More than a dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls made their pitches to the Silver State on Sunday at the Nevada Democratic Party’s First in the West fundraising dinner.
After a brief introduction from Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II, MGM Resorts International CEO James Murren introduced a video tribute to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. During the introduction, several in the crowd began chanting “Medicare for All” over Murren’s praise for Reid’s work on the Affordable Care Act. The video featured testimony from House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former President Barack Obama.
The crowd began to chant “Harry” as Reid, dressed up from head to toe and seated in his wheelchair, spoke.
He preached unity among the impassioned followers of the various candidates.
“Here tonight, we have 14 Democratic candidates for the nomination,” Reid said. “And one thing we should clearly understand: When we get that nominee, we’re all going to join together and help them.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden was the first candidate to speak and stuck tightly to his major campaign talking points: his record of “getting things done” and the claim he could beat President Donald Trump, whom he accused of risking his presidency by “trying to bribe foreign leaders” into lying about Biden.
“The risk of nominating someone who couldn’t beat Trump will be a nation and a world our children and our grandchildren won’t want to be in,” Biden said.
Sen. Kamala Harris stuck to her law-and-order guns, playing up her past as a prosecutor and splicing in combat metaphors such as 2020 being “a fight for America’s identity.” She pledged to lift up women, minorities and immigrants while also fighting for economic and social justice.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren kept to her usual event script, sharing her family’s early struggles to stay in the middle class before transitioning into an attack on a corporate-dominated government. She called for a wealth tax to pay for a number of programs, such as universal preschool and “Medicare for All.”
The first 2020 candidate to break from his or her stump speech was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who praised the Nevada party’s victories for women, gun control, voting rights and unions in 2018. She named all of Nevada’s Democratic congressional caucus and shared a Reid anecdote before launching into her more typical campaign attacks on Trump, whom she said is “running the country like a game show.”
Klobuchar was the first candidate to voice opposition to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
Sen. Bernie Sanders ran through his list of progressive policy proposals, which include Medicare for All, universal college tuition, marijuana legalization and taking a fight to billionaires.
Sen. Cory Booker and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg each made his case as a great unifier for the party.
“This is a moral moment for America,” Booker said, adding that Democrats must also express love and clear ideals instead of focusing solely on the fight against Trump.
Buttigieg said he would provide a platform that progressives, moderate Democrats and “future former” Republicans could support that includes a public health care option and plans to combat racism and climate change.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro shared his family’s immigrant background and noted that he has been a voice in the presidential race for diverse communities.
Billionaire Tom Steyer said Nevada’s grassroots political organizing and movement on renewable energy should be an example for the rest of the country.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang was supported by several recipients of his “freedom dividend” of $1,000 per month. He explained that these Nevadans have used their stipend to cover emergencies and nagging costs.
Much of Yang’s campaign is built around this universal basic income proposal, and a “pilot program” is currently offering the dividend to several contest winners through his campaign.
Former congressmen John Delaney and Joe Sestak joined Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet in rounding out the final few speaking slots as the event neared its fourth hour.
The ballroom had nearly emptied by the time former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who officially entered the race on Thursday, took the stage.
In his first Nevada appearance and one of his first times speaking as a 2020 candidate, Patrick mentioned the important sense of community and “generational responsibility” he learned growing up in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood.
“We in our time are supposed to do what we can to leave things better for those who come behind us,” Patrick said.
Nevada is the first Western state and third overall in the nominating process, with 48 national delegates at stake — one fewer than first-in-the-country Iowa (Feb. 3), and 15 more than New Hampshire (Feb. 11). The Nevada caucus is Feb. 22.
The Nevada party and the candidates mentioned several times that the Silver State marks the first “diverse” state contest on the road to the nomination.
During the dinner, the Republican National Committee organized a mobile billboard that drove near the Strip and depicted the Democratic candidates as clowns, attacking the impeachment efforts and attributing a number of Nevada economic victories, including the creation of 128,000 new jobs, to Trump.
The event also featured remarks from local elected officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, did not attend.