Democrats court­ing ru­ral vot­ers vir­tu­ally

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY MICHELLE L. PRICE

In Cal­i­for­nia, El­iz­a­beth War­ren gazed into a lap­top cam­era, rest­ing her chin on her hand while re­count­ing her work­ing­class child­hood for about 200 vot­ers scat­tered hun­dreds of miles away across Ne­vada.

In Minden, Ne­vada, about 40 Democrats watched on a small tele­vi­sion as War­ren de­liv­ered parts of her stump speech be­fore field­ing her first ques­tion, posed by a teacher di­al­ing into the video­con­fer­ence from a high school li­brary seven hours away in West Wen­dover.

War­ren was one of four Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates pi­o­neer­ing a vir­tual cam­paign trail Fri­day night in ru­ral Ne­vada. The early vot­ing state has strug­gled to at­tract pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to its far-flung and sparsely pop­u­lated towns, spurring Ne­vada Democrats to set up video­con­fer­ence town halls with can­di­dates.

“This is a way for us to get to see them and let them see us and see that we are here,” said Janet Walls, a 77-year-old Demo­crat from Minden. “Don’t for­get us.”

Along with War­ren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, au­thor and spir­i­tual leader Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson and Massachuse­tts con­gress­man Seth Moul­ton all par­tic­i­pated in the cy­ber­cam­paign­ing Fri­day, speak­ing one af­ter an­other to at least 17 lo­ca­tions around the state.

Ne­vada, the third-in­line state to cast votes on the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, isn’t as com­pact or ac­ces­si­ble as New Hamp­shire, Iowa or South Carolina, where can­di­dates can more quickly and eas­ily visit ru­ral ar­eas.

Walls ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenges that keep most Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from jour­ney­ing to ru­ral Ne­vada, where they might be met with a sparse crowd.

“I don’t like it, but I un­der­stand it,” she said.

Kimi Cole, the chair of the Ru­ral Ne­vada Demo­cratic Cau­cus, or­ga­nized the vir­tual vis­its to en­sure vot­ers in re­mote parts of the state can play a role in vet­ting the party’s crowded field of White House hope­fuls.

It could be a nationwide model as pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates ex­pand the tra­di­tional cam­paign map to seek sup­port in places where Democrats have strug­gled, in­clud­ing ru­ral Amer­ica. Ru­ral sup­port could make a vi­tal dif­fer­ence in Ne­vada’s cau­cuses.

Cole said about 200 peo­ple tuned in to the cy­ber-vis­its from li­braries, schools, homes and even a pizza par­lor.

There were some tech­ni­cal com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing a few in­stances where can­di­dates’ mi­cro­phones were ac­ci­den­tally muted or their words were drowned out by their own voice echo­ing across the other screen. But on the whole, vot­ers who par­tic­i­pated seemed en­thu­si­as­tic about the op­por­tu­nity and asked ques­tions about is­sues like tribal sovereignt­y, nat­u­ral re­sources and the opi­oid epi­demic.

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