Growing progressive force in the electorate, AAPI voters turn out at higher rates than 2016

Early data shows that white voters again heavily backed Donald Trump this cycle, but it's a diverse coalition of younger voters and people of color who helped push Joe Biden over the edge in Nevada and nationwide. Here's a closer look at what polls and experts tell us about turnout trends within different demographics.

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Kim Murat didn't grow up talking politics; she doesn't know whether her parents even voted. It never came up in her home in Mobile, Alabama, where she moved from Vietnam when her mom married a U.S. Marine when Murat was 14. 

Since her teenage years, her political activity has been a bit scattered — changing from a registered Republican to a nonpartisan to a Democrat and only voting in 2004, 2016 and 2020.

She donated to Donald Trump's campaign in 2016 because she thought the businessman could help with the national debt. But after Trump started "name calling," particularly attacking Jeb Bush, the younger brother of the man she cast her first ballot for, Murat decided to vote for Hillary Clinton. 

For this year's election, the 57-year-old said she spent the past year researching candidates and the situation in Washington, D.C. to prepare herself. She went to the ballot box thinking of the government's response to COVID-19, misinformation she heard from the president and lack of action from Republican leaders like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell — and voted for Democrats down the ballot.

"These are leaders we elected, and we're paying them, and I want my money back," she said.

Murat is part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, commonly shortened to AAPI, that is not only rapidly growing in numbers in Nevada and the rest of the U.S., but also is becoming increasingly politically engaged after being historically underrepresented and overlooked by political campaigns.

In Nevada, where the AAPI community is the fastest-growing population in the state, AAPI voters make up about an 11 percent share of the electorate and represent an estimated 209,384 eligible voters. AAPI voters in the Silver State increased their turnout compared to 2016 more than any other racial demographic.

The term AAPI covers a diverse group of people with roots in more than 30 countries. Originally created because of the racial categories of the U.S. government and efforts within the community to build coalitions, the term for grouping of various demographics has had several variations, including "Asian and Pacific Islander American" (APIA) and "Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander" (AANHPI), both critiqued by scholars for combining two groups with distinct experiences and histories. Depending on the type of research, "AAPI," "Asian," "Asian American" or another label could be used to discuss the rapidly growing voter bloc.

Historically, AAPI communities have garnered little attention from politicians and political organizers, leading to alienation from the political process and lower voter turnout, said Duy Nguyen, executive director of One APIA Nevada, a progressive AAPI political advocacy group. 

“A lot of the Asian community folks don't get talked to by any campaigns, because a lot of them assume that we don't vote,” Nguyen said.

This year, however, he said every campaign made a concerted effort to reach out to Nevada’s AAPI voters. Though Nguyen is a registered Democrat, he said both the Trump and Biden campaigns knocked on his door.

“I think both of the major campaigns started to realize that no, we're not just sitting on the sidelines anymore. We are participating in this process and they better talk to us,” Nguyen said.

Campaign and organizer efforts to get out the vote among the AAPI community resulted in record turnout for Nevada’s AAPI voters, according to Christine Chen, the executive director of APIA Vote. She said in a press briefing call on Wednesday that Nevada made incredible gains from 2016 to 2020, with AAPI voters more than doubling their early voting turnout.

“2020 has solidified AAPI voters as the margin of victory, and it is time for everyone to take notice of the unique needs and challenges of our communities,” Chen said in a press release last week. “APIA Vote will continue to make sure that every voter understands their power and has an equal opportunity to vote in every election.”

Vida Benavides, the founding chair and former executive director of APIA Vote who moved to Nevada in 2008, explained that along with dedicated organizers conducting outreach, anti-Asian rhetoric, violence against Asian American communities, and AAPI leaders aligning themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement sparked a rise in activism and turnout for the Asian American community.

“It took a decade for Nevada to turn purple and blue, but also candidates and the party understanding the importance and the rise of the Asian vote,” Benavides said. “I was there back when we had to knock on the doors of elected officials and party leaders [for them] to pay attention to us. But this year, specifically, they finally came to us.”

Early results from exit polls indicate that President-elect Biden carried AAPI voters by a margin of almost 2 to 1 nationally, which organizers say suggests that AAPI turnout made the difference in states with close races such as Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan.

In Nevada, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund exit poll indicated that about 57 percent of Asian Americans cast a ballot for Biden while about 40 percent chose Trump.

‘Make their voices heard’

Tom Bonier, a Democratic political strategist and the chief executive officer of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, noted in a newsletter that there was what he called an “unprecedented” surge in AAPI voter participation in battleground states such as Nevada this year.

The 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, conducted through online and phone interviews between July and September with registered voters who identified as Asian American, found that 54 percent of Asian Americans said they were more enthusiastic about voting in 2020 than in previous elections.

In presidential battleground states, 751,778 AAPI voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, Bonier wrote. In 2020, 911,393 AAPI voters turned out during early voting alone — 21 percent more voters than turned out in battleground states in 2016. 

TargetSmart estimated that in Nevada, Asian voters cast 41,390 early and mail-in ballots, a 127 percent increase from the 18,226 cast in 2016. Asian voters' share of Nevada's early and mail-in ballots also increased from 2.4 percent in 2016 to 3.1 percent in 2020. 

Nevada's increase in turnout for the AAPI community wasn't an "overnight" success, said Eric Jeng, director of outreach for the Asian Community Development Council and deputy director for One APIA Nevada. 

He partly attributed the increase to years-long investment from organizations in the community — such as the annual GraduAsian ceremony for college graduates and offering resources for those struggling during the pandemic — that build community connections and lay the groundwork for civic engagement in elections.

Increased AAPI voter turnout in the Silver State comes with increased AAPI population growth, as well.

More than half of all eligible Nevada AAPI voters (67 percent) live in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, sometimes referred to as Hawaii's "Ninth Island" for the large population of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who move to the city.

Data shows that the AAPI population in Nevada has experienced a roughly 167 percent growth rate since 2000. The number of eligible AAPI voters in Nevada grew about 49 percent, compared to a 14 percent growth rate for the statewide eligible voting population, within the same time period.

Nguyen said he was excited by higher AAPI youth turnout than in the past, especially because once voters cast a ballot, they are more likely to do so in the future.

“I'm very overwhelmed by the amount of youth votes,” he said. “It's quite astounding from the standpoint of being a very invisible group in the last few cycles.”

Understanding the vote

Early data shows that the majority of AAPI voters supported Biden, but breaking down the diverse voting bloc shows differences in voting trends by national origin, party and age — and what issues were the most critical in this year's election.

In the national American Election Eve poll, conducted through phone interviews with registered voters and self-completed online surveys from mid-October until the day before the election, 73 percent of AAPI voters across the country said they chose Biden while 24 percent said they chose Trump.

The poll shows that Biden won the majority of votes across AAPI national origins surveyed, with the widest margins existing for voters of Korean and Chinese heritage. Trump had the most success with Filipino and Vietnamese voters, taking 38 percent of the vote of each ethnic group.

The largest AAPI ethnic group in Nevada by far is Filipino, followed by Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Indian.

Across the country, the 2020 Asian American Voter survey shows that Asian Americans across most national origins identify as predominantly Democrat or independent/other — except for Vietnamese voters, who have a higher share identifying as Republicans than either of the other two categories.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund exit poll, taken through in-person and online surveys during the early voting period in Nevada, noted that nonpartisan Asian Americans in Nevada were split evenly: 46 percent went for Biden and 46 percent went for Trump.

AAPI organizers said that Biden’s selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris, a Black and South Asian female candidate, helped solidify support for the candidate.

“I think with Harris being on the ticket, it gives people hope that one day they too [or] their kids … can be in a leadership role in this country,” Nguyen said.

Benavides added that many Asian communities have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, especially health care workers within the community, and that Biden’s emphasis on health and safety also appealed to many voters.

Breakdowns of the national Election Eve Poll show that there was almost no gender gap between AAPI voters. Women voted for Biden 69 percent to 28 percent, and men voted for Biden 68 percent to 28 percent.

Similar to other racial groups, young AAPI voters ages 18-39 overwhelmingly voted for Biden, 72 percent to 25 percent for Trump. Among AAPI voters between 40 and 59, 67 percent cast a ballot for Biden and 31 percent voted for Trump. Among AAPI voters 60 and older, 65 percent voted for Biden and 31 percent voted for Trump.

But across almost every category of AAPI voters in the Election Eve poll, the pandemic, economy and health care costs topped the list of issues.

The 2020 Asian American Voter survey indicated that in addition to the economy and health care, education and racial discrimination were top voter concerns. Although Republicans were favored on the economy, Democrats held a strong advantage over the other issues.

The survey found that more than 75 percent of Asian Americans worry about discrimination during COVID-19, and Jeng pointed out that discrimination and anti-Asian rhetoric, including from the president, has increased in visibility since coronavirus was associated first with China.

The Election Eve poll shows a stark difference in how AAPI voters across the country perceived each candidate: 54 percent said Biden "truly cares" about them while only 24 percent said the same thing about Trump. About 5 percent of voters said Biden was "hostile" toward them compared to 27 percent who said the same for Trump.

"You see it from the president using racist language like the 'kung flu' or the 'China plague' down to our local candidates,” Jeng said. “And it's just really heartbreaking to see that — using the community as scapegoat and then … shifting that mismanaging of the plague to the community." 

Jeng emphasized that racism against the AAPI community in Nevada isn't new. He pointed to the destruction of Reno's Chinatown in 1908 after the Reno Health Board described it to be a "plague spot" and "disease-breeding place," which Jeng said reverberates into some racist sentiments today.

Included in representation and participation

Even with improvements in turnout and outreach from campaigns, organizers say there's still work to be done.

Nguyen said that sustained outreach and connection from political leaders to the AAPI community is necessary and that organizers and leaders alike need to reflect on how to improve engagement with members of the AAPI community.

“I think Asian Pacific American community are starting to realize that they, too, can have a voice at the table where they just need to go out to the polls,” he said. “And so, this time around we focused a lot of the narrative on, we need to get involved. We need to be very, very deliberate.”

Data from the national Election Eve poll indicates that voter contact continues to be relatively low for the AAPI community. The poll showed that 38 percent of respondents said they were contacted by Democrats, 29 percent said they were contacted by Republicans, 24 percent said they were contacted by community organizers and 46 percent said they received no contact.

Benavides said there is not enough investment in the AAPI community at the state or national level in terms of either support for AAPI candidates or outreach efforts to the community, but she believes that will change, especially through partnerships formed with the Latino and Black communities and increased advocacy.

Along with increased contact, Nguyen emphasized the importance of language access in including voters of color.

In Nevada, 69 percent of Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home, and of those, more than 40 speak English less than “very well.” Data from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey indicates that Asian Americans are the only racial group in the U.S. that is majority immigrant, and the language need is higher among Asian Americans than Latinos.

The national 2012 AAPI Post-Election Survey found that 63 percent of AAPI voters say that language support at polling places would be useful.

Jeng emphasized that having information available in multiple languages was especially important this election cycle because of the large amount of misinformation that was sent out through WhatsApp and WeChat, two messaging services that many first-generation immigrants use.

He also said that having information in multiple languages is especially helpful for people with limited English proficiency (LEP), who may benefit from being able to double check English information in their native language.  Turnout is 9 percent lower for LEP voters than non-LEP voters, according to the 2012 survey.

But even beyond that, Jeng, who also speaks Chinese, said voters receiving information in their native language can help them feel heard.

"I speak English just fine but if you are trying to reach out to me for the election and then you put in like an accurate Chinese thing, I feel like, oh yeah, I'm being appreciated or I'm being recognized," he said. "That shows our respect and recognition of the community as well."

In addition to language barriers, Asian Americans in Nevada also face socio-economic challenges that may affect voting patterns. 

Data from AAPI Data and APIA Vote indicate that about 21,400 Asian Americans in Nevada, or roughly 9 percent, lack health insurance. Another approximately 9 percent of Asian Americans in Nevada live in poverty, and roughly 3,383 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) in Nevada, or about 18 percent of the NHPI population, live in poverty.

Studies show that income affects voter turnout, with lower incomes correlated with decreased voter turnout because of struggles with taking time off work, difficulty finding time to research candidates and policies, among other barriers.

Although there's room for improvement, Jeng said that outreach from both parties has improved this year. He cited creative efforts from Democrats preparing for the caucus, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign doing an explainer in Tagalog and Chinese about the caucus process to Sen. Cory Booker hosting a dinner at a Chinatown restaurant

Ahead of the election, Jeng said both campaigns held virtual events with leaders in the AAPI community, hosted car parades and coordinated groups such as "Filipino-Americans for Trump" and "Chinese for Biden." Jeng said the state Democratic Party also put advertisements in AAPI and community-centric newspapers in various languages.

But Jeng urged candidates to go beyond just taking photos holding boba tea — they should also have the "meat" of outreach by having staff members connected to the local community and policies to persuade voters. One example that impressed him was Warren's working agenda for the AAPI community, which included policies such as expanding affordable housing because AAPI families have a lower homeownership rate than the national rate.

"Having the events, at least that's acknowledging the community, at least that's celebrating the culture and that supported small businesses, those are all awesome," he said. "But then the next part is having a policy, having a platform. That's amazing."

Black voters in Nevada seek candidates who understand, are likely to act on their top issues

Former Nevada Assemblyman Harvey Munford greets former Vice President Joe Biden outside of Doolittle Community Center

Although Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders emerged as the definitive frontrunner after Nevada’s first-in-the-West caucus, he’s not leading with black voters — a pattern that showed in Nevada and could have implications in the coming South Carolina primary and beyond.

Thirty-nine percent of black voters who caucused opted for former Vice President Joe Biden compared to 27 percent for Sanders, according to entrance polls of the Nevada Caucus from The Washington Post. Biden’s lead is partly explained by his long history in the Democratic Party and well-established relationships with African American leaders and voters, especially during Barack Obama’s presidency.

About 84 percent of black voters identify as Democrats, with 8 percent identifying as Republicans. Regardless of who emerges as the Democratic nominee to face off against Donald Trump, black voters who spoke with The Nevada Independent said they hope that candidate follows through on the promises made along the campaign trail.

“Historically, we are the most staunch supporters of the Democratic Party; yet, when you look at the issues and the discussions, there seems to be a reluctance to talk about the issues in our community,” said Brian Harris, a Clark County resident and the creator of the 1,400-member Facebook group Independent Black Voters.

Harris, 59, said he’s registered nonpartisan but leans to the left. During a “Black Men’s Roundtable” hosted by California billionaire Tom Steyer’s campaign in Las Vegas earlier this month, Harris said that the Democratic Party as a whole “is not doing a good job with the black vote,” specifically when it comes to translating talking points and policies into action and meaningful investment in the black community.

After placing fourth and fifth in the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses and taking second in Nevada, where about 10 percent of the population is black, Biden’s campaign is leaning into black voters for the South Carolina primary on Saturday in hopes of scoring a comeback. Black voters comprise 60 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate, and a Feb. 21 poll shows 31 percent of those voters support Biden, compared to 18 percent for Sanders and 15 percent for Steyer.

However, a February Morning Consult poll shows that Biden’s support among black voters dropped 2 points after the New Hampshire primary, down from 33 to 31 percent, while Sanders and Bloomberg gained support as they gained traction in the presidential race at large.

The former vice president tied much of his electoral hopes in Nevada to black voters — at a rally in North Las Vegas, Biden cut his remarks short and surprised the crowd with several silver shuttles to Doolittle Community Center, a nearby early voting site in the city’s historically black neighborhood, where he and his wife chatted with local politicians and voters waiting to cast their ballots. 

In the days leading up to the caucus, Democratic presidential candidates hosted or attended other events in Nevada geared toward the African American voting base — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke at a Black History Month festival, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke to the UNLV Black Law Students Association on Tuesday, and Biden and Buttigieg both spoke at Nevada Black Legislative Caucus’ Black History Month brunch.

Donna Darden, right, asks presidential candidate and former Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg a question during the Black Empowerment Conversation at EllaEm's Soul Food in North Las Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

But black voters say that brief appearances and promises by candidates don’t mean much unless they amount to real change. A Black Census conducted in 2018 by Black Futures Lab, a left-leaning think tank, found 52 percent of black respondents believed that politicians do not care about black people.

For Harris, that means more than a one-time reparations check — it means policies that will help black businesses make more money and allow the community to accumulate “generational wealth.”  

“The amount of money that is spent in these political times is astronomical. But when you ask how much is spent in the black community ... there’s very little,” Harris said during the roundtable.

Ensuring equal opportunity

Ensuring that black communities both hold onto existing wealth and grow that wealth is a priority for Harris, who was one of the panelists during Steyer’s February roundtable. Harris pointed to a 2017 study that found that black households with advanced degrees have middle-class wealth or higher, compared to white households that can attain that same level with just a high school diploma.

The report also concluded that median wealth for black Americans is on a downward slope and threatens to reach zero by 2053 if the racial wealth divide is not addressed. It predicted that by 2020, black households have lost 18 percent of the wealth they had in 2013.

“Economically, there’s some things that can be changed, fixed, that would change that direction to zero [wealth],” Harris said. “While African Americans are owed a debt called ‘reparations,’ there’s more than just that that’s going on.”

Candidates in this presidential cycle have more frequently brought up the topic of reparations — financial compensation for African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced the first reparations bill in January 2019 and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a similar measure in the Senate — Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Klobuchar have co-sponsored that bill.

All Democratic candidates have said that they would support further studying what form reparations would take and how compensation would be distributed, which would be determined by a commission laid out in Lee’s bill.

When Booker announced in January that he was suspending his campaign — in close proximity to the withdrawals of the only other black candidates, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — many Democrats took it as a sign that the party was not doing enough to recruit and keep candidates of color for higher offices.

Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, hugs Lydia Saulsberry while she holds a Kamala Harris sign during U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford's Labor Day Cook Out at Craig Ranch Regional Park on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Harris says that the pattern plays out in the workplace and with black businesses, too.

Diversity quotas or affirmative action initiatives such as those used in the 1960s throughout the '90s, might need to make a comeback to prevent discriminatory hiring, he said. The practice diminished when the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that racial quotas are unconstitutional for university admissions, but that race may be one factor to be considered.

“A lot of the set-asides, diversity plans, the minority plans that are in place ... statistically, [these plans] have actually accelerated the demise of black business opportunities,” he said. “Things like quotas — yes, I said quotas — where 10 or 12 percent redistribution of wealth came back to the black community would change fundamentally that drive to zero [wealth] and get us to the point of being economically stable.”

None of the Democratic candidates have proposed implementing such quotas, but they have announced plans to increase diversity among American teachers, including expanding teacher training programs to more people of color and making higher education more affordable for low-income adults. 

Policing and mass incarceration of black Americans

The Black Lives Matter movement has prioritized systemic changes in the policing of black Americans, who are policed at a higher rate than any other group.

Leaders of the movement, which the Black Census says is supported by a majority of black voters, put forth a policy agenda that emphasizes police accountability, decarceration, reparations, economic justice and decreasing barriers to political representation.

Democrat Jagada Chambers, a fellow with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada’s Mass Liberation Project who has lobbied lawmakers on policies aimed at reducing incarceration, says that he is optimistic that some candidates have promised actions to address these priorities.

Sanders and Warren, for example, have both said they would like to create a federal database of police use of force, which did not exist until 2019. The lack of information has posed an obstacle for activists and reformers to be able to quantify the extent of the impact of use of force. 

Political activist Cornel West, left, introduces presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders during the opening of the Bernie 2020 East Las Vegas Office grand opening on Saturday, July 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Chambers said he is concerned about the rising candidacy of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spent an unprecedented $400 million plus on television ads to boost his candidacy. A Morning Consult poll from Wednesday found that the former mayor’s nationwide approval rate had increased since the Iowa caucus and now includes 20 percent of black Democratic primary voters.  

Bloomberg has been criticized for “stop-and-frisk” policies that were sanctioned and expanded while he was in office, but Chambers said he was still hesitant about supporting the billionaire.

“He’s said the right thing, but his history brings up a completely different story,” Chambers said in an interview ahead of the caucus. “There are definitely some people in this country who are flocking to Mr. Bloomberg and personally, I'm not. But I think now he's the candidate that definitely can shake this thing up.”

Historically, black Americans have been incarcerated in state prisons at rates five to ten times higher than white Americans. Chambers said that he’s still waiting for candidates to address the issue head on, and said one of his most important issues in the 2020 election was youth incarceration.

“No one wants to take that tangible step of making it constitutionally illegal to send a youth to adult court. That's something that I think is going to come out of our nomination,” Chambers said.

Improving education opportunities

Education is a major concern for black voters, with 77 percent of Black Census respondents identifying the rising cost of college as a major problem. Candidates have responded to these concerns with promises of tuition- and debt-free college and funding Historically Black College and Universities.

While they differ over what types of institutions and degrees should be tuition- or debt-free, all Democratic candidates have said that they would increase funding to low-income “Title I” K-12 schools and to HBCUs. Moderate candidates including Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have promised to increase the maximum Pell Grant, a need-based award to defray the cost of college.

Several candidates have proposed policies that they say would diversify teachers to better reflect the student body — an issue in Clark County where the black student population is roughly 14 percent but black teachers make up just 7.6 percent of the staff.

Buttigieg’s “Douglass Plan” — a policy agenda focused on black Americans — called for mandatory diversity initiatives in education. Several other candidates have approached the diversity issue under the wider umbrella of funding HBCUs and minority-serving institutions to turn out more teachers of color.

Those priorities resonate with Akiko Cooks and J’Shauntae Marshall, whose children attend school in Clark County and say that the lack of diversity affects black students’ ability to learn.

“There needs to be a certain number of administrators of color as well as teachers, ongoing diversity programs and training that are mandated,” said Cooks, who co-founded the group No Racism in Schools.

Cooks and Marshall co-founded the group in 2019 after two white students targeted their children and other black students on social media and mentioned “Columbine part 2,” causing students and parents to panic that there would be a school shooting. No shooting occurred, and the two students responsible for racist comments were arrested.

“Teachers have to take a diversity course online, but they just click through it and there’s no accountability. There’s no one to say whether they received the information and whether they’re implementing it in the classroom,” Cooks said.

Cooks acknowledged that her priorities might be more in the purview of state and local government, but they have been looking at candidates whose policies would create a pathway for equity on campuses. She and Marshall said Biden, Sanders and Warren were among their top choices.

“They need to take a closer look at things that impact the day-to-day life of the common people … child care, housing,” Marshall said in an interview. 

It’s Ne-VAY-duh: How one small Iowa town is gearing up for the Democratic presidential caucus

DES MOINES — It’s Caucus Day in Nevada.

For nearly a year, Democratic presidential hopefuls have been hard at work courting Nevadans, making coffee shop pitches and living room stumps. And Nevadans have enjoyed seeing the Democratic presidential race up close as they weigh a decision they consider to be critical to the future of the country. Electing a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump is a top priority for Nevada Democrats, but they’re worried about all the other bread and butter issues too, health care, education and climate change among them.

There is, however, one issue that really gets Nevadans going. They hate it when candidates mispronounce Nevada.

“It's always, like, trying to remind like candidates when they come, and they still slip up,” said Stephanie Spence, who grew up in Nevada and returned a few years ago with her husband and kids. “I mean, people can't handle it. People cannot handle it if somebody is here and slips up.”

It’s Ne-VAY-duh they insist, not Nev-AD-uh.

Welcome to Nevada, Iowa, a small town with a population of about 7,000 a little more than a half hour’s drive north of Des Moines.

And actually, Nevadans are pretty good-natured about people mispronouncing their town’s name — they don’t call it Iowa nice for nothing, after all. But Nevadans do insist that their pronunciation is the correct one. Nevada the city was platted in 1853, 11 years before Nevada the state joined the union.

“We always say, ‘You guys can correct yourselves,’” said Henry Corbin, director of Main Street Nevada and town historian. “We’ve always said we should do a sister city with the entire state or something like that. It's something we joke about because I get so many calls asking, ‘Do you have good real estate in the Reno area?’”

No one knows exactly how Nevada got its name. One theory is that, like its sister state, it is named after the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The other theory, Corbin said, is that the town was named Nevada after the middle name of the daughter of one of the county naming committee members. And as far as the pronunciation, his best guess is it has something to do with the accents of the immigrants who settled the area.

“I like the mountain story. I prefer it myself, but after digging into it so much, you get so many that are just back and forth. I just came to the conclusion it might've just been both kind of at the same time,” said Corbin, who is a seventh-generation Nevadan. “That's kind of what I've settled on, and I think kind of is my Nevada attitude, we always say. We're pretty middle ground usually, and so I think that's kind of my Nevada decision.”

That middle ground approach is readily apparent in Nevadans’ thoughts on the upcoming Democratic caucus — they are all over the board. Some prefer progressive candidates. Others would prefer a more moderate choice. Some are independent or have switched back and forth between the parties over the years. Others are reliable Trump supporters. And it makes sense. 

Residents describe Nevada as a fairly purple town in a fairly purple county, a dividing line between left-leaning Ames, a college town home to Iowa State University, to the west, and more reliably red rural towns to the east. There are about 20,000 Democrats, 17,000 Republicans and 24,000 independents in Story County, where both Nevada and Ames are located. (It’s a little different than Storey County in the state of Nevada, where there are only about 3,200 registered voters and Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one. Also Storey County has something Story County doesn’t: Brothels.)

“I do think (the county is) pretty purple. I think the state in general has been pretty purple. It swings one way a little bit, it swings back one way a little bit,” said Brett Barker, the mayor of Nevada and chair of the Story County Republican Party. “If you want to look at a microcosm of the state, Story County definitely fits that where there are strong agriculture sectors, rural voters, you have the urban voters surrounding the campus in Ames, super liberal, super conservative and everything in between.”


A Trump flag flies outside of a home in Nevada, IA on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Christian Monterrosa/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada, before it was Nevada, wasn’t just a single community. It was two, separated north-south by a slough and connected by a bridge. 

The towns didn’t get along in the early days, but eventually the town to the north offered incentives to the town in the south to form one Main Street on the northern side. They went so far as to drag buildings from the south side over to the north by oxen.

“They kind of balanced it as much as they could,” Corbin said.

So, in some ways, it makes sense that Nevada, politically, is a study in balance too.

On the left, there are those such as Stephanie Spence and her husband, Luke Spence, who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016. Spence will again caucus for Sanders, while her husband, a Nevada city councilman and airline pilot, is out of town for work. Were he going to be in town, he said he would likely caucus for Warren or Sanders. 

Most of their friends, they said, will be caucusing for Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, though they acknowledge they spend their time with a fairly progressive group.

But the Spences largely set their personal feelings aside this cycle to host a series of "Coffee with the Candidate" events at Farm Grounds, a coffee shop, in town and a neighboring event space. About a dozen candidates have come through town in the last year including Yang, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Sanders was slated to hold an event, but it was snowed out at the last minute.

“In my experience, we get more people to show up at an event here than the same candidate would in Ames. I think it's a reflection of a little bit more diverse background that we have here when it comes to political diversity in town, a little bit more of a blue collar as opposed to more professors and Iowa State students and stuff like that,” Luke Spence said. “We're a little bit more of a purple town.”

Nowhere is that purpleness more reflective than at a lunch table on Sunday morning at Snack TIme Family Restaurant, a diner on the main drag in Nevada, where Shelley Ludeman, a retired first grade teacher, was eating with her younger brother, Brett Anderson, a farmer. Ludeman voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. Anderson voted for Trump.

“I voted for Trump, but to me he was the lesser of two evils,” Anderson, 61, said. “I voted for him because he is a true businessman. He's done good stuff.  I thought he'd help our economy and stuff, which he has, and he's kind of followed his platform, what he’d run on.”

Anderson doesn’t like the president's tweets and “bullying,” but his sister, who thinks she’s probably the only Democrat among her five siblings, feels even more strongly.

“I am not a Trump supporter at all, and it's very troubling to me, his demeanor, his character,” Ludeman, 67, said. “I just — he's just not presidential.”

But as for who she does want to be president, Ludeman said on Sunday that she was still torn. She thinks Sanders and Warren are too progressive. She likes former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but is worried he doesn’t have the experience and that’s he’s too young. As of Sunday morning, she was leaning toward former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I don't believe in Medicare for all. I don't believe in paying off college loans. It's just too progressive for me,” Ludeman said. “I like the moderateness.”

As far as whether he’ll vote for Trump again, Anderson said he’s still undecided.

“I'm registered as independent,” Anderson said. “I just vote how I feel, who I feel, in my mind.”

Where sister and brother do agree is on how divided the country is.

“I just hope that whoever can unify not only the party, but the country,” Ludeman said. “It’s just so sad. the division. It's just like neither side wants to listen. It’s too much us against them.”

“But it’s been that way for years,” Anderson chimed in.

“But it’s gotten so much worse,” Ludeman said. “I think it’s just gotten so much worse.”

Kelly Kannel, a 43-year-old barista at Farm Grounds, is also undecided. She’s a registered Democrat but voted for Trump in 2016 because she didn’t like Clinton.

“I think I didn't like the fact that her husband had already been president,” Kannel said, wrapping up her shift at the coffee shop Sunday morning. “I felt like it was going to be an extension of his presidency, like it was a way to get in another four or eight years.”

But Kannel has had a frontrow seat to the Democratic presidential hopefuls as they’ve come through the coffee shop where she works over the last year. Some of the candidates, she said, stood by the door, almost as if they couldn’t wait to get out. Others, like Castro, took the time to answer questions from Nevadans and thank the staff on his way out.

“He was very humble. He listened, even listened to the kids that asked questions. He stood, you know, like right up here,” she said, gesturing to the area by the counter. “He couldn't get anywhere over here. He was trapped in basically, and he didn't seem like he was real concerned about it. He was just spending the time.”

Bullock, who dropped out of the race in December, was another one who stands out to Kannel. She said that the Montana governor and his wife both took the time to say thank you to the staff, who packed box lunches for their family.

“To me as being this middle class, lower class working person with three kids, that's something that's important to me,” Kannel said. “You're here where I work. Thank us, or you know, just at least introduce yourself.”

As for who she plans to caucus for, Kannel hasn’t decided. Her two oldest kids are Sanders supporters, and she plans to go take pictures of her 18-year-old daughter caucusing for the first time. But if she’s leaning toward anyone, she said it would have to be Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Back at Snack Time, husband and wife Raymond and Laural Beaty also had yet to decide who to caucus for. Laural Beaty is deciding between Buttigieg and Warren. Her husband is choosing between Buttigieg and Steyer.

But only Laural Beaty plans to caucus Monday night, while her husband attends a school function for their granddaughter.

“The thing that I like most about them is that they are not extremist,” Laural Beaty, a 62-year-old who works for a staffing agency. “One of the biggest problems that we have in Washington right now is the division. I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, all the attention that has gone around the impeachment has taken away from what needs to be done.”

Being a purple town, Nevada has its fair share of Trump supporters too. One of them, Charlie Good, runs a gas station and convenience store. He had eschewed politics until 2016, when he caucused for the first time ever for Trump.

“He's done everything he said he was going to do,” Good said. “Do I like some of the tweets and stuff? No, but it's so one-sided that if he didn't do what he does, it would be the fake news media all over again.”

2016 was also the first time Good put up a political sign, supporting Trump, in front of his gas station. He plans to put his sign back up on Tuesday after the caucus.


Kelly Kannel, a barista, discusses her political views at the Farm Grounds coffee shop in Nevada, IA on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Christian Monterrosa/The Nevada Independent)

Republican or Democrat, Nevadans value their special role in the presidential nominating process. But in some ways, they also eschew the spotlight.

Good received a call one morning from Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s office asking him if he could be in Washington, D.C. by 2 p.m. the following day for a meeting at the White House with Trump on renewable fuels. He said no. When he got off the phone and told his employees that he had turned down a meeting with the president, they were incredulous.

“They said, ‘We can handle this. We got it covered for 24 hours.’ My wife, she said, ‘Go,’” Good said. “It was really something. We met in the West Wing in the Eisenhower room.”

It happened too when the Spences were debating whether to invite Booker into their house. 

“Our house is, like, fine, but you know I have three children and we have a light fixture that was broken for two years because Jack was playing ball in the house,” Stephanie Spence said. “When Luke was like, ‘Oh let’s have Cory Booker come to our house,’ I’m like, ‘Cory Booker’s coming to our house? We need to remodel. We need to get some new cabinets.’”

So they decided to ask her mom instead.

“Even she was like, ‘I don't know,’” Luke Spence said. “I was like, 'A United States Senator wants to come to your house and ask you what you think is important.' That's the spoiled Iowa.”

Iowans know they’re spoiled, and they're grateful. But in some ways, they’re also looking forward to a return to normalcy. Ludeman said she didn’t check her voicemail for a couple of days and she had 12 messages from campaigns, not to mention the mailers and the TV ads.

“It just seems like we just go from campaign to campaign. It just goes on forever, you know?” Ludeman said. “Here in Iowa, we're just inundated with the political, from way back when. It's just such a long, long process. It goes on here forever.”

Barker, Nevada’s mayor, joked that the next caucus cycle starts Tuesday. But he’s only half kidding.

“The folks eyeing 2024 have already been poking around,” Barker, Nevada’s mayor, said. “It never ends in Iowa.”


A sign outside of the Iowa Talent Factory on Nevada, IA on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2020. (Christian Monterrosa/The Nevada Independent)

Indy 2020: With less than two weeks until Iowa, the final countdown begins

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.


Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

Some brief news before we get going. The Indy — i.e. me — is hitting the road to Iowa and New Hampshire. I’ll be there for a few days before the Feb. 3 caucus and Feb. 11 primary, bringing you all the news you need to know from a Nevada perspective. Let me know what kind of stories you most want to hear out of Iowa and New Hampshire at megan@thenvindy.com. (If you know any former Nevadans who live in Iowa and New Hampshire, I’ll take that too!)

Also currently taking winter clothing recommendations.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


TOP OF MIND

Ad tracker 2020: Another bit of news for you! The Indy has launched a brand new campaign ad tracker for the 2020 cycle. We’ll be archiving and categorizing ads by candidate, issue, race, party, the group paying for it, tone, medium and language. We know we’re going to miss some here and there, so feel free to send me over an email at megan@thenvindy.com with anything you notice that’s missing.

Steyer climbing in Nevada? In case you missed it, billionaire Tom Steyer has apparently had a sudden surge here in Nevada. He leapt to third place, tied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 12 percent support, in a Fox News poll released a little more than a week ago, which was followed up by a RGJ/Suffolk poll showing him tied for fourth with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent support. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden came in at 23 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 17 percent in the Fox poll, while Biden and Sanders were closer in the RGJ/Suffolk poll at 19 and 18 percent support, respectively. Warren came in at 11 percent support in the latter poll.

Since the polls have come out, Steyer’s campaign here has been trumpeting its outreach program, and Steyer himself spent a couple of days in the state, attending the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum, an immigration roundtable with Mi Familia Vota, a Culinary Union town hall and an event on climate justice with Chispa, the Latino organizing program within the League of Conservation Voters.

After the Culinary town hall, I asked Steyer what his plan was to ensure that his campaign can even make it to Nevada, when he has to go through Iowa and New Hampshire first. (Steyer’s hovering in the low single digits in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.)

“The plan is to do more stuff like this, is to try and get in front of as many people as possible and say exactly who I am, what I stand for, and what that means. When that happens, good things happen. So that's what's happened so far,” Steyer said. “I started late in July, my numbers have gone up consistently. My goal is to stay in front of as many people, and get in front of as many people, look them in the eye and have them look me in the eye, so I can hear what they're saying and they can hear who I am and what I'm saying.”

But he apparently is catching on here in Nevada, where it’s been hard to avoid the television ads, mailers and billboards that Steyer has spent millions on. Tom McGibbon, 68, a retired engineer who identifies as a lifelong registered Republican, told Indytern Shannon Miller at Steyer’s Chispa event that he’s still undecided between Steyer and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“I want (someone) who can win. Passion speaks to me, I think it speaks to voters, and I think that (Steyer) showed a lot of passion in his comments tonight,” McGibbon said. “I would like to see that come through more in his marketing.”

Steyer clearly isn't relenting on Nevada though. He has nine events scheduled here this weekend, detailed later in this newsletter.

Mayor Pete donates to legislative candidates: My colleague Riley Snyder was going through the recent round of state campaign finance reports due last week when he noticed something unusual — a bunch of contributions from Buttigieg to state legislative candidates. In total, Buttigieg donated $34,000 to candidates, parties and advocacy groups during the fourth quarter of the year Nevada, according to a list provided by Buttigieg’s campaign.

The campaign made six $1,000 contributions, to U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, and the Senate and Assembly Democratic caucuses.

The campaign also made 19 $500 contributions and 20 $250 contributions to state lawmakers, constitutional officers, local elected officials and members of Congress. A few organizations — including the NAACP branches in Northern and Southern Nevada, NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada — as well as the Rural Democratic Caucus also received $500 donations.

The rest of the donations went to the Nevada State Democratic Party and the Washoe County Democratic Party.

Paul Selberg, Buttigieg’s state director, said in a statement that the donations show the campaign’s commitment to building Democratic infrastructure in Nevada and across the country.

“Pete recognizes that political change not only comes from the top of the ticket, but all levels of government,” Selberg said. “In 2020, we will finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring about real progress by electing Democrats up and down the ticket."

Democrats announce Caucus Day sites: The Nevada State Democratic Party announced last week more than 250 Caucus Day locations for the Feb. 22 caucus. They range from schools and community centers in suburban Nevada to sites on tribal reservations and in small cities far flung from the major population centers. Check out the full list of precincts here.

The party is also continuing its tradition of offering at-large casino precincts on Caucus Day for Strip workers to participate. This year, there will be seven sites — up from six in 2016 — at Park MGM, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, Paris, Harrah's, Wynn and Rio. The details of those Strip caucus sites were first reported by CNN.

Casino workers will also be able to vote early at four sites on the Strip. There will be 24-hour voting at the Bellagio — from noon on Feb. 16 to noon on Feb. 17 — as well as two blocks of time on Sunday and Monday where workers can caucus at the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and Paris.


ON THE INDY

Presidential campaigns enter the home stretch: If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year and have paid no attention to the presidential election, then this is the story for you! All you need to know to get you up to speed on the upcoming caucus, including what candidates have been doing to make inroads here, how big their staffs are and how they’ve been resonating with voters here on the ground.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer are the latest to court the Culinary: The three Democratic hopefuls became the fifth, sixth and seventh candidates, respectively, to appear before the Culinary Union over the last two weeks. The fellow moderates in the race came with pitches for a government-run health insurance proposal that would allow union members to stay on their existing plans. Spoiler alert: The union liked it. More on the Buttigieg and Klobuchar visits here and the Steyer visit here.

Buttigieg hopes to earn “credibility” with black voters: I sat down with the former South Bend mayor a little over a week ago to talk about his struggle to win over black voters, his standing in Iowa, and what the support of the Culinary Union would mean to him. All you need to know from our conversation here. (One small detail in that story worth noting if you’re keeping an eye on candidate momentum: Buttigieg’s most recent rally at Silverado High School was attended by more than 900 people, more than two-thirds of them first time Buttigieg event attendees, according to his campaign.)

Biden eschews being boxed in at a Latino town hall: The former vice president shied away from any firm commitments to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first 100 days as president or appoint a certain number of Hispanics to his Cabinet at a Latino-focused town hall two weekends ago. More details on how that town hall went from me, plus a bonus story from the day before on Biden accusing President Donald Trump of “literally lying” about Iran from Indyterns Tabitha Mueller and Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez.

Democratic hopefuls court Indian Country: Though Steyer was the only one to appear in person, several Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum last week in Las Vegas. They talked about Native voting rights, land, health care and missing and murdered indigenous women. Indytern Shannon Miller was there.

Voter registration swelling as a result of automatic voter registration: Our four intrepid Indyterns took a look at the impact that Nevada’s new automatic voter registration ballot initiative, which kicked into effect on the first of the year, is having on voter registration. Previously, Nevada had an opt-in system to register to vote at the DMV, which has now been switched to an opt-out system. Details here.

Ivanka Trump goes to CES: The president's eldest daughter championed apprenticeships and encouraged employers to invest in their workers at the annual conference in Las Vegas, but her appearance sparked some controversy. My colleague Jackie Valley has more.


CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

Staffing changes and office openings

  • Four members of Biden’s national team — Laura Jimenez, national Latino vote director; Amit Jani, national AAPI outreach director; Shrija Ghosh, deputy national analytics director; and Nick Canfield, deputy national organizing director — have joined his team on the ground in Nevada.
  • Buttigieg’s team has brought on Devaki Dave as their Nevada APIA constituency director and Izack Tenorio as their Nevada Latino constituency director. Amy Adler, the campaign’s get out the caucus director, has moved from the team’s South Bend headquarters to oversee caucus operations here. (Adler graduated from UNLV, co-founded Students for Barack Obama at UNLV, and was the campaign manager for the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus in 2010.)

New endorsements

  • DNC Committeewoman Allison Stephens, who previously endorsed Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro for president, is now supporting Warren in the race. This means Warren now has both the support of Nevada’s DNC committeewoman as well as its committeeman.
  • Warren also earned the endorsement of West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona, another former Castro backer, as well as the support of state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who had previously endorsed California Sen. Kamala Harris.
  • Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo told me recently that he has officially withdrawn his endorsement of Biden. Fumo is running for the Supreme Court, and judicial candidates cannot endorse.
  • The Clark County Education Association threw its support behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last week. The news was first reported by BuzzFeed but my colleague Jackie Valley has more. (Sanders also recently received a number of endorsements from college professors, educators and education leaders.)
  • The Clark County Black Caucus also announced it is officially shifting its support to Sanders, after previously backing New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who dropped out of the presidential race last week. The caucus had said it would support Sanders should Booker not garner enough support.
  • Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst has endorsed Biden for president.
  • Former Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell has endorsed Buttigieg.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Steyer has nine events planned in Nevada this weekend including a Reno small business walk, a meet and greet with business leaders in Reno, a Sparks office opening, a geothermal tour, a virtual town hall hosted by the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, an El Sol Community Reunion, and an environmental panel discussion. He'll also keynote Battle Born Progress’ 6th annual Progressive Summit at the CSN North Las Vegas Campus and attend SEIU Local 1107's Unions for All Summit.
  • Several Democratic presidential hopefuls will also appear by live stream at the Unions for All Summit this weekend.
  • The Clark County Democrats announced last week that Buttigieg was the first presidential candidate to confirm for their Kick Off to Caucus Gala on Feb. 15.
  • Biden will be in town starting Feb. 16 for the final stretch before the Feb. 22 caucus.

Surrogate stops

  • Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, was in Las Vegas on Jan. 8 to attend a Women’s Democratic Club luncheon, an AAPI women’s roundtable and a happy hour at Atomic Liquors downtown.
  • Castro was in Nevada on Jan. 10 and 11 campaigning for Warren, who he endorsed for president after dropping out of the race. Pulse Nightclub Survivor Brandon Wolf, trans Advocate Ashlee Marie Preston, and New York State Sen. Gustavo Rivera were also in Nevada that weekend campaigning for Warren.
  • Former Secretary of Labor and current Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and Texas Congressman Filemon Vela were in Nevada the weekend of Jan. 11 and 12 to campaign for Biden. They attended various canvass kickoffs, roundtables and a Latino-to-Latino phone bank. (Solis will also be back this weekend to attend the SEIU summit on Biden's behalf.)
  • Ambassador Keith Harper, the first Native American to receive the rank of U.S. ambassador, campaigned for Buttigieg at the Native American Presidential Forum on Jan. 15.
  • Sanders Nevada state co-chair Amy Vilela and national surrogate Cori Bush attended the Women’s March in Southern Nevada on Saturday, in addition to attending a canvass launch and door knocking. They also hosted two screenings of Knock Down the House, a documentary about several 2018 primary campaigns that features Vilela and Bush.
  • Melissa Franzen, a Latina state senator from Minnesota, campaigned for Klobuchar at the Reno Women's March and attended a private meet and greet at Arrow Creek in Reno this weekend.
  • Nelda Martinez, former mayor of Corpus Christi, TX, campaigned on behalf of Buttigieg at the Reno Women’s March, while actress and comedian Cristela Alonzo campaigned there on behalf of Warren.
  • Fremont City Councilwoman Teresa Keng, campaigning on behalf of Yang, also joined the Women's March and other events in Reno, including a meeting with City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, a round table conversation with the Douglas County Democrats, and a canvass launch.
  • Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House, campaigned for Sanders in Las Vegas on Monday, touring a dispensary with Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom.
  • Former U.S. Sen. and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun will campaign for Biden on Jan. 25 and 26 in Las Vegas, including delivering remarks at the Battle Born Progress summit and an MLK Scholarship Banquet.
  • Castro will also return to Las Vegas this weekend to speak at the Battle Born Progress summit on Warren’s behalf. Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders, will also be in town to speak at the summit.
  • Lamell McMorris, founder and CEO of Perennial Strategy Group, former executive director and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and civil rights leader, will also speak at the summit on Buttigieg’s behalf.
  • Castro will return to Las Vegas this weekend to join the SEIU Local 1107 and Battle Born Progress summits.
  • California Assemblyman Evan Low, Yang’s national campaign co-chair, will campaign this weekend in Las Vegas at Chinese New Year celebrations, including the parade, and meet with veterans and AAPI small business owners.

Other election news

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was back in Nevada on Friday to visit the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Details from Indytern Kristyn Leonard in this tweet thread
  • Steyer’s campaign recently hosted several events as part of a “Black & Latino Empowerment Weekend,” including an interfaith community dinner, a black voters breakfast discussion and an economic empowerment roundtable.
  • The Nevada State Democratic Party hosted a mock caucus at SEIU last week in conjunction with the Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus, as well as two LGBTQ+ focused trainings in Las Vegas and Reno in coordination with the Human Rights Campaign. The party also plans to hold several rural Nevada caucus trainings this week, including in Pahrump, Tonopah, Dayton, Minden, Carson City, Virginia City, Fallon, Elko and Ely.
  • The state Democratic Party also recently hosted a weekend of volunteer training summits in Las Vegas and Reno, where nearly 500 Democrats showed up to get trained.
  • Klobuchar’s campaign is in the process of hosting ambassador trainings.

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Lee faces ads from the left and the right: Freshman Democratic Rep. Susie Lee is the target of a new ad buy by the American Action Network, an outside group with ties to Republican leadership in the House, pressuring the congresswoman over her decision to vote in favor of impeaching Trump. My colleague Jacob Solis has more on this ad.

At the same time, she’s also one of 17 swing-seat Democrats being targeted in a $2.2 million advertising campaign from House Majority Forward, a non-profit group linked to the Democratic Party’s House majority super PAC. Details on that here.

Lee raises more than $600,000 in Q4: Against that backdrop, Lee raised more than $600,000 in the last quarter of the year. The end-of-year total is $110,000 more than Lee raised in the third quarter. Jacob has more details here.

Meanwhile, Horsford raises nearly $500,000: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford’s campaign has announced that he raised $455,000 in the last quarter of 2019, pushing his total fundraising for the year to more than $1.6 million. He has more than $1 million cash on hand. More from Jacob on that.

Republicans hold fundraising edges in key Assembly, Senate races: Several Republicans outraised incumbent Democratic lawmakers in the last year as the party attempts to make a comeback after the 2018 election. My colleague Riley Snyder has the details.

REALTORS diving deeper into legislative races: The Nevada Association of REALTORS® has contributed $2 million to political action committees to recruit real estate agents and back friendly candidates in state legislative races. Riley has more.

Ahead of the 2022 election, Sisolak raises more than $1.6 million: Riley also dove into the campaign finances of Gov. Steve Sisolak, who substantially padded his campaign account last year even though he’s not up for election for two more years. Details here.

Judicial candidates are starting to file: Indytern Kristyn Leonard takes a look at which candidates filed on the first day of the judicial filing period.

CCEA collecting signatures for two ballot measures: The union is circulating two ballot measures in an attempt to boost state education funding. If successful, the two measures would head to the Legislature for consideration in 2021, before appearing on the ballot in 2022. My colleague Jackie Valley has all the details of what’s going on, and how proposed increases in gaming and sales taxes are likely to fare.


OTHER REQUIRED READING

  • Bloomberg and Steyer count on cash to carry them to victory (AP)
  • Caucusing is complicated, so why do we do it? (PBS Newshour)
  • ‘Democrats designate Culinary – er, Strip – caucus locations’ (Nevada Current)

Updated 1-21-20 at 9:33 a.m. to correct that one of Buttigieg's staffers in fact did not graduate from Rancho High School, as the campaign had previously said.

After close to a year on the ground, Democratic presidential campaigns enter home stretch as Nevada’s caucus nears

Democratic presidential candidates appear on stage with Harry Reid

With less than six weeks until Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus, campaigns are kicking into high gear on the ground here in the Silver State, the third in the country to host its presidential nominating contest.

By the time Feb. 22 rolls around, several candidates will have been campaigning for a full year and some of their staffers on the ground will have been here nearly as long. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s team landed earliest in Nevada, in January 2019, and she was one of the first candidates to visit the state. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has built up, by far, the largest staff on the ground in the last year, with a team double the size of those assembled by his closest competitors.

At the same time, former Vice President Joe Biden has maintained an edge in the polls here, while former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been looking to introduce himself to voters and make inroads with Nevada’s communities of color as he tries to grow his support here to match what he has seen in Iowa. 

Then there are the rest of the candidates who have invested time and money in Nevada — billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions on television ads in the state that may have earned him a recent and sudden surge in the race; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whose mom lives here and who has been the most frequent visitor to the state; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is ramping up in Nevada as she has been gaining support elsewhere; tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has a moderately sized staff and has invested some time here; and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who has one staffer stationed here despite his late entry into the race.

Four other candidates have visited the state less frequently or skipped it altogether and have not yet placed staff on the ground here.

Read on for a look at how candidates have been campaigning in the Silver State over the last year and how it could position them for a possible victory here.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event inside Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant in Las Vegas on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Joe Biden

The former vice president is no stranger to Nevada. Not only was he a familiar presence on the campaign trail in 2008 and 2012 as Barack Obama’s running mate, the 77-year-old Democratic presidential hopeful has been campaigning in the state for decades.

“The first Nevada Democrat I ever campaigned for, I was a 31 or 32 year old kid, and I came out to campaign for a guy named Harry Reid,” Biden told a packed room at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First In The West event at the Bellagio in November.

That familiarity has buoyed Biden — at least so far — in the Silver State. Recent polls have shown the former vice president with anywhere from a 6- to 10-point lead in the state over his Democratic opponents. He also leads, by far, in prominent endorsements here, with the support of Rep. Dina Titus, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela (now a senior adviser on the campaign), Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, Assemblywoman Susie Martinez, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, former Gov. Bob Miller, former Rep. Jim Bilbray, and former Rep. Shelley Berkley.

While his campaign didn’t officially announce its first hires here until May — he only officially launched his campaign in April — he’s since built up a team of about 50 people here, a similar sized operation to two of the other top-tier campaigns. The campaign has six offices in the Silver State, including one that just opened in Carson City.

Biden’s first visit of the campaign to the state was also in May. The former vice president hosted a rally at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 159 in Henderson. He has since made eight more trips to the state, including, most recently, campaign stops in Sparks and Las Vegas this weekend. He also has toured the Techren Solar Project near Boulder City and spoken at a town hall hosted by the politically powerful Culinary Union. He is also one of two candidates still in the race to have campaigned in Elko.

The former vice president has run two ads in the state, backed by the campaign’s $6 million buy across the four early nominating states. Both have contrasted Biden’s vision for the future of the United States against President Donald Trump’s.

While in Nevada, Biden has weighed in on a number of state-specific issues — but it hasn’t always gone smoothly for him. He received significant pushback from supporters of recreational marijuana when he said at a November town hall that his position against legalizing the drug hadn’t changed and that there “hasn’t been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not (marijuana) is a gateway drug.” Later that month, Biden told The Nevada Independent that he doesn’t believe marijuana is a gateway drug and that there is “no evidence I’ve seen that suggests that.”

Biden has also promised to hold the Department of Energy responsible for its actions on nuclear waste in Nevada, including shipments of high-level radioactive waste the state discovered last year that were supposed to be low-level waste, and repeatedly stressed his opposition to the construction of a long-term, high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

He said he believes that the federal Wire Act should only apply to sports betting, not to all forms of interstate gambling, as the Justice Department indicated in an opinion last year. He also opposes decriminalizing sex work nationally, though he has said he wouldn’t impinge on Nevada’s decision to allow prositution in certain jurisdictions.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a town hall at the Victory Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday, July 6, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Bernie Sanders

Sanders needs little introduction in Nevada, where he came in only about 5 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton in the state’s Democratic caucus in 2016. Four years ago, his campaign was scrappy, grassroots and insurgent — and it came together last minute. This time, Sanders started early, hiring a team of experienced political operatives who have worked to focus the grassroots enthusiasm for the Vermont senator to try to propel him to victory.

Since announcing his first Nevada hires at the end of March, Sanders has brought on more than 100 staffers in the Silver State, which puts his team at nearly double the size of other top-polling candidates. The campaign also has opened 10 offices, with at least three more slated to open in the near future.

The Vermont senator’s first rally of his 2020 campaign, at Morrell Park in Henderson back in March, drew a crowd of more than a thousand. Since then, he has made 10 trips to the state, during which he has spoken at the LGBTQ Center of Las Vegas, hosted an event at the Washoe Tribe’s Stewart Community Center and attended a town hall with Culinary Union members. He is one of two candidates still in the race to have visited Elko, hosting a town hall at Elko High School in December.

Despite concerns about how a heart attack he suffered in Las Vegas in October would affect his presidential campaign, Sanders has continued to keep an aggressive campaign schedule and has remained near the top in Nevada polls, trailing Biden by anywhere from 6- to 10-points.

Sanders has received a number of grassroots level endorsements, though his biggest high-profile endorsements have come from Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, a longtime Sanders supporter, and Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Lola Brooks. He has not yet run any television ads in the state.

The Vermont senator has also weighed in on a number of issues of particular relevance to Nevada during his campaign. Early on, his campaign released a video highlighting tribal opposition to storing high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a position Sanders also shares, and both he and his campaign have spent significant time and energy talking about Native American issues. He was also the first presidential candidate to come out against oil and gas drilling in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.

Sanders has been less willing to take positions on some other niche issues affecting the state, demurring on the issue of sex work and declining to comment on a Justice Department opinion this year on online gambling. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to a crowd at a Las Vegas campaign rally on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jeff Scheid//The Nevada Independent)

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, probably wouldn’t even be running for president if it hadn’t been for a call from a Nevadan.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to know if Warren, at the time a not very well known professor at Harvard Law, would join a new commission approved by Congress overseeing the Wall Street bailout. She said yes, and a month later found herself in Las Vegas chairing the first field hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel. She went on to help set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, run for U.S. Senate, and now seek the office of president of the United States.

Warren’s first hires landed on the ground in Nevada in the spring, and her campaign now has about 50 staffers in the state and 10 offices. Her first trip to the state was in February to host a campaign rally at Springs Preserve, which was attended by about 500 people.

Since then, the Massachusetts senator has slowly climbed in the polls in Nevada, from 10 percent support in March to a high of 22 points at the end of October. Her average hovers in the high teens, behind Biden and Sanders.

Over the last year, Warren has traveled to the Silver State 10 times, marching in the Las Vegas Pride Parade in October, attending a “Westside Pride” Black Community Summit at Nevada Partners in November and participating in a town hall with Culinary Union members in December.

Warren’s top endorsers in the Silver State include Assemblyman Howard Watts, Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, Controller Catherine Byrne, DNC Committeeman Alex Goff and DNC Committeewoman Allison Stephens. She has not yet run any television ads in the state.

While in Nevada, Warren has promised that she would not fund the construction of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain if elected president and expressed unease about the expansion of online gaming. She was also the first Democratic presidential hopeful to come out against the military’s proposed expansion into Nevada’s Desert National Wildlife Refuge, setting off a wave of similar declarations from other candidates.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during a campaign event at Madhouse Coffee in Las Vegas on Monday, April 8, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Pete Buttigieg

A latecomer to the state, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana has rapidly expanded his campaign operation since his first hire this summer and now has 55 staffers, making his the second largest staff only behind Sanders’. He also has 12 offices across the state, the most of any other presidential campaign here.

Buttigieg’s first trip to the state was on April 8, less than a week before officially launching his presidential campaign. The former South Bend mayor attended a meet and greet at Madhouse Coffee and a roundtable discussion at Veterans Village. From that first visit, Buttigieg has acknowledged that his path is “admittedly not a traditional way to get into presidential politics.” But, as he has gained traction in other early states and nationally, he has won over supporters here as well, polling in the high single digits.

In his nine trips to the state, Buttigieg has joined UAW members in a picket at the GM Reno Parts Distribution Center, toured a grow house and a dispensary, spoke at the Human Rights Campaign’s Las Vegas dinner and attended a roundtable at UMC, one day after the second anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting. He also was only one of two candidates to attend the Nevada State Democratic Party’s Keep Nevada Blue event in Reno, where he became the first candidate to officially file to participate in the caucus.

Buttigieg has been making a particular effort to reach out to communities of color in recent trips to the Silver State. In December, he attended an APIA town hall, a Latino community leaders roundtable, and a “black empowerment” conversation, where he faced tough questions. He also met with members of the powerful Culinary Union on Saturday.

Though the former South Bend mayor has received endorsements from a number of grassroots community leaders, he hasn’t secured much in the way of big-ticket supporters, with Wells Mayor Layla Walz and former state Sen. Patricia Farley two of his prominent endorsers.

In an effort to boost his name identification, Buttigieg went up with his first television ad in Nevada in December, a biographical spot highlighting his military service in Afghanistan and experience as mayor. He released a second TV ad last week focusing on his “Medicare for all who want it” health plan, a more conservative approach to the single-payer health care system some of his opponents favor.

While in Nevada, Buttigieg has made promises to not allocate funding to construct a high-level nuclear waste repository and said he would work to restore trust between Nevada and the Department of Energy. He hasn’t endorsed legalizing sex work nationaly, but said he wouldn’t as president stop Nevada from continuing to allow it.

Tom Steyer, center, founder of NextGen America, speaks during a panel discussion on immigration at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Tom Steyer

Steyer, a billionaire who previously ran the progressive advocacy group NextGen, has taken a simple approach since launching his presidential campaign in July: Blanket the airwaves in the four early voting states with ads. He has spent $10.3 million on television and radio advertisements in Nevada, with an additional $270,000 booked, according to Politico.

Those ads have ranged from purely positive, biographical spots, in which Steyer introduces himself as a candidate, to contrast ads that have sought to position the billionaire as a viable alternative to President Donald Trump. He’s also run ads on a number of specific policy issues including climate change, the economy and term limits.

And those ads might just be working. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Steyer surging to 12 percent support in Nevada, putting him 6 points ahead of Buttigieg, neck-and-neck with Warren, and only 5- and 11-points behind Sanders and Biden, respectively. That’s a significant leap from where Steyer was in the fall, when he was hovering in the mid to low single digits.

Steyer has visited the state six times since launching his campaign this summer. During those trips, he has joined UAW members in a picket at the GM Reno Parts Distribution Center and met with DREAMer moms. But he’s generally been a frequent visitor to the state as part of his work with NextGen and another group he founded, Need to Impeach. Since 2017, he has visited the state 13 times to host town halls, canvass kickoffs and other election-related events.

Steyer announced his first Nevada hire, state director Jocelyn Sida, at the end of August and his since hired 38 staffers and opened 4 offices, with more slated to open in the future. While he has received some community-level endorsements, Steyer has not yet received the support of any prominent Nevadans.

Steyer has taken a keen interest in Nevada issues, both prior to and during his candidacy. In 2018, he backed a ballot measure to put a requirement that Nevada raise its Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 into the state’s constitution, which passed with 59 percent support.

He opposes the construction of a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and has said that he would like to see the pot industry regulated through a combination of state and federal regulations, similar to the liquor industry. He has not weighed in on the issue of online gambling across state lines.

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks during a rally at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 525 union hall in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Andrew Yang

Though one of the earliest candidates to announce back in 2017, Yang didn’t begin staffing up in Nevada until mid-August last year. He now has a small team of 16 staffers — and plans to get to 20 by the end of the month — with three field offices, two in Las Vegas and one in Reno.

Yang’s first rally in the state was at Springs Preserve on April 23, part of his nationwide Humanity First tour. He also attended a meet-and-greet with SEIU Local 1107 the following day. Since launching his campaign, he’s been to Nevada four times and held rallies at the Rio, the Clark County Library and Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 525, among other locations. He was one of two candidates to attend the progressive People’s Forum in October.

Yang has not received any top-tier endorsements in the Silver State, nor has he run any television ads.

He has, however, developed some policies out of his visits to Nevada. After he was asked why MMA fighters aren’t allowed to unionize, Yang released a plan specifically to help them. He also released a plan to federally regulate online poker in response to a question about why online poker is state regulated and only legal in some states. (Some of Yang’s top donors from Nevada are professional gamblers.)

At the People’s Forum, Yang received some blowback for saying that he doesn’t have a “terrific answer” on Yucca Mountain. However, he told The Nevada Independent that he believes nuclear waste is a “national problem” and “should not be saddled with the people here in Nevada.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks during a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Amy Klobuchar

Though she has been campaigning aggressively in Iowa — she just had 99 “day of action” events in each of the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties — Klobuchar has only recently begun to turn her attention to Nevada.

It’s not to say that she hasn’t visited the state. She has, both early and often. During her first visit to the state in early April, she hosted a meet-and-greet with voters, toured a local middle school and spoke at a labor conference. She was also one of the earliest candidates to visit Northern Nevada, attending a veterans roundtable at the Fox Brewpub in early May. This weekend she met with members of the Culinary Union, marking her 10th visit to the state.

But the Minnesota senator just started staffing up in Nevada, announcing her first two hires, a state director and political director, at the end of November. She has also opened a campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.

On the trail here, Klobuchar often talks about her friendships with the two women who represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and peppers her speeches with other Nevada-specific references, talking often about Reid and electoral and legislative victories in the SIlver State. She has not received any major endorsements or run any television ads in Nevada.

Like many of her fellow Democratic presidential contenders, Klobuchar has stressed her opposition to building a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. She also supports legalizing marijuana.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, left, during the Boulder City parade on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Cory Booker

Booker, the junior U.S. senator from New Jersey, wants to win Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucus. Of course he wants to be president. But he also wants to win the state where his mom, Carolyn, has lived since 2013.

“We are doing what we believe we need to do to win Nevada,” Booker told the Independent in a podcast interview last month. “It is very personal to me, the state where my mom will caucus.”

Booker’s first memory of Las Vegas is from a cross-country road trip with his grandparents, who became one of the first families to buy into one of the Del Webb communities here. His parents moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, shortly before his father passed away.

Since launching his presidential campaign at the beginning of February, Booker has been to Nevada 11 times, more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful still in the race. His first campaign stop, on Feb. 24, was to Nevada Partners where he hosted a “Conversation with Cory” event.

Booker was also in Las Vegas for the 4th of July — cooking pancakes and marching in the 71st Annual Boulder City Damboree Parade — and Rep. Steven Horsford’s Labor Day barbecue at Craig Ranch Regional Park. He’s the only candidate to have toured a correctional center, Florence McClure, in Nevada and one of a handful of candidates to have met with the Douglas County Democrats in person at their office in Minden in April.

Of the smaller campaigns, Booker has one of the bigger staffs, with more than 20 paid, full-time staffers, including some who were hired as early as March. The campaign has two offices in Nevada, in Reno and Las Vegas, and is in the process of opening an additional Las Vegas office and securing other office space by the end of the month.

Booker has a few notable Nevada endorsers, including Assemblywoman Selena Torres, North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown and the Clark County Black Caucus. Torres had chosen former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro as her first pick, but realigned her support to Booker when Castro dropped out of the race.

The New Jersey senator released his first television ad in Nevada, as well as other markets across the nation, on the day of the December Democratic debate. In it, he made a pitch for his campaign, despite the fact that he did not qualify for the debate stage. Booker has been struggling in the polls in early states, including Nevada where he is hovering in the low single digits.

Booker supports decriminalizing marijuana nationwide and has said that he wants to help Nevada and other states that have already legalized marijuana on a state-by-state basis by passing legislation to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks, allow veterans to access medical marijuana through the VA system and expunge pot convictions.

He supports online gambling and disagrees with the Justice Department opinion prohibiting all gambling across state lines. He favors decriminalizing sex work, though he believes the federal government should play a support role to the states and allow them to develop their own laws and regulations.

Booker has also promised not to fund a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain if elected president, calling it a “very personal” issue to him since his mom lives in the state.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, left, during a presidential campaign stop at Expertise Cosmetology Institute in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Deval Patrick

When Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, launched his late-to-the-game candidacy in mid-November, his first official trip was to the Silver State.

“It’s a little strange to be in a hall where every other candidate but mine has a cheering section already organized,” Patrick said, to the few stragglers who had remained to hear him speak at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First In The West event at the Bellagio.

During his second trip to the state in December, he toured Expertise Cosmetology Institute and the Vegas Roots Community Garden and grabbed lunch at Gritz Cafe, where he had to be introduced to patrons.

“This is Deval Patrick,” said William McCurdy, a political strategist and father of Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II. “He’s running for president of the United States.”

In December, Patrick brought on Matthew DeFalco as his state director. DeFalo, who worked on Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton’s presidential campaign earlier this year, is the sole member of Patrick’s team in Nevada, and the campaign does not have any offices in the state or prominent endorsements.

He has, however, begun to run television ads in an effort to introduce himself to voters in Nevada and the other three early states.

Other candidates

The four other Democratic presidential hopefuls remaining in the race have spent significantly less time and resources campaigning in the Silver State. None of the four candidates have staffers on the ground in Nevada.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has made four trips to the state, participating in AFSCME’s 2020 Public Service Forum in August, swinging through Northern Nevada in August, speaking at the HLTH Conference in October and attending the state Democratic Party’s First In The West Event event in November.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visited Nevada early, in March, to host a town hall at the Asian Cultural Center and attend a meet-and-greet luau at United Way of Southern Nevada. In May, she toured Veterans Village, and her last visit to the state was in August for the AFSCME forum.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney has been to Nevada twice, for the AFSCME forum and the First In The West event.

Former New York City Michael Bloomberg has not visited the state and has said he is not campaigning in Nevada or any of the other three early voting states. He is also the only Democratic presidential hopeful whose name will not appear on Nevada’s presidential preference card.

Indy 2020: Candidate visits in the new year, a finalized presidential preference card and musings on nonpartisans

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.


Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

Happy New Year! Though it feels like it has been 2020 for ages now, it is in fact only seven days into the year — and 46 days until the Jellicle Ball, er… Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucus.

Who will they vote for? Will it be Jennyanydots? Gus? Mr. Mistoffelees? Grizabella?

I continue to make no apologies for liking “Cats.” (Though I’d say “Dark Waters” or “Little Women” were still probably my favorite holiday watches.)

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions and your predictions of who’s going to the Heaviside Layer at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


TOP OF MIND

Nevada’s presidential preference card is set: The Nevada State Democratic Party announced last week the candidates who filed to appear on the presidential preference card for the state’s Feb. 22 caucus. They are: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, self-help author Marianne Williamson and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to not file — in line with his strategy to skip campaigning in the four early voting states. A spokeswoman told the AP that the campaign has “enormous respect for the Democratic primary process and many friends in those states, but we are running a broad-based, national campaign to beat Donald Trump and win in November.”

Biden’s Nevada bundlers: Two days after Christmas, the former vice president released a list of more than 200 donors who have raised at least $25,000 for his campaign, known as bundlers. His Nevada bundlers include William Hill US CEO Joseph Asher, prominent personal injury attorney Robert Eglet (who hosted a fundraiser for Biden in Las Vegas in December), Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group Senior Managing Partner Thomas Kaplan, businesswoman Heather Murren (wife of MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren) and Dr. Rachakonda Prabhu, a pulmonologist in Las Vegas.

New TV ads in Nevada: Patrick, still a newcomer in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, went up with his first television and digital ad in Nevada and three other early states on Monday. Per this tweet from CNN’s David Wright, the buy in Nevada is very very very small — $167,990 total, with $100,000 in New Hampshire, $60,000 in South Carolina, and the rest split between Iowa and New Hampshire. In the 30-second ad, which you can see here, Patrick makes the argument that it’s “not too late to save the American dream” — or, by extension, support him. (Patrick says he jumped in the race late because of his wife’s cancer diagnosis, something the two of them explain on-camera in the ad.)

Steyer launched a new immigration-focused ad in Nevada on Tuesday, featuring a clip of him speaking on the issue at the December Democratic debate.

“I think it’s important to note that this president is not against immigration,” Steyer says in the ad. “He’s against immigration of non-white people.”

Buttigieg is also going up with a new statewide TV ad on cable on Tuesday focusing on his “Medicare for all who want it” alternative to a single-payer health care system. His first Nevada ad started running in December.

Klobuchar is the first candidate to visit Nevada in 2020: Klobuchar attended three events across Nevada on Saturday. She hosted meet and greets in Minden at the Douglas County Dems Office, at the Sundance Bookstore in Reno and at her campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.

In a gaggle after her Las Vegas event, I asked Klobuchar what her path to victory here looks like. (She’s been polling around 2 and 3 percent here, while she’s been slowly trending upwards in the high single digits in Iowa.)

“The path to victory is what we're seeing all over the country, and that is we're seeing more and more support,” Klobuchar said. “We had our first double digit national poll. I'm well aware that I am not as well known as some of the other candidates in this race, especially in this state, and that means I need to increase my name identification, I need to get out there. That's what we're doing today.”

It will be interesting to see how Klobuchar fares in Nevada in the next couple of weeks now that she has a team on the ground and is building momentum in Iowa. Two women who braved the brisk, 57-degree Las Vegas afternoon to hear Klobuchar speak told me they’re interested in the Minnesota senator, though neither has committed yet to a candidate.

Ann Marie Bleach, a 77-year-old from Las Vegas, told me that she started off backing Warren, switched to Buttigieg, went back to Warren and is now leaning toward Klobuchar.

“She has a very good message,” Bleach told me.

Linda Switzer, who works for Wynn Macau and lives in Summerlin, was also open to Klobuchar but said that right now the only one she thinks can beat President Donald Trump is Biden.

“I will do anything in my power to take this man out of office,” she said.

Both said that a candidate’s ability to defeat Trump will be the deciding factor in their caucus votes.

I also met a committed Klobuchar supporter, Aaron Sroka, a doctor from Las Vegas. He told me that he prefers a moderate candidate and thinks she’s done well on the debate stage. Biden, he said, has “a lot of baggage, unfortunately” and that Trump would “kill him because of Hunter (Biden),” the former vice president’s son. He said that Buttigieg is “okay, but he has no national experience,” and ruled out Warren and Sanders early, in part because of their support for Medicare for all.

“They don’t understand a lot of stuff,” Sroka told me. “You can’t dump the system all of a sudden.”

The might of the nonpartisans: As the boss reported on Twitter over the weekend, Republicans are now a smaller group in Clark County than nonpartisans (independents) and those registered with smaller political parties combined. As of noon on Monday, there were 460,352 Democrats, 318,880 Republicans, and 319,176 nonpartisans/others, according to the Clark County Election Department’s website.

Republicans still have the edge in Washoe County, though. As of Jan. 2, there were 102,319 Republicans in Washoe, 98,823 Democrats, and 79,773 nonpartisans/others, according to the Washoe County Registrar of Voters website.

The secretary of state also reported last week statewide voter registration numbers: 602,999 Democrats, 523,669 Republicans, and 448,072 nonpartisans/others. That’s a 5.04 percentage point advantage for Democrats over Republicans.

So, what does it all mean? Well, for some context the Democrat lead over Republicans in 2014 (red wave election) was 5.1 and in the blue wave years of 2016 and 2018 it was 6.1 and 4.8, respectively. But the share of nonpartians/others has grown significantly as a percentage of the total number of registered voters. They represented 25.6 percent of voters in 2014, 27.2 percent in 2016, 28.2 percent in 2018 and 28.5 percent today.

And compared to the number of voters during the last election, there are 4,825 more Democrats, 418 more Republicans and 8,569 more nonpartisans/others.

We’ll be keeping an eye on these voter registration totals as automatic voter registration at the DMV — meaning voters have to opt-out of registering to vote instead of having to opt-in — kicks in this month.

Steyer’s post-Christmas trip to Las Vegas: Steyer was in Las Vegas Dec. 26 to 28. While in town, he attended a meet and greet with local business leaders at an event hosted by ArtKore Print Group, a Latino-owned print shop in Las Vegas. (He was also endorsed by the print shop’s founder, Rassiel Godinez.)

Booker’s pre-New Year’s trip to Reno: Booker returned to Reno on Dec. 30 to attend a Latino community leader roundtable and host a “Conversation with Cory” event, featuring Assemblywoman Sarah Peters and Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus. Per CBS News’s Alex Tin, more than 300 people attended the latter event, and some tears were shed as Booker shared an emotional story about seeing someone shot in Newark.


CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

Staffing changes and office openings

  • Warren opened her 11th campaign office in Southwest Las Vegas on Sunday. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, a national surrogate for the campaign, attended the office opening (as did state Sen. Dallas Harris) and Rippon also hosted a house party in Las Vegas.
  • Steyer opened his third campaign office in the state in Summerlin on Saturday. (The campaign also has offices in Las Vegas and Reno.) The office opening was attended by his son, Sam Steyer, who also attended other events on his father’s behalf over the weekend, including attending a caucus training on Friday and speaking at Abundant Peace Church on Sunday.
  • State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who endorsed Biden back in April, has joined the former vice president’s team as Nevada senior advisor.
  • Buttigieg has added additional staff in Nevada including Drake Ridge as Nevada labor constituency director and Ishmael Cody-Harvell as Nevada black constituency director. (Ridge previously worked on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s campaign.) The campaign also relocated Cat O'Connor, national veterans engagement director, to Nevada.

New endorsements

  • Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Lola Brooks endorsed Sanders for president last week.
  • Steyer was endorsed by Reverend Wilfred Moore of the Abundant Peace Church in Las Vegas.
  • Buttigieg received the endorsements of more than 20 community leaders in Nevada last week, including from Brian Wadsworth, a commissioner on the Nevada Indian Commission.
  • Yang has been endorsed by Rutt Premsrirut, a philanthropist and one of the founders of the Las Vegas Children Foundation, and Tom Julpas Kruesopon, a leader in the Thai community.
  • For the latest on presidential endorsements, check out our tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Biden will return to Nevada this weekend. He’ll be in Reno on Friday and Las Vegas on Saturday.
  • Buttigieg will also return to Las Vegas this weekend. His only announced stop so far is a rally at Silverado High School on Saturday at 3 p.m.
  • Klobuchar is slated to return to Las Vegas on Saturday, unless impeachment proceedings interfere.
  • Yang will participate in a virtual town hall hosted by the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus on Friday evening.
  • Steyer will return to Nevada for the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum on Jan. 15 and address members of the Culinary Union on Jan. 16.
  • For the latest on presidential candidate visits, check out our visit tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Jason Mraz and The Mowgli’s performed at First Friday in Downtown Las Vegas on Jan. 3 on behalf of the Sanders campaign. Campaign co-chair Nina Turner also spoke at the event.
  • Steyer’s wife Kat Taylor will campaign in Las Vegas on Thursday. She will attend a luncheon with the Women's Democratic Club of Clark County, an AAPI women's roundtable with the Asian Community Resource Center, and a happy hour at Atomic Liquors.
  • Pulse Nightclub survivor and gun violence prevention activist Brandon Wolf, trans and civil rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston and New York state Sen. Gustavo Rivera will campaign for Warren in Reno and Las Vegas this weekend, including stops at Cardenas Market and an LGBTQ+ youth forum.

Other election news

  • Booker announced on Monday a paid internship program in Nevada, with interns working 15 hours a week at $15 an hour.
  • The Nevada Republican Party is hosting two fundraising dinners this weekend featuring the party’s Chairman Michael McDonald, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for Trump 2020. The events will be held at Fabrizio’s in Downtown Las Vegas and the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.
  • Though not explicitly election related, President Trump's elder daughter Ivanka Trump will join a keynote discussion on “the path to the future of work” at CES today.
  • Yang supporters have been touting the tech entrepreneur's policies on cryptocurrency, data privacy and net neutrality at CES.

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Horsford boosted by new ad buy: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford is benefitting from a new multi-million dollar ad buy touting members of Congress who recently greenlit a Democratic-backed omnibus bill that seeks to lower prescription drug prices in part by allowing the government to negotiate those prices through Medicare. My colleague Jacob Solis has more.


OTHER REQUIRED READING

Indy 2020: Candidates close out 2019 with final round of visits, setting stage for race to the finish in 2020

A collection of political buttons

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.


Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

Merry Christmas Eve and happy Hanukkah! Going to keep this introduction short because I know you’re probably traveling or wrapping presents or, if you don’t celebrate, hopefully enjoying a bit of peace and solitude.

Some brief, unimportant thoughts that won’t spoil anything for you: Babu Frik is good. D-0 is extremely relatable. Zorii wasn’t given enough screen time. And I actually liked Episode IX?

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions and your thoughts on the Star War at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


TOP OF MIND

The ad wars begin (continue?): South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg went up on television with his first statewide ad last week, a 30-second spot serves to introduce him to voters in the Silver State. I originally thought this made Buttigieg the first of the top four highest polling candidates to go up on the air in Nevada, but turns out former Vice President Joe Biden quietly went up with a two-day buy in October in the four early states.

Buttigieg is also out with his first Spanish radio and digital ads in Nevada, talking about the first day after Donald Trump’s presidency.

The same day, Biden released his second TV ad in Nevada last week, a minute-long spot called the “Soul of America” that contrasts the former vice president with Trump.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also went up on Thursday with his first television ad, which ran in Nevada and other markets across the nation during the Democratic debate.

And on Monday, billionaire Tom Steyer released his first Spanish language ad in Nevada, which will run in Las Vegas and Reno. The 30-second ad, called "Poder Económico," focuses on the 2008 financial crisis and touts the work that Steyer and his wife Kat undertook to found a nonprofit community bank as putting power back in the hands of the people.

Mayor Pete courts voters of color: Buttigieg is doing well in Iowa. And New Hampshire. The only problem? Those states are white. Really white. And Buttigieg has faced a lot of skepticism about his ability to appeal to voters of color.

Enter Nevada, the most diverse early voting state. Buttigieg spent much of his recent trip to Las Vegas courting the state’s voters of color, attending a Latino community leaders roundtable, an AAPI town hall and what was billed as a “black empowerment conversation.” But it was far from smooth sailing for the mayor, who faced significant skepticism at that meeting with black community leaders.

“I worry about your record, and how I can trust you as a voter because I vote with my life,” attendee Alexis Taylor told Buttigieg. “If I’m giving you my vote, it’s because my life is now in your hands, quite literally. How are you going to accomplish these things if you do not support getting money out of politics?”

My colleague Jacob Solis was there and has all the details.

Postmortem on the Culinary visits: We talked a little bit in last week’s newsletter about the relatively tepid reception that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren received during a visit to the Culinary Union. Her town hall with the union was followed by two others with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Biden, who received much warmer receptions. (It’s not necessarily that union members didn’t like her — they still may not know her yet.)

Both Warren and Sanders had to contend with the Medicare-for-all question, but they handled it very differently. Warren argued that the way that union members experience their health care won’t change under Medicare-for-all, only the funding mechanism will change. The “1 percent” and big corporations will pay for it, she said. Sanders was more direct, arguing that switching to Medicare-for-all would add $12,000 to their paychecks. Biden, meanwhile, had to address the Cadillac tax, a portion of the Affordable Care Act the union has long hated. He said he was “confident” Senate Republicans would repeal it even before he got into office.

I covered Sanders’ and Biden’s visits and then stepped back to take a look at the three events as a whole.

Bernie + AOC: Sanders returned to Las Vegas on Saturday to host a rally with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at Chaparral High School. In her introduction of the Vermont senator, Ocasio-Cortez talked about the so-called “radical” ideas that she and Sanders have.

"I'm happy to be a dangerous woman,” she said. “We should all be dangerous.”

While in town, Ocasio-Cortez also keynoted a Spanish language town hall at the Parkdale Recreation Center in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Cory returns for a two-day swing: Booker, during a two-day swing out to the state last week, hosted a “Conversation with Cory” event at Cheyenne High School, and helped kick off the state’s launch of “AAPIs for Cory” by attending a “Boba with Booker” and their first Tagalog caucus training. He also attended a roundtable discussion hosted by Mi Familia Vota and attended a community service event with Three Square Food Bank. The visit marked his tenth to the state this year.

Deval in Nevada: Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick returned to Las Vegas last week after making his debut campaign appearance at the First-In-The-West event last month. He made stops at Gritz Cafe and Expertise Cosmetology Institute, before touring Vegas Roots Community Garden.

SEIU straw poll: Sanders is leading in a new straw poll of SEIU Local 1107 members who are registered Democrats in Nevada with 33 percent support. Warren is at 20 percent; Biden at 17 percent; tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Booker and Steyer at 7 percent each; Buttigieg is at 6 percent; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro are at 2 percent each. (Biden and Warren were neck-and-neck in the last straw poll from August.)

SEIU Local 1107 represents about 19,000 workers in the health care and public sectors across the state.


ON THE INDY

The Indy is co-hosting the February Dem debate: In case you missed the big news for our little three-year-old nonprofit, The Nevada Independent will be co-hosting, with NBC/MSNBC, the Feb. 19 Democratic debate in Nevada. Details here.

Indian County positions itself for 2020: Native leaders are preparing to make a stand in the 2020 election — starting with Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus in February. Their message to presidential hopefuls is simple: The Native vote matters too. In this deep dive, I explored what Native organizers are doing to position themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Booker on the pod: Booker, while in town last week, sat down with me on the IndyMatters podcast. We talked about the influence of money on who qualifies for the debate stage, impeachment, mining, sex work and more.

Sisolak won’t endorse before caucus: Gov. Steve Sisolak, in a wide-ranging interview, told my colleagues Riley Snyder and Michelle Rindels that he has no plans to endorse before the state’s Democratic presidential caucus in February.

“I told them the important thing is really not my endorsement,” he said. “It’s the Culinary worker in the back of the house at the Mirage, or the guy working on the expansion of the convention center. Those are the endorsements that are going to really matter, the working men and women and you know, I don’t think my endorsement is as important as theirs, quite frankly.”

Warren slams Bloomberg: Warren, at event in Northern Nevada two weeks ago, accused former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, of trying to “buy the election” and said that he was attempting to “skip the democracy part” of elections by relying on massive amounts of advertising.


CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

New endorsements

  • Assemblywoman Selena Torres endorsed Castro for president. She’s picking Booker as her second choice in case of realignment. (In Nevada’s caucus process, voters are given a chance to realign their preference in support of another candidate if their first-choice candidate doesn’t receive enough votes to be considered “viable” in the caucus.)
  • Castro was endorsed by West Wendover City Councilmember Kathy Durham.
  • Booker was endorsed by North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown.
  • Yerington Paiute Tribe Chairman Laurie Thom endorsed Sanders for president last week. She will serve as one of his Nevada campaign co-chairs.
  • Former state Sen. Patricia Farley endorsed Buttigieg for president. (He also received the backing of a dozen Nevada veterans and military family members.)
  • The Stonewall Democratic Club and the Clark County Left Caucus endorsed Sanders for president.
  • For the latest on presidential endorsements, check out our tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Steyer will attend a meet and greet with local business leaders at an event hosted by ArtKore Print Group, a Latino-owned union print shop in Las Vegas, on Friday.
  • Booker will return to the Silver State on Monday for yet-to-be-announced events in Reno.
  • For the latest on presidential candidate visits, check out our visit tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders hosted a trivia event and young professionals happy hour at Classic Jewel in Las Vegas on Dec. 12.
  • Sanders’ national surrogates Amy Vilela, Dr. Victoria Dooley, Rabyaah Althaibani and Helen Hong attended a “Women for Bernie” panel at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas on Dec. 14 as part of a “Women for Bernie Weekend of Organizing” in Nevada and California.
  • Jill Biden, the wife of the former vice president, was in Nevada on Dec. 20 and 21. She attended two “Women for Biden” community events in Reno and Las Vegas (the latter event was attended by Rep. Dina Titus, who has endorsed Biden) and toured a veterans guest house with Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall.
  • John Bessler, Klobuchar's husband, was in Las Vegas on Dec. 21 and 22. He met with supporters, toured a Nevada Health Centers site, dropped off toys for kids at the 19th Annual Feeding Families philanthropic drive, talked to local women candidates running for municipal court and met with community leaders in Henderson.

Other election news

  • Booker filed his paperwork in person last week to participate in Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus.
  • Booker recently launched the campaign’s bilingual caucus training program in Nevada and hosted its first “Caucus por Cory” training at the East Las Vegas Library on Dec. 14.
  • The Nevada State Democratic Party has continued to hold Spanish-language caucus trainings, most recently on Dec. 10 and 11.
  • Trump Victory hostd a “Stop the Madness” event at the Whitney Public Library in Las Vegas on Dec. 14 ahead of the House’s impeachment vote.
  • Steyer’s campaign held a weekend of action on Dec. 13 and 15 in Nevada and the other three early states. In Nevada, the team held 25 phone banking and 29 canvassing events during which they knocked on 5,000 doors and made 12,000 calls.
  • Castro tweeted out the news of the deadliest residential fire in Las Vegas history, which broke out early Saturday morning, and called for access to safe housing. 

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Senate Dems snub Assembly members for former state party chair: The Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus announced last week that it is endorsing former state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange in the election to replace termed-out state Sen. David Parks — and not Ellen Spiegel or Richard Carrillo, two Assembly members running for the seat. My colleague Riley Snyder has more.


OTHER REQUIRED READING

Indian Country, long an afterthought in campaigns, is positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with in 2020

Inside the Holiday Market at the Las Vegas Indian Center

Long before the casinos, mines and brothels, long before Las Vegas, Reno and Elko, and long before the snow-capped mountains earned this land the name Nevada, there were the Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone people.

For centuries, they have called the Great Basin home. They gathered pinyon pine nuts before the silver-rich Comstock Lode was discovered, creating a crushing demand for the trees that were used to fuel mining operations. The Paiute fished the Cui-ui from Pyramid Lake before its water was diverted for agriculture. They drank the water before there were any mines or hazardous chemical runoff to worry about.

For generations, they and the rest of Indian Country have largely eschewed U.S. politics, distrustful of a government that waged war against them, allowed them to be enslaved, polluted the land and, to this day, fails to live up to its treaty obligations to them. They have also long been physically excluded from that political system, with the nearest polling sites to reservations sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Now, fueled by a renewed sense of agency after the Dakota access pipeline protests at Standing Rock in 2016 and 2017 and recent electoral victories, including the election of Rep. Deb Haaland and Rep. Sharice Davids as the first two Native American women to serve in Congress, Native leaders say they’re preparing to make a stand in the 2020 election — starting with Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus in February.

Their message to presidential hopefuls is simple: The Native vote matters too.

“So much of the political system has ignored the Indian vote,” said Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance and a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma. “That is changing.”

It’s not just that it matters because Native voices should matter. Votes from tribal communities could actually be the margin of difference in Nevada, both in the state’s Democratic presidential caucus in February and the general election in November. 

Indigenous people make up nearly 2 percent of the state’s population, with significant pockets living on reservations in rural Nevada, and the voting rights organization Four Directions estimates that the Native voting age population in Nevada will be nearly 67,000 by the time of the 2020 election, though it’s unclear how many are registered to vote.

It’s a fact that presidential hopefuls are keenly aware of. Candidates have sent representatives to the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, released Native-specific policies and even used their bully pulpits to draw attention to issues affecting Indian Country here, including a longstanding proposal to construct a long-term, high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, which is sacred to the Shoshone and Paiute peoples, and contamination related to the Anaconda Copper Mine outside of Yerington.

“I think there’s an increase in outreach to Indian Country. I’ve noticed that since the last election,” said Laurie Thom, chairman of the Yerington Paiute Tribe. “I think there’s been more activity, and they’re more proactive in reaching out to the tribal leaders.”

But not all candidate outreach has been equal — or received equally. Several tribal leaders in Nevada named Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the candidate most fluent in Native American issues, and some have even endorsed him, citing a longstanding commitment to Native communities and the efforts he has made to meet with them during trips to the state. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has also received a prominent endorsement from a tribal chairman in the state. 

Others liked California Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the race last month, said that she evolved on Native issues over the course of the campaign after clashing with California tribes in her prior post as the state’s attorney general. Some are fond of former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and self-help author Marianne Williamson.

Native leaders appreciate the outreach from candidates, but it’s a two-way street. They want to be invited to presidential candidates’ events, but they want candidates to come to their events, too.

To that end, they’re planning a Native American presidential forum at UNLV in mid-January, which will bring together leaders from Nevada’s 27 tribes as well as those from surrounding states to hear from Democratic presidential hopefuls, attend planning meetings on how to turn out the Native vote nationally and host caucus trainings.

The forum will be the second-ever of its kind — the first was hosted in Sioux City, Iowa in August — but organizers say the Native vote isn’t going to make a difference in Iowa, where just 0.5 percent of the population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native. It could in Nevada.

The Native vote isn’t a monolith, but experts say that it tends to lean blue. And with the way that delegate math works in the presidential caucus, winning rural Nevada could be the key to victory in a close race — just ask Barack Obama, who lost the popular vote in Nevada in 2008 but came out of the state with the most delegates, largely because of his organizing in rural portions of the state.

And in a small turnout election —  118,000 Democrats caucused in Nevada in 2008 and 84,000 in 2016 — every vote counts.

“I think the candidates are actually considering and thinking about tribes,” said Alan Mandell, vice chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. “In a caucus state like us, it could make a good difference.”


Joann Spotted Bear (also known as Mato Gleska Wiyan) speaks to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a campaign rally at Wooster High School in Reno, Nev. on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sanders, speaking at a town hall in Carson City last week, opened with a tirade against the U.S. government and its treatment of Native Americans. It was the first address given by a presidential candidate in Indian Country in Nevada this year.

“Everybody in this room knows the way that the United States government has treated the Native American people from day one is a shame and a disgrace,” Sanders said, addressing a crowd of about 400 that had gathered the Washoe Tribe’s Stewart Community Center. “We need our Native American brothers and sisters to go all over this country and, as president, that’s what I will ask them — to explain sustainability to the American people and to the world.”

Later in the event, the Vermont senator was asked what specifically he would do to help Indigenous families. He launched into another scathing attack of the government, its treatment of the land and its failure to fulfill its treaty obligations. He then pivoted to corporations, which he criticized for only being able to see as far at the end of the financial quarter, where Native communities, he said, consider the impact their actions will have for generations.

“You don’t destroy your source of food. You don’t wipe out the buffalo if you’re dependent upon that for food. You don’t poison the water if you need water to drink,” Sanders said. “That’s what they have understood, and that when you look at your policy, what you do is you look at it over a long period of time, not just the end of the quarter and the profits that you make.”

It was a moment that highlighted the cultural fluency that several Native leaders in Nevada pointed to in interviews when trying to explain why Sanders has such resonance within their communities. The idea Sanders was obliquely referencing is the Native American principle that decisions should be considered in view of the impact that they will have on the next seven generations.

Rulon Pete, the executive director of the Las Vegas Indian Center, isn’t endorsing ahead of the 2020 election. He can’t, by virtue of the nonpartisan outreach to Native voters his organization will conduct over the next year. But, looking at the 2020 field, he said there’s only one candidate that has displayed a “full comprehension” of Native issues.

“That would just be, of course, Senator Sanders,” said Pete, an enrolled member of the Cedar Band of Paiutes and Navajo. “I'm not saying that I'm endorsing any one of them, but I felt like if there were anyone reaching out to Native communities, it would be him.”

Pete spoke on a panel discussion that Sanders hosted at the LGBTQ Center in Las Vegas earlier this year. He also attended a discussion hosted by Valerie Biden Owens, the former vice president’s sister. But he said that he didn’t feel like she, and by extension her brother, had as full of an understanding of the issues as Sanders does.

“It didn't seem genuine to me,” Pete said.

Of the handful of endorsements that have been made by Native community leaders in Nevada, most have gone to Sanders. His most recent was from Thom, the chairman of the Yerington Paiute Tribe, who announced her support for him this week and was named one of his Nevada campaign’s co-chairs.

Thom got to know Sanders during a meeting she attended with Native leaders after a rally at the University of Nevada, Reno in September. During the meeting, they had a chance to share their concerns with the senator, and she said that she was “very impressed” by his understanding of Native issues.

“He said he was going to need our help to make sure [action is taken] with our consent and not just consultation, and that he would be willing to work with Indian County to ensure that treaty rights and other rights are being served sovereign to sovereign,” Thom said.

Earlier this month, Thom took the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, on a tour of the Anaconda Copper Mine outside of Yerington, which contaminated a toxic groundwater plume that has snaked below homes and toward the tribe’s reservation. They also visited the tribe’s dispensary, toured their health clinic and had a discussion about the disproportionate impact that federal government shutdowns have on tribes.

Sanders campaign officials say this kind of outreach is a natural outgrowth of the senator’s personal interest in tribal communities. But it’s also a byproduct of the staff’s interest and connections on the ground in Nevada.

Early on in the campaign, a staffer and a volunteer made the decision to attend Western Shoshone National Council Chief Johnnie Bobb’s annual peaceful protest and sacred walk in opposition to the construction of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. While there, they filmed people talking about their opposition to the nuclear waste dump and, in May, released a video drawing attention to the issue.

Another staffer recently joined an Indigenous walk down a Northern Nevada highway to honor the lives lost in accidents along that road.

“It was really spiritual and provided a lot of clarity to why I’m doing this as a campaign staffer, and I know they appreciated having a campaign staffer there in support,” said Jacob Allen, Sanders’ Northern Nevada political associate.

The campaign has also attended Inter-Tribal Council meetings, hosted a town hall with the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz, had a table at the 27th Elko Band Pow Wow in September and hosted two Native-specific roundtables, including the one at the UNR and a second, smaller gathering in Elko earlier this month. It was directly in response to concerns raised during that meeting that Sanders came out against opening federal land to oil and gas leasing in the Ruby Mountains.

For the campaign, outreach to Indian Country is an end unto itself: It’s important because the tribal community is important. But his team acknowledges it’s at least partly strategic too.

“We are very aware that there will be precincts in rural Nevada that will be majority Native voters, and we want to get as many delegates as we can in every precinct. That means organizing in every corner of the state and that means making sure we are organizing in these neighborhoods and rural areas where these Native folks live,” said Sarah Michelsen, Sanders’ state director. “We did really well in Northern Nevada in 2016. We think the Native vote was probably key to our success then, and we think that’s going to be critical again.” 


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in Carson City, Nev. at the Stewart Community Center on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sanders may be the candidate most often mentioned by tribal leaders in Nevada, but he’s far from the only one focused on Native outreach in the Silver State and nationally.

OJ Seamans, co-director of Four Directions, said one candidate that stood out to him most was Harris. He noted that while she butted heads with tribes as California’s attorney general, after she participated in the August Native American presidential forum, she developed a Native policy on federal lands.

“To me, that showed that people listened at that form because she went from having no idea to actually saying, ‘You know what, this is the right thing to do,’” said Seamans, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who is working with Native organizers in Nevada.

Mandell, vice chair of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said he first met Harris during a trip she made to Carson City in April. But it was the release of Harris’s Native policy that persuaded him to endorse the California senator for president in October.

“I kind of followed her in California as a neighboring state. I just liked her. And then she came out with a set of Native American policies that she had put out,” Mandell said. “I liked the policy itself.”

Warren’s campaign has engaged in specific Native outreach in Nevada, with staffers speaking at two recent Inter-Tribal Council meetings and participating in community meetings with members of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz and the Wells Band of the Te-Moak Shoshone Tribe in Wells. 

She also released a wide-ranging Native policy in August before her appearance at the Native American presidential forum, and was the first candidate to oppose military expansion into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, which is sacred land for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, after her staffers met with environmental Native leaders about the issue.

But Warren has another barrier to overcome with the Native community: Her decades-old claim of Native American ancestry and her attempt to back it up with a DNA test. But feelings among the Native community here are far from homogenous on the subject. Some view her actions as egregious and her apologies to the Cherokee Nation superficial. Others are hesitant to judge her background.

“I’m really big on, like, I don’t know people’s backgrounds, and I’m not going to slander anybody if they say they’re part of a community. I don’t know if they are or not,” said Teresa Melendez, a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi who is active in Native organizing in Nevada and has endorsed Sanders. “I’ve been giving Warren the benefit of the doubt.”

Other Native leaders have done the same. Haaland, one of the two Native American women in Congress, endorsed Warren in July, and Walker River Paiute Chairman Amber Torres announced her support for the senator in October. Torres did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this story.

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaign, meanwhile, has former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera in his corner. Oceguera is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe and was the first Native American to serve as speaker in the state’s history.

The campaign has been engaging through its political and organizing teams with the Paiute Tribe in Southern and Northern Nevada and the Te-Moak Shoshone Tribe of Western Nevada, which took part in the program for Biden’s town hall in Elko. Biden also has a fellow on staff in Elko from the Te-Moak tribe who is focused on Native engagement and outreach.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg released his Native plan in October, and his Nevada team has participated in events with the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and the Elko Band Colony of the Te-Moak tribe. Just last weekend, Buttigieg organizers were focusing on outreach to the Corn Creek area of the Las Vegas Indian Colony.

Buttigieg’s campaign is also trying to schedule a Native-specific tele-town hall before Nevada’s presidential caucus.

It’s not just the top polling candidates with the biggest staffs that are focusing on Native outreach, either. A spokeswoman for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said that Campaign Manager Addisu Demissie met with the president of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony both in August and October, while Castro and Williamson are two candidates noted for their Native outreach.

Mercedes Krause, an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and executive director of United Natives who is active in Native organizing in Southern Nevada, said that during a meeting earlier this year Williamson actually got on her website and started making changes to her policy platform.

“She wanted to learn,” Krause said.

Melendez, who also met with Williamson, described the author’s work as “heart-centered” and said that it falls easily in line with Native epistemology.

“It was a really easy conversation. Like three hours,” Melendez said. “I always enjoy a conversation with Marianne because she gets it at a heart level that people who are entrenched in corporate American and politics sometimes don’t because there’s so much money involved.”

And then there’s Castro, the only presidential candidate to visit the Anaconda Copper Mine himself. He also released a comprehensive Native policy in July and was the second candidate to join Warren in her opposition to the military’s proposed expansion into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge.

Thom drew a parallel between Castro’s Anaconda visit and his tour of the tunnels beneath the Las Vegas Strip to talk with the city’s homeless population.

“When he was down in Vegas, he did visit areas that most candidates don’t go,” Thom said. “He’s really trying to bring forth a lot of those issues to the debate.”


Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro visits with members of the Yerington Paiute Tribe and tours the Anaconda Copper Mine with Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, left, and Yerington Paiute Tribe Chairman Laurie Thom, right, on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Much has changed in the last four years. Four years ago, Seamans and his group Four Directions were fighting with Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske on the behalf of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Walker River Paiute Tribe. 

The tribes argued in a lawsuit that the state of Nevada and Washoe and Mineral counties had violated the Voting Rights Act by denying their requests for polling places on their reservations, citing cost and logistical concerns. In the end, a federal judge sided with the tribes on the grounds that the public interest is served by enforcing the Voting Rights Act and “the inclusion of protected classes in the political process.”

Not only did the tribes get their requested polling sites in Nixon and Schurz, but the case has been used as a precedent in other Native voting rights cases across the country, Seamans said. 

On top of that, the Legislature passed a bill, SB492, during the 2017 session codifying the judge’s ruling and requiring county clerks to establish at least one temporary branch polling location on reservations if requested with enough advance notice by the tribes.

“They call it the Silver State. I was calling it the Golden State because of what the Legislature did,” Seamans said. “You won’t find any of the other 50 states has that type of law.”

Other tribal polling sites for the 2016 election included the Moapa Tribal Administrative Building and the Washoe Elder Center and in 2018, there were four — in Nixon, Schurz, Moapa on the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation and Hungry Valley on the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony reservation. So far, four are confirmed for the 2020 general election — Moapa, Nixon, Hungry Valley and a new site at Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s #6 Smoke Shop in Spanish Springs.

Seamans said his organization is in the process of having conversations with tribal leaders and informing them about the new law to boost the number of polling sites on reservations ahead of the 2020 election. Under the new law, tribes have until July 3, the first Friday in July, to submit their requests to their respective county clerks.

Allowing voting on reservations is key to boosting the Native vote, because people often don’t have the means to travel 50 or 100 miles to the nearest polling site, Seamans said. Four Directions conducted a survey before they filed their lawsuit and found that members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe had to travel as many as 70 miles to the nearest polling location, while some wealthy Lake Tahoe residents only had to travel 5 miles to their nearest satellite polling location.

“In our survey, we were able to identify that Natives were in the majority in the poverty level, and their vehicles were not trustworthy to travel long distances or even short distances unless there was some type of emergency,” Seamans said.

That’s something that the Nevada State Democratic Party is taking into consideration as well as it plans caucus sites. The party had caucus sites on reservations in 2016 — including at the Washoe Housing Authority in Gardnerville; the Human Development Center in Owyhee; the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribal Building; the Walker River Paiute Tribe Community Center in Schurz; the Yomba Shoshone Tribal Gym; and the Pyramid Lake Junior and Senior High School in Nixon — and will do so again in 2020. 

The party will also offer early voting at four different locations on reservations, at the Las Vegas Indian Center, the Wadsworth Community Building on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe's reservation, the Hungry Valley Recreation Center and at the Washoe Housing Authority.

The polling location is only one part of the equation, though. The other is getting people to actually show up. But Seamans is optimistic. Data provided by Four Directions shows that early votes from precincts in Nixon in 2016 increased 781 percent over those cast in 2012, and Election Day votes from those precincts increased by 180 percent between the two elections, while overall Washoe County voter turnout only increased by 113.7 percent.

“The data shows that the satellite offices bring in new voters,” Seamans said. “The old voters will continue to come, but over and over the data has shown it produces new voters.”


Las Vegas Indian Center seen on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Earlier this year, Teresa Melendez and her husband Brian Melendez had an idea. They were watching a tumultuous political battle playing out on a national level and realized that they wanted the Native community to have a seat at the table. They brought the idea to Sarah Mahler, chair of the Washoe County Democratic Party, who helped them draft and submit bylaws for a new Native American caucus to the state Democratic Party in June. 

By October, the state party central committee had overwhelmingly approved them and gave the caucus a seat on the party’s executive board.

“It’s never been done before,” Brian Melendez said.

For Teresa Melendez, it seemed like the natural thing to do. The tribes are a political powerhouse in her home state of Michigan.

“I was blown away when I moved to Nevada,” she said. “The tribes do not have political influence here.”

People only recognize the tribes, she said, when they have money and numbers. That means it’s usually the big gaming tribes that have earned the lion’s share of the attention.

But the couple is hoping to change that. Their short term goals include recruiting Native seats in the state central committee and boosting voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election. Longer term goals include building a bench of Natives interested in running for local, state and national offices, Teresa Melendez said.

And they’re not the only ones. Tribal leaders and Native organizers across the state are ramping up in a number of ways — from voter registration drives and caucus trainings to a presidential candidate forum — in an effort to turn out the biggest Native vote ever in 2020.

“It seems to be the consensus that we are organizing in our pockets with the same ideas, the same goals toward having the Native voice heard, and then we're starting to connect across the state and across the country now because we are all feeling and experiencing similar things,” said Krause, who has drafted the bylaws and recruited an executive board to form a Clark County Native caucus. “So it's kind of happening simultaneously, but now everything is linking up.”

Those pockets will officially converge on Jan. 14 and 15 when tribes from across the state and the country come together to hear from and share their concerns with presidential candidates, educate each other and come up with a game plan ahead of the 2020 election at the Native American presidential forum at UNLV.

“The Native vote in Nevada is a swing vote,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a critical vote that needs to be educated and mobilized, and these forums provide an opportunity for the first time in history for presidential candidates to state their positions on various issues of concern in Indian Country and to be educated about what the voters and the leadership both tribal and community.”

The concern for organizers now is who will actually show up. The Democratic National Committee scheduled its January Democratic presidential debate for Jan. 14 in Iowa. But Seamans is hopeful that they will be able to convince several of the presidential hopefuls to appear via live stream, as they did during the last forum.

The forum itself, he said, will begin with a discussion between the descendants of Wovoka, a prophet from the Northern Paiute Tribe responsible for the spread of the Ghost Dance movement, and the descendants of Wounded Knee, the massacre of hundreds of Lakota men, women and children by the U.S. Army in 1890 and after which the movement was sent underground.

“We’re going to pick up something our ancestors started 130 years ago by having the tribes unite for hope,” Seamans said. “This time it’s going to be for the 2020 election.”

In addition to presidential candidate appearances, the event will feature panels on Native voting, education, the environment and economic development, among other issues. 

The forum will also include Native-specific caucus training, which, Seamans said, will include an emphasis on how to advocate in a caucus situation. During the caucus, attendees typically have a chance to persuade people to back their preferred candidate during a so-called realignment period.

“Natives have, forever and ever, not dominated conversation. They usually sit back. They do a lot of listening, but they’re not ones to jump into the middle of an argument and convince them to do something else. It’s just not in our culture,” Seamans said. “That’s going to be the toughest part of the training is to be able to get them to stand up and speak their minds especially to non-Natives. That’s always been difficult culture-wise.”

Some of the individual tribes are planning their own outreach efforts too. Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said that they are currently having conversations about going house to house to register their members to vote, and not just at powwows and special events. He said that their reservation can be walked in a couple of hours, compared to other tribes whose reservations are more spread out.

But for all the polling locations, voter registration drives and caucus trainings, at the end of the day, the most significant hurdle is this: Convincing Natives to exercise their right to vote to shape the future of a government that has too often ignored their needs and actively threatened their way of life.

“Most tribes, tribal members, we’re not Democrat or Republican per se, but we look to the government to uphold their obligations to the tribes,” said Ted Howard, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, whose reservation spans the Idaho-Nevada border. “I think from both sides we have not really seen that level of protection from the government.”

Howard says it’s hard to get excited about things these days. There’s so much uncertainty, he says. But he’s encouraged by the outreach by some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls to Native communities.

“It’s not something that’s happened before,” Howard said. “I think we’re cautiously optimistic.”


Native Vote t-shirts sell for $25 during the Holiday Market at the Las Vegas Indian Center on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Booker laments Bloomberg ‘juicing up’ poll numbers with personal wealth while Harris drops out over funding woes

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker seated during an interview

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker did not appear on Thursday night’s debate stage.

He chalks up his failure to notch the required four polls at 4 percent support or more and the success of others as emblematic of the outsize influence of money — and its ability to artificially boost polling numbers through television ads — in the Democratic presidential primary field. One of the seven candidates who did make the debate stage was Tom Steyer, a California billionaire who entered the race in July and has quickly boosted his profile in the presidential race by spending millions of his personal wealth on advertising.

“What does that say?” Booker said, in an interview on the IndyMatters podcast this week. “Really, what is it saying about our party that the only people that can really compete is folks that have the ability to write themselves $5 million checks?”

Booker, who spearheaded a letter this week signed by eight other Democratic presidential hopefuls urging the Democratic National Committee to lower the qualification thresholds for the January and February debates, said the existing process is “selecting out a lot of the diversity in our party.” Six of the seven candidates who appeared on the Thursday debate stage were white, with tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang the sole candidate of color.

“It's an issue with this larger race for the White House. It's an issue for our party, which is increasingly wonderfully a rainbow coalition, and it is an issue for our party because there are millions of people in our party whose lived experience is not reflected on a campaign stage,” Booker said.

But asked exactly how the process should change, Booker said that he wasn’t “going to prescribe that.”

“I do think that the party that stands for equality and inclusion should have a much better process for figuring this out than what is being made manifest now in terms of the unintended consequences,” Booker said.

The New Jersey senator also took aim at billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who entered the presidential race last month.

“Here we are prefacing something on polls, which we've seen Bloomberg step in run an unprecedented amount of online ads, juicing up his poll numbers and suddenly that makes you a viable candidate as opposed to people we've seen fall out who have incredible [backgrounds],” Booker said.

He lamented California Sen. Kamala Harris’s decision to drop out of the presidential race despite what he described as her “tremendous qualifications winning in a state of 44 million people.” Harris attributed her decision to abandon the race earlier this month to a lack of funding.

“What I heard after Kamala dropped out of the race from people who are my supporters was this frustration, this anger, this sadness and disappointment because it just felt like something about it just didn't seem fair,” Booker said.

Booker compared Harris’s fate with that of John Kerry, who at this point in the 2004 presidential race tapped into his own coffers to keep campaigning as he fell significantly behind Howard Dean in the polls. He went on to win Iowa, New Hampshire, and, eventually, the Democratic nomination that year.

“John Kerry wrote himself a $5 million check and Kamala literally said, 'I'm dropping out of this race because I'm falling a few million dollars short,'” Booker said.

But Booker remains optimistic of his own chances and doesn’t put much stock in the polls, which he has struggled in. He also said that missing the debate isn’t the “mortal blow” he might have thought it would have been three months ago.

“I'm excited about our pathway to the presidency and even more excited that our pathway seems, this underdog pathway, seems to be the way we've elected those presidents who have been movement leaders,” Booker said. “And I think that I'm the best person in this field clearly to reignite that Obama coalition.”

And Booker really wants to win Nevada — not just because it’s the third early nominating state, but because it’s where his mom lives.

“It’s very personal to me,” he said.

Booker also addressed complaints that the process of impeaching President Donald Trump has been too partisan. The House of Representatives voted Wednesday night largely on party lines to impeach the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“This is very troubling, on both sides of the aisle, if this is treated as a partisan process. It is very troubling if you look at it that way because it dilutes the gravity of what we're talking about here, which is removing a sitting president from office,” Booker said. “That is something that should make us all sad to think about whether it's our party or not.”

He urged people to ignore the rhetoric and look at the facts of the case.

“Did this president use his office — I should say abuse his office — for his own personal gain, compromising security issues, the rule of law, and then did he, which is the second article, obstruct justice the investigation, the proper investigation of that?” Booker said. “That's the question before the United States of America.”

On health care, Booker balked at the idea that he is attempting to carve a middle of the road path between the single-payer, government run Medicare-for-all plans that would abolish private insurance favored by some of his rivals and the proposals to expand on the Affordable Care Act to establish a public option supported by others.

“These academic debates don't connect directly to how are you going to deliver real change for people. So I don't know about moderate, middle of the road,” Booker said. “As president of the United States, every single day I'm going to drive the ball down the field to lower your expenses and expand your access.”

The New Jersey senator also weighed in on the issue of decriminalizing sex work, which he supports. Booker said that he would like to see the federal government play a support role to the states, allowing them to develop their own laws and regulations.

“I am not going to be a president that tells states how to govern their laws in this area. I'm just not,” Booker said. “With the federal laws, I think we can definitely rewrite them, re-establish them, and really start turning to the states and doing things to incentivize them to do the kind of things that uphold the values we all hold dear.”

Booker suggested that he would like to see some changes made to SESTA (the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), a piece of federal legislation signed into law last year aimed at cutting down on online sex trafficking that sex work advocates say has actually made it more dangerous for sex workers. Booker and his Senate colleagues running for the Democratic presidential nomination all voted in favor of the law.

But Booker didn’t specifically address whether he regrets voting in favor of it or outline the specific amendments he would like to make.

“Look, there's processes in Congress, things like Medicare have had an evolution and you learn, you understand and you see unintended consequences,” Booker said. “And so are there changes, are there things that we need to do better as Congress? Absolutely.”

“We need to address the concerns that have been brought forward by advocates,” he added.

The New Jersey senator also weighed in on the issue of water contamination associated with the Anaconda Copper Mine outside of Yerington, touting his environmental cleanup proposal.

“The lack of urgency on these issues and for the communities in this state, these are life or death issues,”  Booker said. “And so we are going to make massive investments in cleaning up these environmentally toxic sites so that people have what I think should be a right in America, clean soil, clean water, clean air.”

He also wouldn’t go so far as to call for tribal consent in order for mining projects with the potential to contaminate groundwater to proceed, as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has. But described tribal sovereignty as a “governing value.”

“I think there's a big problem in this country that our federal government has not given all due respect to the word sovereignty, tribal sovereignty, and this is something that is really frustrating to me,” Booker said. “My beliefs are resident with, I think, what Secretary Castro was saying, which is just that we need to be a nation that starts to begin to respect the law and the ideals of tribal sovereignty, which we do not do.”

Booker releases first television ad in Nevada, other markets on day of Democratic debate

Cory Booker on stage in front of US Flags holding a microphone

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is going up Thursday with his first television ad, which will run in Nevada and other markets across the nation during the evening Democratic debate.

Booker, in the 30-second spot, notes that he won’t appear on the debate stage but promises that he’s “going to win this election anyway.” 

“This election isn’t about who can spend the most or sling the most mud. It’s about the people,” Booker says. “It’s about all of us, standing together, fighting together, not just to beat Donald Trump but to bring about the transformative change we need.”

He also notes that viewers are “only going to see this ad once, because I’m not a billionaire” — a jab at billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, two Democratic presidential hopefuls who have spent millions of their own money on television ads to boost their standing in the race.

The ad, which will run on cable in Las Vegas and Reno, as well as 20 other markets across the country, is backed by what Booker’s campaign characterized as a $500,000 “down payment” on television and digital advertising.

The announcement comes just two days after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced that he was going up with his first television ad in Nevada, and former Vice President Joe Biden released his second television spot in the state. Steyer has also long been on the air in Nevada.

Watch the Booker ad below: