Meeting of minds

The 2020 Nevada Democratic caucuses are finished, perhaps for good

Caucusgoers gathered on the steps of Mount Rose School on the morning of Feb. 22.

Caucusgoers gathered on the steps of Mount Rose School on the morning of Feb. 22.

Photo/Jeri Davis

More Nevadans participated in the 2020 caucuses than did in 2016—but the numbers didn’t top the record turnout of 2008, when the state’s Democratic party moved the caucus date up to January to make Nevada third in the nation and first in the West to weigh in on presidential primaries.

According to the Washoe County Democratic Party, approximately 105,000 Nevada Democrats caucused this year. Of those, nearly 75,000 of them did so early—an option they had for the first time this year during a four-day early voting period at locations around the state. The majority of caucusgoers were first-time participants.

In addition to being the first in the West, the Nevada caucuses are significant because they're the first to take place in a state with a minority-majority population. Nearly one-third of Nevadans are Latinx, and the state is home to a growing number of black, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters. And, according to entrance polls, 35 percent of participants this year were non-white. The fact that 14 percent of the state's workforce is unionized also makes the Nevada first primary state with a large organized labor presence. This diversity was on display when 30,000 Nevadans turned up to caucus in person on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Voters’ views

Voters from four precincts began gathering on the steps of Mount Rose School around 10 a.m. on Feb. 22. Volunteers greeted them and directed them to tables to either check in or register to vote. Those whose names were not on the rosters—many who'd either recently registered or moved to a new address—were directed to register again, as a fail-safe, volunteers explained.

Early comers mingled on the school grounds after receiving their presidential preference cards. Phone scrolling, the reading of books and even a game of cribbage punctuated breaks in discussion of candidates, the current president and the caucus process, which many noted could be the last one Nevada voters go through. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement the day after the caucus calling on the Democratic Party to abandon the caucus system.

There was no consensus to be found among those present as to whether a caucus or primary would be preferable, just as there were differing opinions on the best candidate to square off against Donald Trump.

Debbie Spieker-Martin, co-owner of Bibo Coffee Company, said she was there to support Elizabeth Warren.

“I think she's a complete package,” Spieker-Martin said. “She has experience. She has temperament. I like where she stands on the issues. And she's progressive, but she knows there's a path to that—and I appreciate that.”

Standing nearby was Paul Carrica—there as what he described as “just a lowly precinct captain” to support and caucus on behalf of the considerably more moderate Pete Buttigieg.

“I feel like Pete has a wonderful opportunity to beat Trump,” Carrica said. “I think that he appeals to a really broad number of people. And I feel like he really shares my values. … He believes in Medicare for All. He believes in science. Pete believes in science.”

Of course, Carrica is aware that Buttigieg actually supports Medicare for All with the caveat “who want it.”

“Yes, but I also feel that … if you really want to improve health care in this country, going too far too fast is just as likely to backfire as just sticking to the same old thing,” he said. “I feel like this is America, and it's a nation built on compromise. I feel like we need to go back to compromise. And I feel like the two-track system, yes, there's a threat that it could become a two-tier system. But if we compromise, it doesn't have to, right?”

Carrica thinks having both public and employer-funded insurance options will help spread out the cost of health care.

“Over time, those two systems will grow together, not apart—if we hold to our tradition of being a nation of compromises,” he said.

Another Buttigieg supporter was Peter Mullen, who came from Silicon Valley with his wife as caucus observers. They made the drive, he said, to support both Mayor Pete and the Democratic process.

“We have to keep this thing alive,” Mullen said. “We have to become more engaged, not less engaged. And it's really easy to become less engaged right now. So, therefore, a little bit of extra effort is worth it.”

Mullen—who, like Buttigieg, comes from South Bend, Indiana—has known the former mayor for years.

“So, we've watched him evolve,” Mullen said. “We've watched him grow. We've watched him take a leadership position. And from the beginning, there's been something special about him—whether it was from his incredible charisma, his incredible intelligence or just passion for doing the right thing for our country. He's the whole package.”

Mullen and his wife were not the only out-of-towners who came to observe the caucus. Bob Henderson and Myles Roach drove from Davis, California, in support of Bernie Sanders.

“He's consistent with his message,” Henderson said. “He supports Medicare for All. He supports the people. He's a man of the people, you know?”

Roach added that he appreciates Sanders because he's “not funded by rich billionaires who want to keep the status quo,” and, in Roach's estimation, is the candidate who “sees crises like Flint, [Michigan] and the fires that have ravaged California—and sees that corporate greed is causing those things.”

“He wants the American people to have more of a voice in the government and have a real opportunity to make policies that will cater to our interests and not just the rich people's,” Roach said.

For Warren supporter Michael Moberly, the momentum he's seen friends and peers put behind Sanders has been a concern.

“I, unfortunately, feel it has washed out some of [Warren's] message,” he said. “I think her classic, Democrat ideas like childcare credits and lower prescriptions rates and things like that—you know, I don't think anyone's listening to that. I also think people are still really burned about him losing last time. I think people are mad, and that's what it looks like. I don't think that fear or anger should make people do things, but I think it's happening now.”

As noon drew closer, conversations petered out and caucusgoers moved to their precincts' designated rooms for voting.

For precinct 1018 (of which this reporter is a member), the process went fairly smoothly, resulting, after first and second alignments, in only two viable candidates—Sanders, with a marked lead, and Warren in second place.

These results only partially foreshadowed those of the state as a whole. While Sanders' win in precinct 1018 was repeated across the state, leaving him with 46.8 percent of the votes, it was Joe Biden rather than Warren who took second place in the state.

The fully reported results of the caucuses show Sanders with a wide 26.8 percent margin of votes over Biden, who took a decisive second place position with 20.2 percent. Former South Buttigieg trailed in third with 14.3 percent. Warren's 9.7 percent earned her fourth place. And Tom Steyer and Amy Klobhuchar took fifth and six—earning 4.7 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

The next primary contest takes place in South Carolina on Feb. 29.