive to the Democratic nomination. But since her narrow victory in Iowa and crushing defeat in New Hampshire, it has turned into yet another tight and unpredictable contest, in which Mr. Sanders stands to gain more from a victory and Mrs. Clinton stands to lose more from a defeat.

A victory for Mrs. Clinton would not be as remarkable as a win would be for Mr. Sanders, given her history in Nevada and months of hard preparatory work. But a loss could raise concerns among Democrats about her viability. Mrs. Clinton’s aides have appeared to brace for the worst here, playing down expectations and shifting their attention to the South Carolina primary next weekend and on the 11 states that hold contests on Super Tuesday, March 1.

But after Mrs. Clinton led in polls here by more than 20 points a few months ago, the sharply altered outlook shows how her organizational muscle has encountered unexpected resistance from a well-funded and increasingly popular opponent.

And the results on Saturday, particularly among Nevada’s Latino population, could be a harbinger of outcomes in states like Texas and Colorado, which both have contests on March 1.

On Thursday night, Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton both tried to reaffirm their support for immigration reform at a bilingual town hall-style forum held by MSNBC and Telemundo.

In the coming days, Mrs. Clinton will hold just one public rally per day, and will drop in on casinos to chat with employees. She plans to attend a rally in Houston on Saturday evening after the Nevada results come in. Few of her senior aides have entrenched themselves here as they did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

And Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Brian Fallon, even sought last week to portray Nevada’s caucusgoers as predominantly white and liberal, much like voters in Iowa and New Hampshire — suggesting this plays to Mr. Sanders’s advantage.

But focusing on turnout ignores demographic facts: Nevada’s population is nearly half minority, and Democratic caucusgoers in 2008 were 35 percent minority, exit polls showed.

“He must have been looking at one of my high school yearbooks, because things have changed dramatically,” said Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who engineered the caucus system in 2008.

Indeed, Nevada’s diversity — its population is nearly 28 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African-American and 8 percent Asian — was a major part of Mr. Reid’s argument for making the state an early contest for the Democratic nomination.

Mrs. Clinton showed force early on here. Robby Mook, her campaign manager, had served as state director in 2008 when she narrowly defeated Barack Obama in the popular vote in Nevada. Mr. Mook in turn brought on Emmy Ruiz, who led Mr. Obama’s re-election efforts in Nevada in 2012, when he defeated Mitt Romney by nearly seven percentage points.

And Mrs. Clinton unveiled her immigration plan, which she vowed would go further than Mr. Obama’s had, at a high school in Las Vegas, with the children of undocumented immigrants sitting beside her.

By August, her campaign had 22 full-time staff members and had held more than 1,100 one-on-one meetings with Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and African-Americans.

Mr. Sanders did not have a single staff member in the state until October, and his state director unexpectedly quit a month later.

Joan Kato, who worked on Latino outreach for Mr. Obama in Nevada and other states in 2008, took over the Sanders operation in the state. But it was already looking like a lost cause.

That has not turned out to be the case.

Today, Mr. Sanders has 12 offices across the state, more than any other political candidate, with outposts in remote areas like Winnemucca, home to the Northern Paiute tribe, and Fernley, outside Reno. He has outspent Mrs. Clinton on advertising in the state by nearly two to one, and his campaign has sent out more multilingual door hangers and fliers than the Clinton campaign, according to Ralston Reports, a local website that tracks political spending.

“Did they build a firewall and leave it alone? Were they arrogant?” Jon Ralston, the site’s owner and a veteran Nevada political reporter, said of the Clinton campaign. “Call it whatever you want, but it’s clear that a state that they never thought would be in play is now in play.”

The Clinton campaign has been effective in Nevada nonetheless, local officials say, securing high-level endorsements and the support of labor unions and reaching out to diverse constituencies.

“You can’t just parachute in a month before the caucuses and have the kind of field organization she’s got,” said Representative Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

But Mr. Sanders’s small-dollar donor base has allowed him to outspend Mrs. Clinton here as her campaign poured resources into Iowa and, sensing a longer-than-expected nomination fight, began to ramp up in the states that vote in March.

Mr. Sanders’s win in New Hampshire gave his populist economic message momentum in Nevada, where unemployment is at 7.1 percent, compared with 4.9 percent nationally.

“All the organization is good for is one or five points, but beyond that it is really about the public mood,” said David F. Damore, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Determining that public in Nevada, though, isn’t exactly easy. Because of the odd format in which the caucuses are conducted, including the fact that many caucus sites are being held on work sites such as in the Las Vegas casinos so that casino and hotel workers can participate without losing time from work, and the fact that one does not need to be registered with the party beforehand to participate, it’s been historically difficult for pollsters to predict exactly who a likely caucus goer is with sufficient accuracy. Because of this, the polls have often been off the mark in predicting the final result, such as in 2008 when Hillary Clinton finished substantially better than the polling had been predicting she would. In 2016, many polling companies have responded to these difficulties by simply not polling Nevada much at all, so we’ve got a limited amount of data to work with headed into today’s voting.

RealClearPolitics, for example, is only listing three polls since the start of 2016 that it apparently considers credible enough to be included in the average it calculates. One, from a firm called Targetpoint that was conducted for the conservative publication the Washington Free Beacon shows a tie between Sanders and Clinton, which is a dramatic shift from the twenty point lead Clinton had in the limited amount of polling done in 2014. A second poll from CNN/ORC shows Clinton with a one point lead, and a third from Gravis Marketing gives Clinton a six point lead. All of this adds up to a 2.4 point advantage for Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average, and a similar number from Pollster since they are looking at the same limited universe of polling.

This is hardly a sufficient universe of polls from which to make a real judgment about where the race stands at this point. By the end of tonight, or tomorrow morning, or whenever the results from Nevada can be expected, we could end up seeing Clinton pull off a solid victory, or a very narrow one, or we could see a narrow Sanders victory. The prospect of Sanders blowing Clinton away here as he did in New Hampshire seems unlikely, but it is certainly not impossible. In the end, if I had to guess I would project that Clinton will end up winning in Nevada, most likely by a narrow margin of no more than five percentage points. From there, the Democrats will head to their own South Carolina next weekend, where Hillary Clinton’s firewall seems to be holding.

Update: Jon Ralston, perhaps the one person who understands Nevada politics best, explains the Democratic Caucus process. Based on his estimates, we could see results from Nevada around the same time polls close in South Carolina.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Good analysis Doug. I agree that Trump will probably win but perhaps not by the margin you predict. The real battle will be for second between Cruz and Rubio and that is a toss up. If Bush comes in fifth that will pretty muchly do him in. Carson has gone from a candidate to a grifter using the opportunity to increase book sales and speaking fees.

  2. Todd says:

    I agree with your final assessment … there’s no good reason that Clinton shouldn’t win in Nevada. If she doesn’t, it will be interesting to hear the excuses (yet again) from her supporters about how it’s just another small, unrepresentative State. Or even better, the rumor that college Republicans are encouraging their members to vote in the Democratic primary … because of course the Republicans are scared of Clinton. 🙂

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Ron Beasley: Carson is grifting yes, but I read about a bizarre meeting (can’t find reference) between him and Cruz on Friday in a cleaning supply closet of all places during some final rallies in SC. Carson has been lambasting Cruz’s dirty tactics and the assumption is Cruz wanted to patch things up. According to the article when both left the storeroom Cruz did not look happy and Carson was grinning. If Carson is busting Cruz’s genitalia then let him keep on rolling.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:
  5. An Interested Party says:

    Or even better, the rumor that college Republicans are encouraging their members to vote in the Democratic primary … because of course the Republicans are scared of Clinton. 🙂

    Well hell, that sounds no more silly than the idea that Donald Trump could actually win the general election…

  6. Todd says:

    Ok, well I’m done commenting on this Democratic race (you guys who said Clinton will almost certainly be the nominee despite Iowa and New Hampshire are probably right). Sanders really needed to win today if he was going to have any chance in the upcoming contests. I still think there’s a good chance Hillary Clinton may lose in November (unless by some stroke of luck the Republicans nominate Cruz). All I ask is that if a Republican (Trump or Rubio) does win the general election, don’t blame people like me … look in the mirror.

  7. Tyrell says:

    Another caucus. What will it be this time ? A roulette wheel ? Spin the bottle ? Divining rods ? I would be up for some snake handling.

  8. PJ says:

    @Todd:
    Why would anyone blame Sanders supporters? Sanders isn’t going to do a Nader and run as an independent/third party candidate (and neither would Clinton.)

    Also, I doubt that most of the Sanders supporters who won’t turn up in November and vote for Clinton (if she’s the nominee) would have turned up for Sanders if he had won the primaries.

  9. Davebo says:

    @Todd:

    All I ask is that if a Republican (Trump or Rubio) does win the general election, don’t blame people like me … look in the mirror.

    Is this your way of saying you’ll vote for Trump or Rubio in the general?

    Because if not, it’s pretty pathetic. Why would anyone blame you? And why should anyone consult a mirror?

    If this is your way of saying that if only the Dems had nominated Sanders’ they be set to win then it’s worse that pathetic. It’s idiotic. It’s so idiotic that McGovern is laughing at it in his grave.

  10. Davebo says:

    @Todd:

    All I ask is that if a Republican (Trump or Rubio) does win the general election, don’t blame people like me … look in the mirror.

    Is this your way of saying you’ll vote for Trump or Rubio in the general?

    Because if not, it’s pretty pathetic. Why would anyone blame you? And why should anyone consult a mirror?

    If this is your way of saying that if only the Dems had nominated Sanders’ they be set to win then it’s worse that pathetic. It’s idiotic. It’s so idiotic that McGovern is laughing at it in his grave.

  11. Tyrell says:

    News in: Hillary wins by about 400 “votes”, out of around 8,000 people. Which came from 12 arm wrestling matches, 7 roulette wheel spins, 5 sack races, and 10 Go Fishing games. Still out are the Pin the Tail on the Donkey results.

  12. Todd says:

    The difference is, instead of donating money, time, and encouraging others to vote for the Democratic candidate, I’m simply going to ignore the Presidential race. If it was just me, that wouldn’t be any big deal … I’m fairly inconsequential. But it won’t be just me.

    What I mean about the blame thing is that just like in 2000, if Clinton loses, instead of blaming the candidate, many Democrats will instead blame the left-leaning voters who don’t show up and/or decide to vote for someone else.

    I’m so done with the Democratic party. In some ways, you guys are actually worse than Republicans. At least with the Republicans, there’s little doubt about who they represent. Democrats still pretend that they are “for the people”, but then they turn around and put the wishes of Wall Street and business interests above that of the average American too.

    I’m fine. I have a military pension, healthcare, and a nice secure government job. But I also have kids and grandkids who are unlikely to be so lucky. Something has to change in this country, and if even Democrats are too scared of words like “socialism” then we’re all pretty much screwed.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Something has to change in this country, and if even Democrats are too scared of words like “socialism” then we’re all pretty much screwed.

    Oh please…the problem isn’t that Democrats are too scared of words like “socialism”…

  14. PJ says:

    @Todd:

    What I mean about the blame thing is that just like in 2000, if Clinton loses, instead of blaming the candidate, many Democrats will instead blame the left-leaning voters who don’t show up and/or decide to vote for someone else.

    Nader running in swing states and people on the left voting for him instead of Gore lost Gore the election. It’s as simple as that. Sure, those voters may have thought it wouldn’t differ, but if someone looks back at Bush 43’s eight years (or just his first four) and think they would have been just as bad if Gore had been President, then that person needs help.