Can­di­dates pull out all the stops in Ne­vada

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michelle L. Price Caand Jonathan J. Cooper

LAS VE­GAS >> Can­di­dates have hus­tled past tourists and slot ma­chines to ask house­keep­ers and cooks for their votes in the back of flashy casi­nos. They’ve made their pitches over plates of tamales, tacos and soul food. They’ve walked a picket line in the street with union work­ers. And then, with un­sur­pris­ing show­man­ship, there was that flock of pi­geons with tiny MAGA hats.

If Ne­vada has one job in the

Demo­cratic pri­mary, it’s to of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent. And in many ways it has de­liv­ered. As the pres­i­den­tial race turned to the state this week, gone was the earnest­ness of Iowa and tra­di­tion of New Hamp­shire and in its place was racial di­ver­sity, a new un­pre­dictabil­ity and the mus­cle of ur­ban, union pol­i­tics.

“Ne­vada is truly a state that rep­re­sents the rest of the coun­try,” for­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid said, fa­mous for his Ne­vada cheer­lead­ing and early pri­mary state trash talk. “It’s not like Iowa where you have no di­ver­sity ... New Hamp­shire is a state that has no di­ver­sity.”

It’s far from clear that Ne­vada’s more rep­re­sen­ta­tive pop­u­la­tion — it is 29% Latino, 10% black, 9% Asian Amer­i­can and Pa­cific Is­lan­der and 49% white — will re­sult in a dra­matic scram­ble of the peck­ing or­der set by Iowa and New Hamp­shire. In the past, Ne­vada Democrats have twice been a tiebreaker in two-per­son con­tests. In this crowded field of can­di­dates, the state’s in­put isn’t ex­pected to re­order the race.

Still, the Sil­ver State cam­paign has de­liv­ered on some of its prom­ises to change it up on the cam­paign trail, of­fer­ing up scenes that are hard to imag­ine hap­pen­ing else­where.

There was El­iz­a­beth War­ren or­der­ing a boba tea at a cafe in Las Ve­gas’ Chi­na­town. Tom Steyer host­ing a Black His­tory Month con­cert with for­mer mem­bers of R&B groups En Vogue and Boyz to Men. Bernie San­ders’ face plas­tered on a mo­bile bill­board driv­ing through heav­ily Latino neigh­bor­hoods —- the kind pro­mo­tion typ­i­cally used to ad­ver­tise strip joints and ac­ro­batic shows.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump couldn’t re­sist get­ting in on the ac­tion. He spent much of the week sleep­ing at this gleam­ing ho­tel tower on the Las Ve­gas Strip. Tourists booed and cheered as they watched his mo­tor­cade cruise along a Las Ve­gas Strip eerily cleared of traf­fic af­ter a rally in Phoenix on Wednesday. He had an­other on Friday in Las Ve­gas.

On Saturday, seven casino-re­sorts on the Las Ve­gas Strip will be among 200 lo­ca­tions host­ing sites for the state’s Demo­cratic cau­cuses. (This state doesn’t blink at al­low­ing the demo­cratic process in adult play­grounds de­voted to gam­bling and overindul­gence.)

Ne­vada’s turn near the top of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign calendar is still new, added ahead of the 2008 elec­tion. That means cau­cuses here don’t come with the same tra­di­tions and vot­ers haven’t be­come ha­bit­u­ated to see­ing the can­di­dates at their neigh­bor­hood parks and high schools.

“Dude, we just touched Bernie!” two Univer­sity of Ne­vada-Las Ve­gas stu­dents yelled to a third shortly af­ter San­ders wrapped up a cam­pus rally.

Cam­paigns have had to be cre­ative in pur­suit of vot­ers who can be hard to find, not hy­per-en­gaged, new to the process and, some­times, be­hind a gate. Tra­di­tional or­ga­niz­ing tac­tics like door-knock­ing and phone-banking are tough in Ne­vada, where peo­ple move so of­ten that records of ad­dresses and phone num­bers are reg­u­larly out of date.

So many Ne­vadans don’t have land­lines that the for­mer Mayor Pete But­tigieg’s cam­paign re­lied more on text mes­sag­ing rather than phone banking, said Olivia Ber­cow, a cam­paign spokes­woman.

The cam­paign found it tricky to do rou­tine can­vass­ing in the locked apart­ment com­plexes and gated com­mu­ni­ties in the sprawl­ing sub­urbs. It fo­cused on ask­ing sup­port­ers to or­ga­nize friends and neigh­bors, help­ing them get in­side.

They’ve also looked to find lo­cals where they hang out — at their church, the “first Fri­days” art walk, open mic nights, a Dia de los Muer­tos cel­e­bra­tion or a salsa danc­ing class. But there’s one place you don’t go, cam­paigns learn quickly.

“If you go to the Strip think­ing that you’re go­ing to talk about Pete, most peo­ple you find don’t live in Ne­vada,” Ber­cow said. “Its not a great use of time.”

Natalie Mon­te­longo, a se­nior strate­gist for Mas­sachusetts’ Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s cam­paign, said or­ga­niz­ing in the state “re­quires cre­ativ­ity and grit.”

In a state with strong la­bor, among the most cov­eted group of vot­ers are the casino work­ers’ Culi­nary Work­ers Union, Lo­cal 226. While they are some­times un­no­ticed by the mil­lions of tourists fre­quent­ing casi­nos, the work­ers who keep the ho­tels hum­ming, the drinks flow­ing, the rooms clean and the dishes sparkling are part of a 60,000-mem­ber ma­jor­ity-fe­male, ma­jor­ity-Latino group that pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have ag­gres­sively courted.

Even though the union’s lead­ers have said the group is not en­dors­ing, can­di­dates are still work­ing to woo the union’s po­lit­i­cally en­gaged mem­bers. War­ren and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den were among the can­di­dates tour­ing the casino’s em­ployee din­ing rooms dur­ing the week.

On Wednesday, nearly all of the can­di­dates car­ried signs and chanted as they joined pick­et­ing union mem­bers in front of a tow­er­ing casino-ho­tel that’s been locked in a long­stand­ing la­bor dis­pute with the Culi­nary Union. War­ren wore red,match­ing the work­ers.Bi­den wrapped an arm around the union’s leader, Geo­conda Argüello-Kline, and for­mer South Bend, In­di­ana Mayor Pete But­tigieg, Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Tom Steyer car­ried signs that said “No con­tract, no peace.” Nearby, a troupe of dancers dressed as a bar­tender, cook, server, cock­tail wait­ress, house­keeper and jan­i­tor danced in uni­son.

There was lit­tle peace at the Wednesday de­bate, the most com­bat­ive of the pri­mary and the first to fea­ture for­mer New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Al­though Bloomberg isn’t com­pet­ing in the Ne­vada cau­cus he took nearly as many blows as Trump, who spent the night down the street.

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