Sanders, Clinton neck and neck in Nevada

LAS VEGAS – The latest CNN poll indicates that the outcome of the Democratic Party caucuses, taking place across Nevada tomorrow, are still too close to call. Overall, 47 percent of likely caucus participants said they support Bernie Sanders; 48 percent favor Hillary Clinton.

Several months ago, Clinton was 37 points ahead.

Nevada was one of the states hardest hit by the 2008 financial crash and still has not fully recovered.

There have been so many housing foreclosures, political candidates have found it difficult to put together accurate lists of voter contact information. With foreclosed homes often switching from homeowner to bank and back to another homeowner, good address lists are hard to come by.

According to a Reuters story, about a fifth of the one million voters registered in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, are listed as “inactive,” meaning that their mail has been returned to the county elections office as undeliverable.

A National Public Radio outlet in Las Vergas interviewed a number of people in their 20s who do not have college degrees. They said they are earning between $8 and $9.50 an hour. Several said they are single parents. All expressed fear and anxiety about the future.

Crisscrossing the state, Sanders, Clinton and their spokespersons have been debating whether or not the state of the economy is today’s primary issue.

In a television spot supporting Sanders, Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state assemblywoman now campaigning for Congress, says, “This is a system that isn’t working for the everyday person. It’s one of the reasons why I decided to endorse Bernie Sanders. Nevadans are looking for people who are willing to think big, to be bold and to fight for everyday people.”

On the other hand, in her stump speech, Clinton says “Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” She rhetorically asks the audience, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow … will that end racism? Will that end sexism? Will that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Will that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

Why Nevada?

Before 2008, Nevadans voted in a publicly-funded primary. The state then switched to caucuses funded by the political parties.

The parties then scheduled the Nevada vote so that it would be the first to be held in the West and the third to be held in the nation, after Iowa and New Hampshire.

The switch was made because both parties wanted early voting to take place in a state diverse enough to reflect the people of the U.S. and small enough so that potential presidential candidates could use it as a testing ground for their messages and organizations before tackling larger areas. Nevada has a population of about 2.9 million people.

Whereas Iowa and New Hampshire are both over 90 percent white, Nevada is about 40 percent non-white, 26.5 percent Hispanic and over 8 percent African American.

There was a widely publicized flap here last week when Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon attempted to downplay the importance of the Nevada vote by saying “it’s still a state that is 80 percent white voters.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, called by many the godfather of Nevada Democratic politics, weighed in with a sharp criticism. He said “Well, it appears to me [the Clinton campaign has been] been reading one of the old yearbooks from my high school. They’re way behind times.”

Reid said he would remain neutral until after the caucuses.

Union actions

Like Reid, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is remaining neutral. It is the largest local of UNITE HERE with some 60,000 members in Nevada.

Unions are influential in Nevada politics and many have chosen sides. For example, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are both backing Clinton. In fact, Randi Weingarten, AFT president, has campaigned for her here.

However, National Nurses United (NNU) and other unions are backing Sanders.

Rose Ann DeMoro, NNU executive director, wrote “Bernie’s movement is our movement. Sanders himself has said many times that this campaign is not just about him; it’s about a political revolution of everyday people. It’s about all Americans standing up, together, and saying no … to establishment economics and establishment politics … .”

In a media advisory, NNU spokesperson Charles Idelson announced “Some 200 RNs from around the U.S. will join the effort in which nurses will spread out around the Las Vegas area knocking on doors, reminding voters of how to caucus, and urging them to caucus for Sanders.”

The NNU has also debuted its huge, bright red #BernieBus here in Las Vegas this week and will take it across country after the caucuses.

The Nevada caucuses

A website of the Nevada State Democratic Party (NSDP) explainsThe Nevada Caucuses are gatherings of neighbors, organized by the NSPD, where Democrats join others in their precincts to begin the process of registering preferences for Democratic candidates running for President.”

As in Iowa, caucuses can take place in schools, community centers, public buildings or private homes. Unlike Iowa, some Nevada caucuses are held on the floors of gambling casinos so that employees of the casinos can participate.

To join a caucus, you have to be a member of the political party holding it, but you can register immediately before participating.

In Iowa, if voting is tied, caucus members generally flip a coin to decide the winner. In Nevada, they cut cards. The highest card wins.

As in Iowa, the Nevada caucuses are the first of three steps by which Democrats choose who will represent them at the Democratic National Convention in July.

The caucuses elect delegates to conventions held by the 16 Nevada counties. From there, delegates are sent to the state convention, which in turn chooses 33 delegates to the national party convention which has a total of 4,763 delegates.

The number of delegates the state sends to the national convention is not very significant, but because of the diversity of its population, the Nevada caucuses can be effective weather vanes in telling which way the political winds are blowing.

Photo: Members of National Nurses United canvass for Bernie Sanders, the candidate supported by their union. There have been so many foreclosures of homes in Nevada that canvassers say they are having trouble finding voters listed at many addresses.  |   National Nurses United


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.