58°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Nevada caucuses hold key to state’s political future

Updated February 21, 2020 - 4:05 pm

The eyes of the nation are now focused, however briefly, on Nevada.

National news programs are broadcasting live from the Las Vegas Strip. Democratic presidential candidates are hosting back-to-back events all over town and the state. Candidates took to the debate stage at the Paris hotel-casino, and President Trump has scheduled a counter-programming visit and rally.

For just this week, Nevada has been and will be the center of the political universe. And it all comes down to Saturday’s caucus, the third event on the Democratic nominating calendar in the 2020 cycle.

After the disaster that was the Iowa caucus — and revelations that Nevada had a plan, since scrapped, to use an app similar to the one that failed so badly in Iowa — the Nevada Democratic Party scrambled to come up with an alternative.

The party has arrived at a caucus calculator powered by Google and pre-loaded into iPads that is expected to help caucus volunteers and staff tabulate the votes cast early and on caucus day.

But there are still warning signs that Nevada could be in for a very long night, and maybe worse.

No promises

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told The Associated Press that the state party wouldn’t commit to releasing unofficial delegate counts after Saturday’s caucus, because it wants to prioritize accuracy over speed. One of the factors is the especially high turnout — about 75,000 votes were cast in four days of early voting, the first time that option has been used in a caucus anywhere.

“We’re going to do our best to release results as soon as possible, but our North Star, again, is accuracy,” Perez said.

“We understand just how important it is that we get this right and protect the integrity of Nevadans’ votes,” said Shelby Wiltz, caucus director for the state party, in a statement.

And Rep. Dina Titus, who, like other officials, expressed confidence that the party would conduct a successful caucus, said officials in Nevada know the stakes.

“They just know all eyes are on us, and if we want to go first and keep the caucus, we’ve got to pull this off,” she said.

In fact, former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, whose influence led Nevada’s caucus to move to a much higher position on the Democratic nominating calendar starting in 2008, said in an interview that he thinks Iowa’s position as the first state on the calendar has been jeopardized, and Nevada could move even higher.

“I think we have a tremendously good case now,” Reid said in an interview with NPR. He said Nevada is more diverse and better reflects the party’s current membership than either Iowa or New Hampshire. In fact, boosting Nevada over the first two traditional states has long been a Reid talking point.

You “get a false perception of what’s happening around the country when you have those two states determining what’s going to happen in a presidential election,” Reid said in the NPR interview. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

But, if Nevada does get to go first, how will it be voting? With a caucus, or a primary election?

Nevada’s last caucus?

“I think this is the end of the caucuses, and it should be,” said Billy Vassiliadis, a longtime Las Vegas political insider and adviser to the last two Democratic presidents.

Vassiliadis said both parties are likely to realize caucusing is an antiquated system that no longer represents how most people live their daily lives.

“People read the R-J, go shopping and order food online now,” he said. “Everything is easy and convenient. We — especially the younger generations — do not want to get in our car and go someplace when we can do it at home.”

Vassiliadis said he expects the Nevada Democrats will pull off a strong caucus devoid of the drama that plagued the Iowa caucuses earlier this month. But he thinks the party should make new plans for the organizing and fundraising boons the caucus system can provide a statewide party.

“I’m old-fashioned in this sense: If you’ve got a good message and you’re getting out there, the process should not be a hindrance to voters,” he said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with the Review-Journal while campaigning on Friday that he has some concerns about the accuracy of the results in the upcoming caucus, as well as some doubts about the systems future in this country.

“I have much more confidence in the outcome — in terms of being on the button, totally accurate — of a primary than I do a caucus, but we’ll see,” Biden said.

Asked if he thought caucuses would go extinct after 2020, Biden said he did.

“I have to tell you honestly I think that’s the judgment the American people are going to make,” he said, citing voters having to understand viability and the perception that more mistakes can happen during a caucus as examples.

Switch to a primary!

During the early voting period, some voters spoke out against caucusing in interviews with Review-Journal reporters.

“Going to the caucus was the worst thing we ever did in Nevada, and we’ve done some dumb things,” Kay Darr said Tuesday as she waited in line to caucus at Enterprise Library.

Bobby Bell, who caucused early at Cheyenne High School on Tuesday, said he would like to see the caucus system ended in Nevada.

“Back in the old days, people wanted to do it themselves and be there for the entire process,” Bell said. “But all the people who go to the caucus — they are still a tiny percentage of the actual voters. We should vote ourselves.”

Most of Nevada’s state and federal elected Democrats have expressed their faith in the state party’s ability to pull off this week’s caucuses, but they have not widely speculated on the system’s future.

Reid also addressed the future of the caucus on Saturday, shortly after becoming one of the first voters to ever caucus early in Nevada.

“The (early voting) program’s going to make Nevada look good,” Reid said. “We’re going to have a great early vote, and I think the country will look to us in the future. I think in the future, as many pundits have said, we’ll be the first state to have a primary.”

Reid said he believes the failures of the Iowa caucuses will not repeat themselves in Nevada. However, he said that after the Super Tuesday states vote on March 3, the party will consider whether it should change to a primary system.

One factor in the deliberations: The caucus is a much more interactive process, one that has allowed Nevada Democrats to sign up new voters, add to voter lists and help turn out the vote on Election Day. A switch to a primary would end many of those advantages.

Contact Rory Appleton at RAppleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter. Review-Journal Politics and Government Editor Steve Sebelius contributed to this story.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Henderson allows immediate sale of alcohol with curbside pickup - VIDEO
The city of Henderson decided Thursday evening to allow alcohol to be sold by restaurants as part of their curbside pickup service during the COVID-19 crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak signs order banning any gathering of 10 or more people - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed a new order banning any gathering of 10 or more people in Nevada in another step the state has taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Takeaways from the president's daily briefing on coronavirus - VIDEO
RJ Washington correspondent Debra Saunders talks about today's daily White House news conference regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judicial Department 5 Debate - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a debate between the 3 candidates running for Department 5 in Clark County District Court. Participating are Veronica M. Barisich, Terry A. Coffing and Blair Cowan Parker.
Trump cancels Las Vegas trip because of ‘coronavirus outbreak’ - VIDEO
President Donald Trump canceled planned travel to Las Vegas ‘out of an abundance of caution’ amid virus outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package - VIDEO
President Trump signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreaK, Friday, March 6, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Rosen supports Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen shows her support for Nevada Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench. (Sen. Jacky Rosen)
Sen. Cortez Masto shows support for Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto shows her support for senior state District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench in Nevada. (Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto)
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews resigns following series of controversies - VIDEO
The "Hardball" host announced his departure Monday night, March 2, 2020, effective immediately. The anchor recently came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucasus to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Candidates file for office in Clark County - VIDEO
Amy Klobuchar drops out of 2020 presidential race - VIDEO
On March 2, campaign officials announced Amy Klobuchar’s decision to suspend her presidential bid. The news comes on the eve of Super Tuesday and just one day after Pete Buttigieg also announced his decision to depart from the race. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Activist shouts warnings at Nevada Democratic chairman's home - VIDEO
A Southern California activist and supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders spent nearly an hour shouting warnings and condemnations of the Democratic Party through a megaphone at the home of Nevada Democratic Party Chairman William McCurdy II on the eve of last week’s presidential caucuses, prompting him to call the police. (Maria Estrada)
The Nevada caucus in photos
Best shots from the Review-Journal photo staff's coverage of the Nevada Caucus, Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Bernie Sanders announces his Nevada caucus win to supporters in Texas
At a rally in San Antonio, Texas, Bernie Sanders announces winning the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Joe Biden addresses supporters in Las Vegas
Joe Biden energizes a crowd of supporters at the IBEW Hall in Las Vegas after the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Tweet highlights from the 2020 Nevada Democratic caucus
Confusion, flaring tempers and misinformed volunteers highlighted Review-Journal tweets during the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Voters comment on Nevada Democratic caucus - VIDEO
Nevada caucusgoers comment on the process from locations across the Las Vegas Valley, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doolittle Community Center hosts caucuses - VIDEO
The Doolittle Community Center hosted six precincts in one room for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, and voters engaged in debate and discussion about who to lead each precinct, Feb. 22, 2020. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Desert Oasis High School has wait for caucus check-in - VIDEO
James Strange has been waiting in line to caucus for the first time for 45 minutes and some said they have been waiting for an hour at Desert Oasis High School for the Nevada Democratic caucuses. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Conservative guru encourages Republicans to vote in Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Republican activist Chuck Muth encourages his fellow GOP members to change party affiliation for a day to elect Bernie Sanders. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee at Desert Oasis High School - VIDEO
Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., stopped by the Nevada Democratic caucus at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day in Summerlin - VIDEO
Out-of-state caucus observer Ken Valz speaks about the Nevada Democratic caucuses at Palo Verde High School, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doors open for Nevada Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Caucusgoers are lining up Saturday morning to take part in the Nevada Democratic caucuses across the state (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day at East Last Vegas Community Center - VIDEO
Registration begins at the East Las Vegas Community Center for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It’s caucus day in Nevada - VIDEO
Democrats will gather at over 250 locations across the state to declare their presidential preferences in the Nevada caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High - VIDEO
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High in Henderson, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren holds rally with Julian Castro
Elizabeth Warren held her Get Out the Caucus Block Party with Secretary Julián Castro at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater.
Trump caps western swing with campaign rally in Las Vegas
President Trump speaks to an enthusiastic crowd of thousands gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center during a tour across the western United States.
Anti-Trump Protestors at LVCC Rally - Video
President Trump speaks at a Keep America Great rally as a small group of protesters gather outside the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Thousands gather for Trump rally
Thousands showed up for President Donald Trump’s rally Friday morning, forming a line that stretched nearly a quarter mile around the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, where President Trump will held a rally on Friday in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
President Trump lands in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Donald Trump landed in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as part of a four-day western state swing. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Long lines during early voting in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The final day of the Nevada Democratic Party’s early presidential caucuses wrapped up Tuesday, as thousands of Democrats lined up at 55 locations around the state for their last shot at filing an early preference card before the traditional caucuses on Saturday. Long lines were seen at CSN Charleston in Las Vegas. (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk pay for child care workers - Video
Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk to care in action about the importance of Medicare for All, paid leave and child care. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus and Early Voting - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus discussion with Steve Sebelius about the Nevada Caucus and early voting.
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus Discussion with Steve Sebelius. Join us as we discuss the Nevada Caucus process.
Las Vegas ready to enforce homeless camping ban - VIDEO
Las Vegas police will begin enforcing a controversial camping ban on city streets on Saturday, but officials say they expect to impose the penalties available under the new ordinance only in rare instances. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Yvanna Cancela Speaks on Supporting Biden - Video
The RJ Politics podcast crew sits down with Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela to discuss why she is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
THE LATEST
Nevada sees first young adult coronavirus death

The latest deaths in Clark County included the state’s first young adult victim and the first person with no underlying medical conditions, health officials said Thursday.