Candidates are already in Nevada

The Nevada presidential caucuses have elevated the state’s profile since 2008.

The Nevada presidential caucuses have elevated the state’s profile since 2008.


At CBS News, the headline was, “In Nevada, Democratic candidates shy away from key immigration debate.”

At the Washington Post, a report read in part, “A forum for Democratic presidential candidates to discuss their plans to reduce income inequality wound up delving deeply into immigration.”

They were both reporting on the campaign for Nevada’s early caucus, which is drawing regular visits to the state by presidential candidates.

In Nevada, the Latino vote obliquely referenced by CBS and the Post has become key to statewide campaigns. The state ranks fifth in the nation for percentage of Latinos within its population. That percentage—27.8 percent of Nevadans—is almost exactly 10 percentage points higher than the nation’s Latino population of 17.3. Though not all can vote, it’s still a group that can swing a Nevada election, since those eligible to vote make up 17.2 percent of the Nevada electorate, the largest Latino cohort among the four initial 2020 nominating contests—the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, Nevada Democratic caucuses on Feb. 22, and South Carolina Democratic primary on Feb. 29.

And with Republicans doing all they can to reject the Latino demographic—something that would dismay GOP icon Ronald Reagan, who tried to court Latinos—it has become an important part of the Democratic base.

The Democrats, who have slowly surrendered the economic populism that once defined their party, have seen Donald Trump pick it up and give it a racist tinge. Some of the Democratic presidential candidates are trying to reclaim the party’s economic appeal to the working poor by using pitches akin to the New Deal and Fair Deal years.

Elizabeth Warren: “They looked at Latino neighborhoods and said, ’Ooh, lots of people own their own homes. Let’s target them with the worst of lying, cheating subprime mortgages.’ They stripped wealth out of communities of color. I don’t have to tell people in Nevada how that worked out. You were at the epicenter of this.”

Beto O’Rourke: “Not only have we not made progress, we’ve actually slid back in so many ways. Women in this country are making 80 cents on the dollar for what men are making. African American women make 61 cents on the dollar. Latinos make 53 cents on the dollar.”

But Nevada Current’s Hugh Jackson noted that message was undercut by Joe Biden in Nevada, who “went to a fundraiser hosted by Jim Murren, the MGM CEO who is currently in the process of laying off workers to impress hedge fund managers.”

Jackson predicts the state’s Democratic leadership will try to lead caucus-goers to an emphasis on electability over issues: “Beneath Nevada’s noble veneer of a working class immigrant population—the heart of both the economy and the state’s Democratic electorate—lies a soft underbelly of timid business-worshiping blue dogs.”

Biden has been more cautious than other candidates, preferring to formulate a case for his candidacy that cannot come back to haunt him in the general election campaign. In response to a question from a Nevada Marine veteran, Biden framed his answer is a way Donald Trump is unlikely to be able to find fault with: “Anybody who has fought for the United States of America should not be in a position to be deported, period.”

And when a young Clark County man asked Biden if, as president, he would halt the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s use of detainers for illegal immigrants who are arrested or convicted of a crime, the Associated Press reported Biden told the teenager he would change the program but did not explain how, telling him, “Take a look at my website.” The AP did just that and reported, “His campaign website doesn’t list a policy on ICE detainers but instead calls for fixing a broken immigration system, securing the border and addressing ’the root causes of migration’ that lead people to leave their home countries.” Little there to offend anyone.

Another touchy issue is the 287(g) program, a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act which provides for local police officers to function as immigration agents. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department participates in the program, and Metro’s alliance with ICE is up for renewal next month. In a prepared statement, ACLU of Nevada lawyer Judy Cox has said, “Metro should get back to the business of enforcing local laws, focusing on serious crimes rather than someone’s possible federal civil violations, and reaching out to diverse groups to maintain a safe environment for the whole Las Vegas community.” Nye County also has an agreement with ICE.

Trump beefed up use of the 287(g), but five of the Democratic presidential contenders have co-sponsored legislation to curb it.

There’s relative unanimity among the Democratic candidates on Trump’s May 16 immigration plan being inadequate. The plan leaves the number of green cards issued at the same level, does not change the numbers of allowable overall immigration, and does not contain any provisions for how to deal with the already existing illegal immigrant population. It does seek to limit asylum, build a border wall, reduce the number of low wage laborers while allowing migrants for “critical” industries and limit the number of family members joining already immigrated residents.

No surveys have shown where candidates currently stand in Nevada, though it is likely that Biden and Bernie Sanders’ high name recognition keeps them at or near the top in the state. In the other early caucus state, Iowa, Sanders and Biden are tied in the newest survey.

It’s not yet clear whether Trump will face Republican challengers, though former Ohio governor John Kasich has kept his campaign intact over the past three years and never really stopped running, and former Massachusetts governor William Weld is already running, with two-term Maryland governor Larry Hogan waiting in the wings.

Asked if the party would be ready for competitive caucuses, Washoe County Republican chair Michael Kadenacy said, “We will be prepared once the rules are out.”

When will that be? Kadenacy laughed and said, “You might want to ask the state party. They’re the ones who generate the rules, and we haven’t heard anything yet.”

Both parties hold caucuses whether there is a contest or not. Caucuses are the way parties—both in presidential and midterm years—select delegates to county, state and (in presidential years) national conventions. But there is considerably more preparation required if there is a contest for president.

Another complication is that the Nevada GOP has never been wild about early caucuses in Nevada, in part because they were so identified with Democrat Harry Reid, resulting in Republican leaders tending to de-emphasize them, and in one year holding them on a different date from the Democrats, which reduced the attention the state received.