In exactly 100 days, Nevada Democrats will funnel into hundreds of schools, libraries and community centers alongside their neighbors to declare who they’ll support as the Silver State speaks in the third nominating contest in a crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Although polls, fundraising totals or rally crowds could suggest a favorite, the state appears wide open as the nine campaigns with clear Nevada presences ramp up for their final push to Feb. 22.
And as hundreds of campaign workers set out to win, the Nevada Democratic Party is also working to ensure a smooth, inclusive caucus that will include early voting for the first time in history.
“We need everyone to show up this coming cycle because it is one of the most important elections in our lifetimes,” Nevada Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said.
Health care, the need for immigration reform, economic equality and the future of the environment are all on the ballot in 2020, and Democrats have a strong field of candidates to choose from to address these issues, he added.
To that end, the party will open up 77 early voting sites from Feb. 15-18. The Democrats have also recruited more than 1,400 volunteers to ensure a smooth caucus experience at hundreds of caucus sites throughout the state.
After months of even polling with Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden pulled ahead in a pair of recent Nevada polls.
Biden’s state spokesman Vedant Patel said the campaign was pleased with the latest results but noted the campaign still has plenty of work to do in building out its organizing base.
“There’s still a lot of runway left for the caucus,” Patel said. “We still have a lot to do, and we’re not taking anything for granted.”
Biden has built a Nevada staff of about 45 and opened five offices throughout the state, with more to come in the next few months, Patel said. Organizers and volunteers have given priority to the Latino, African-American and Asian-American/Pacific Islander communities while also targeting specific groups, such as college students and teachers.
As students moved into campus housing for the fall college semester, for example, organizers gathered 1,500 caucus commitments, Patel said.
Biden has prioritized smaller events compared with the large-scale rallies held by Warren and Sanders, and the former vice president’s campaign has peppered the state with regular surrogate visits — family members, politicians and high-level campaign staff.
The surrogates and Biden have pushed his long record and genuine nature as key selling points for the undecided voter. As an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s alleged request for a Ukrainian investigation into Biden’s son, the campaign has increasingly emphasized that Biden is the Democrats’ best option to defeat Trump.
The Massachusetts senator’s campaign was the first to hit the ground in Nevada, with early staff members arriving in January. It has since built out to more than 50 employees out of nine field offices in Carson City, Elko and Southern Nevada.
State director Suzy Smith said she’s been able to see a change in the electorate since January. Meetings she’s attended regularly in that time were once full of undecided voters who weren’t sure Warren could actually deliver on her many plans.
The campaign has prioritized grassroots organizing at the neighborhood level, and it will look to increase caucus participation in the coming months through educational events — even if those in attendance aren’t fully committed to caucusing for Warren.
Warren’s detailed plans and the relationship she’s built with thousands of Nevadans through events have allowed the campaign to show “a full vision” of what kind of president she would be, Smith said.
“(Warren) has shown her work in the plans that she’s released,” Smith said. “She’s said here’s what I plan to do and here are all the steps to get there.”
As the only candidate returning to Nevada after a narrow 2016 loss in the state, Sanders is attempting to build on recent relationships with voters.
State director Sarah Michelsen said the campaign has sought to leave no stone unturned in 2020, building out its organizing through technology and an increased focus on diverse communities.
The campaign is the largest in the state with more than 70 employees, and Michelsen plans to bring that number up to 100 by year’s end.
That large staff has made more than 2 million attempted voter contacts, 70 percent of which came by phone or knocking on doors, Michelsen said. They’ve held 1,500 events, from house parties to rallies, and recruited more than 1,000 caucus-day volunteers in hopes of staffing every single site in Nevada’s 17 counties.
The campaign also uses the Bern app, which allows for unique organizing and data collection. More than 3,000 Nevadans have used the app to declare their own support for Sanders or another candidate, as well as to map out who their friends and family support.
So what do the next 100 days look like for an operation that large?
“No sleep, lots of coffee, work at all hours,” Michelsen said. “We’re ramping up. Everything we’ve done up to this point is to prepare us for now.”
The focus will be on getting people out to their local caucuses or participating early, Michelsen said. The campaign’s primary pitch revolves around Sanders’ consistent record on environmental, social and economic justice, while also highlighting his truly massive individual donor numbers and ability to beat Trump, demonstrated in head-to-head polls.
“Nevadans need a candidate to stand up to powerful forces that have affected our everyday way of life.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg did not start with the fundraising nest egg of some of the larger campaigns polling ahead of him, but his Nevada campaign is attempting to make up for lost time by funneling his recent cash influx into staff and office openings.
State director Paul Selberg said the campaign will soon open its 11th field office in Nevada, which would be the most of any 2020 challenger. The campaign will employ 55 staffers by Thanksgiving.
Selberg said his staff represents the diversity of Nevada, with the majority of employees coming from communities of color. The group has worked to prioritize local issues including homelessness, union membership and marijuana legalization.
“Pete understands this is a now-or-never moment for the nation and this state,” Selberg said.
Nevada communications director Olivia Bercow said the local staff has also focused on the relational aspect of organizing — having volunteers and supporters recruit through personal conversations with friends, family, neighbors, and so on — is particularly important in a caucus state. Building out this “relational organizing” is a top priority for the next 100 days.
While his Nevada staffing and appearances have ramped up, Buttigieg’s statewide polling numbers have yet to climb as significantly as they have in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has yet to consistently poll above Warren, Sanders or Biden.
During a Las Vegas campaign swing last weekend, California Sen. Kamala Harris brushed off her own middling position in statewide polling.
“I don’t think about polls,” she said, adding that she’s won every election she’s been in despite often polling out of first.
As questions swirl nationally over Harris moving staff from New Hampshire to Iowa, the senator declared her commitment to Nevada during her recent trip.
State director Ernesto Apreza said there’s no silver bullet when it comes to success in Nevada. But Harris started by assembling a leadership team with more than 20 years of experience in Nevada and “working hard to organize in every corner of the state.”
Harris’ Nevada operation has four offices and 26 staff members — down from about 35 during the summer.
But it has nonetheless drawn more endorsements from elected officials than any other campaign, Apreza said, with additional support coming from a variety of diverse individuals, including Native American leaders, rural officeholders and family members of Oct. 1 shooting victims.
Apreza said many Nevadans take some time to fully tune into the state’s early caucus races, and Harris’ local staff will be ready to lay out the former California attorney general’s case against Trump.
“She said it best herself: Justice is on the ballot in 2020,” Apreza said. “When you look at her entire career, she’s only had one client: The people of San Francisco, then the people of California and in the future, every American.”
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang was among the first candidates to jump into the 2020 race, but he has only recently moved staff into Nevada after a recent surge in fundraising and notoriety.
National organizing director Zach Fang said Yang has hired 13 Nevada employees, working out of Reno and Las Vegas offices, since the end of August. He added that this staff will at least double by the caucus, and it could grow further depending on the new staff’s read on Yang’s chances.
Fang said Yang has elevated the field’s conversation on what a modern economy truly looks like. Many Nevadans working in the service industry or other areas threatened by automation should look hard at Yang, Fang said, who has put forward a signature policy to offset losses: Giving every American adult $1,000 per month until death.
“If you’re worried about the impact of technology on the country, he’s really the only one addressing these issues,” Fang said.
Like Yang, billionaire businessman and activist Tom Steyer didn’t enter the race until the summer, but he’s quickly moved in a state leadership team and two dozen organizers to provide the follow-up to millions spent on Silver State advertising.
State director Jocelyn “Joz” Sida said Steyer’s campaign will continue to ramp up staffing and open new offices during the next 100 days. Nearly all of the state’s leadership team are Latino, she added.
The team is looking to build on Steyer’s reputation as a fighter for voting rights, environmental justice and Trump’s impeachment, Sida said. Steyer is the only candidate with the resources to take on Trump, who has been the primary target of Steyer’s massive advertising push. Sida noted Steyer supported impeachment before Trump’s inauguration.
Sida said the campaign will look to build an organizing community that will remain active after the 2020 election. Defeating Trump, she added, should serve as a unifying factor for all of the hundreds of Democratic campaign staffers and thousands of volunteers in Nevada.
“This election cycle is a matter of life and death when you have whole communities being persecuted — attacked in a Wal Mart just for the color of their skin,” Sida said. “All of us are fighting for the same things. My Democratic comrades and I are all fighting so hard to save America.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign appeared to be in jeopardy in September, when it asked for $1.7 million in new donations to keep things competitive with his well-funded opponents. It raised more than $2 million, and Booker has held on.
Eric Taylor, Booker’s senior adviser in Nevada, said resources are the biggest challenge for every campaign, but Booker’s Nevada team has what it needs to get to February. Candidates of color have an additional set of barriers, as communities of color do not always have the same culture of low-dollar campaign support and are often undercounted in statewide polls.
Nevada is unique from the other early states, Taylor said, in that there aren’t really fish or steak fries or other political traditions through which large swaths of voters can hear from candidates. Every candidate must make his or her own moments to reach voters, and Booker has met them in Nevada churches, barbecues, barber shops and restaurants, in addition to more traditional campaign rallies and forums.
Booker’s Nevada staff hopes to use its Nevada-specific caucus experience to strategically target specific areas in hopes of picking up delegates, Taylor said. The team hopes to execute this by continuing to have Booker “do what he does best” in engaging voters in intimate, one-on-one settings. His favorability remains high, and many Nevadans have yet to fully plug into the caucus.
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro has visited Nevada more than any other candidate. After clearing its own fundraising hurdle in October, his presidential campaign has pressed on and continued to roll out policies directed at groups not often focused on during presidential campaigns, such as domestic workers.
State Director Kristian Carranza sent an emailed statement in response to the Review-Journal’s interview request, saying Castro and the campaign “will continue to travel to every corner of Nevada and reach out to people where they are, whether in West Wendover, Elko, East Las Vegas or the storm drain tunnels under the Strip.”
She said Castro will continue to stand up for marginalized communities and will increase their caucus participation as part of a ramping up of the campaign’s field organizing program in the coming months.
“We believe this is how we win, and this is how we secure Democratic victories in November 2020 – by bringing more folks into the process,” Carranza said.