Playing the field
One year before the 2020 elections, candidates are setting up shop in Reno
Last year, at the beginning of her senior year of high school, Haley Rodeles lost her grandfather. Soon after, her father’s drinking problem got worse, culminating in an incident where she had to escape the house, barefoot, with her younger sister. Upon arriving at her grandmother’s house, the police arrested Rodeles claiming she had assaulted her father when in fact she had pushed him to break his grip on her arm. She was strip searched and processed. After 24 hours in a Henderson, Nevada, jail with no food or water, a broken toilet and no one to listen to her story, Rodeles was released to a social worker who told her she was lucky she was only 17. If she were an adult, she’d have gone to prison. This experience, she said, made her want to vote for Bernie Sanders.
“I met a lovely woman named Nora … and she introduced me to a lot of his policies, and I was like, ’Oh, my gosh, prison reform, Title IX issues, climate change—the medical system.’ … [My dad] can’t go to a rehab facility because I wouldn’t be able to go to college and let them keep the house that they live in and him go to rehab all at the same time.”
Rodeles started at the University of Nevada, Reno, this semester, and is one of thousands of campaign volunteers living and working in Washoe County a year before the 2020 presidential elections. Nevada’s status as a swing state, coupled with our early caucus on Feb. 22, means that over half a dozen of the 19 Democratic contenders and the Trump 2020 reelection machine have set their sights on the Silver State, and staffers and volunteers alike have different motivations for supporting their candidates.
Rodeles lives in the dorms at UNR and began volunteering with the Sanders campaign office—located next to the Washoe County Democrats Office at 1465 Terminal Way—a few weeks ago. On her first day as a volunteer, she was up at 6 a.m. to do some writing before class at 9 a.m. On her break, however, she spent a few hours on a street corner engaging passersby about their plans on caucus day.
“I had, I think, about four or five people that were like, ’Yeah, I’m interested in getting involved politically, but I don’t really know anything about anyone,’” Rodeles said. “And, so, I was able to tell them about Bernie and tell them about a little bit of my personal struggles and why it can relate to what they’re looking for in a candidate.”
This personal approach to campaigning is encouraged among Sanders volunteers, said Sanders Campaign Deputy Field Director Jeremy Parkin.
“One of the biggest things we train people on is not to get into debates,” said Parkin, who also worked on the 2016 Sanders Campaign. “Regardless of whether or not you want to build a wall on the southern border, you probably have an issue with your health care, and we can always find common ground.”
According to a CNN poll dated Sept. 29, Sanders is tied with former Vice President Joe Biden at 22 percent support of likely voters in Nevada. Biden, whose campaign opened its office at 4080 Kietzke Lane last month, is considered the national frontrunner for the Democratic National Committee’s nomination. But Vedant Patel, Nevada communications director for the campaign, explained that Nevada’s importance to Democrats is tied to more than just our third-in-the nation caucus.
“You’ve got significant Asian-Americans voting, significant Latinos, a significant population of African American voters,” Patel said. “It’s really reflective of the demographics of the country. And, so, just a lot of issues that resonate with Nevadans, they also really resonate with the rest of the country as well. Whether it be protecting the Affordable Care act, climate change, you know, investing in schools—all the things that are really important to the vice president.”
To Avery Counts, a Biden field organizer, the issues he most wants the future president to address are unique to his generation, including climate change and gun violence.
“It just kind of started to really hit me, especially with Sandy Hook, that something had to be done,” Counts said. “I had memories of being in second grade with active shooter drills. They were surprise drills, and even the teachers didn’t know. And you’ve got a room full of kids crying and hugging each other and had my teacher, you know, holding me while I’m like, ’I just want to make cakes with my mom again.’”
Counts remembers hearing Joe Biden debate Paul Ryan in 2012 and has been a supporter ever since. He volunteered for the Clinton campaign in 2016, but after watching the election from his home in the traditionally Republican bastion of Orange County, he decided to make a career out of politics.
“When Donald Trump got elected, I said, ’All right, I’ll be back. I got some work to do,’” said Counts. “I realized I had to put everything to a stop and just get out there and make sure that I could change as much as I could. And that’s why I’m for Joe.”
Trailing the two front runners in Nevada is Elizabeth Warren, whom CNN found to have 15 percent support among likely voters. The Massachusetts senator has a history of both beating incumbent Republicans and becoming the first woman to hold a respective elected office, as she did both in her 2012 senate race. Her campaign office at 489 E. Plumb Lane is one of five that opened across Nevada on Aug. 10, with the other four located around the Las Vegas metropolitan area. In another nod to the demographic diversity Democrats are chasing in the Silver State, the opening day announcement and other posts on the Warren for Nevada website were printed in both English and Spanish.
“Starting with staff, we’re building a campaign that is as diverse and inclusive as the values we are fighting for every day,” said Warren campaign Press Secretary for Nevada Veronica Yoo, in a written statement. “In Reno and Carson City, we have staff on-the-ground and offices for volunteers to get plugged in, and learn more about Elizabeth’s movement for big, structural change. We’re going to continue building out our efforts up north to reach out to communities about the issues that matter to them the most.”
While the Warren campaign declined to put a staffer on record for this article, Senator Warren herself laid out some of her ideas to the Reno News & Review in an August Q&A (see “The persistent candidate,” Aug. 15).
Ahead of the pack
California Senator Kamala Harris was the first presidential hopeful to visit Reno, in April, after announcing her campaign. She opened her office at 9640 S. McCarran Blvd. on Oct. 3, the same day she offered her simple, soundbite-worthy critique of President Trump to a crowd of supporters at UNR—“Dude’s gotta go.”
“She’s the fighter I believe we need,” said Carissa Snedeker, former first vice chair of the Washoe County Democratic party and Harris campaign volunteer. “And I have to say, watching her in the Senate hearings taking it to the Republicans just made my little heart sing.”
Snedeker gave her endorsement of Harris early on, after being impressed with the candidate’s law-and-order background as attorney general of California—specifically, her work in jailing sex offenders and her emphasis on community outreach.
“I have some friends, a lesbian couple, and they went to go see her at UNR,” Snedeker said. “And they were already supporting her, but they got to meet with her, and they were just like afterwards, ’She just gets us. She understands, and she makes us feel seen.’ And I think that’s how she makes a lot of people feel.”
Snedeker knocks on doors for Harris and shares coverage and video clips about her to social media—she even has friends over for debate night viewing parties. While Harris is polling at 7 percent, Snedeker’s learned—like the rest of the country did in 2016—that polls don’t tell the whole story.
“The ones who I’m talking to at the door, they haven’t made up their minds,” she said. “There’s a ton of them, four months out of our caucus, that aren’t paying attention at all. … I think that there’s still a lot of room for her to make up ground.”
If the cult of personality is more important than polling numbers, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, might just carry Nevada. Or at least, his 10 campaign offices—the most of any Nevada campaign—scattered throughout the state might help. He opened his Reno office at 114 W. Fourth St. on Sept. 28, the same day he addressed a group of 700 supporters at a rally at Sparks High School.
To Beth Ingalls, former mayor of Truckee and campaign organizer for Buttigieg, there was no doubt that Mayor Pete was her candidate—from the moment she first heard him speak.
“I was home from work one day and started watching Mayor Pete videos,” Ingalls said. “I just almost absorbed about 24 hours of material, and I was just overwhelmed and so excited. Once I started, I couldn’t stop, and it just struck a chord with me. And not only just politically, but emotionally. … He spoke to my sense of belonging at a time when I was feeling completely outside of everything, and I think he does that with a lot of people.”
Ingalls coordinates with other volunteers around the Truckee Meadows, and one of her first jobs was finding local supporters who might be willing to host campaign staffers and volunteers from out of state in their homes during the build up to the caucus. Buttigieg is considered the first millennial to run for president, and Ingalls counts herself on the “much older” side of the organizers, but that hasn’t stopped her from covering pretty much the whole valley as part of her “turf.”
“I’m on the road all day meeting my people,” she said. “I go, kind of, from Sparks all the way down through Reno, everything East of Virginia [Street], all the way down through Washoe Valley and up to Incline.”
And what are those potential voters talking about?
“I think probably the biggest one is Medicare for all who want it,” said Travis Brock, national caucus director for the Buttigieg campaign. “I think that’s very attractive to a lot of Nevadans who have concerns about Medicare for All. … And there are a lot of folks in Nevada, particularly members of unions, who have fought hard to negotiate health care plans that they like, and they want to be able to keep those plans. The other thing is Mayor Pete’s climate change plan, which was recently rolled out.”
While Buttigieg may have the most offices in Nevada, former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Juliaacute;n Castro has visited the state more times than any other candidate, opening a campaign office at 164 Hubbard Way last month. While his polling numbers remain negligible in Nevada, the campaign continues to focus on connecting with the state’s marginalized communities.
“A part of our strategy is going where other campaigns aren’t and having meaningful conversation,” said Kristian Carranza, Nevada campaign director. “We’re going off to areas like Sparks, organizing, you know, areas in the Rock Boulevard area. We’re focused on the Wells Avenue area and areas around south of Plumb. And that’s also where our office is located. … We’re focused on going to communities that feel forgotten and having conversations there.”
Manny Becerra, a Castro campaign volunteer, believes that real progress will come from recognizing the flaws in the institutions that keep people of color and other marginalized groups from having a real say in the future of the country.
“[The campaign] focuses on people-first policies that, underneath it all, are driven by intersectionality, which really dive into the root issues of problems—not just the surface level matters that we see,” Becerra said. “So, we’re not solving the problem just for one person or one group of people, but we’re trying to solve it for everyone.”
Becerra saw Castro speak when he came to Reno in April and was impressed with what he said was the former secretary’s authenticity and relatability. Becerra even watched the presidential candidate carry his own supplies and help set up for the rally—something he believed was representative of Castro’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and do the work needed to run the country.
“He represented accessibility as well,” Becerra said. “Meaning, like, an approachable person—a person behind the politician, right? Because when you’re running, you’re going to inherently be a politician and not always have I felt comfortable or as if it was a reality to have access to politicians on a human level where you feel heard, where he took the time to hear me.”
With a year to go before the elections, it’s possible Reno will see even more candidates stake a claim in the city. Cory Booker, former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and that state’s first African American senator, last visited Northern Nevada in April, and announced the opening of the Booker 2020 office at 354 W. Liberty St. this week. Michael Williams has been volunteering for democratic candidates since the 1972 George McGovern campaign, and made the decision to support Booker after meeting him face to face during his last stop in Reno.
“What he talks about is sacrifice, you know, giving of ourselves to one another and giving ourselves to a cause bigger than ourselves,” Williams said. “You can’t love your country if you don’t love your fellow country men and women. Those are emphases of the campaign. That really, really touched me.”
Williams is tired of the partisan squabbling in the country’s politics, and especially the infighting among the Democratic field.
“I run into people from other campaigns, and I’ve talked to voters that are supporting other candidates,” he said. “And the thing that I keep repeating to people over and over again is, ’You know, this time next year, we’re all on the same team.’”
Since the Nevada Republican Party’s decision to scrap the 2020 GOP caucus—a cost-saving measure not unlike what the Democrats did with the Obama campaign in 2012, according to party spokesperson Keith Schipper—it’s unlikely Reno will see any Republican candidates set up shop besides the Trump Victory Headquarters, which opened on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 1144 W. Fourth St.
“We had RNC Co-Chair Tommy Hicks in town to be here for the moment—the occasion,” Schipper said. “I think it was special just because of the fact that it is the first Trump headquarters in the country that isn’t, you know, the official campaign headquarters in DC. … This is the first satellite office in the country out of all the swing states, out of everything.”
However, news of the campaign office opening also came with the development of a local political drama, wherein Rep. Mark Amodei was snubbed by the Trump campaign, which tapped former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt to head the reelection committee in Nevada. The Reno Gazette Journal reported that the decision might have had something to do with Amodei’s statement a few weeks earlier about supporting the Trump impeachment probe if the facts deemed it necessary—a statement Amodei has decried as “fake news.”
But the changing cast at the top of the president’s team had little effect on the spirits of 150 Trump supporters who attended the grand opening hoping to turn Washoe County red in 2020. According to Schipper, the campaign has registered more volunteers and staff than ever before.
“We’re registering new voters,” he said. “We’re contacting voters. We’re getting people engaged that maybe have never even volunteered, but we know they love the president, and we’re engaging them and making sure that they’re brought into the fold.”
One of those volunteers is Caroline Smith, state second vice president of the Nevada Federation of Women. She’s been a Trump supporter since he first made his campaign announcement in 2015.
“I like him because Trump is Trump,” Smith said. “He’s not a politician. I don’t want a politician. … Our country needs to be run by a businessman, and that’s what he is.”
The president’s brash tone, willingness to spar with the national media and off-the-cuff policy decisions are part of his appeal, Smith said, and her strategy when contacting voters is to let his record on trade policy and record unemployment rates speak for itself.
“I like his stance on illegal immigrants—he’s going to build the wall,” Smith said. “And that’s why I like Trump also because if he says it, it’s going to happen. No one’s going to get in his way. I like how he’s standing up to China as to the balance of trade. Look what this man has accomplished … I mean, how can you deny the success of this man? He represents my morals and my values.”
The Trump office plans to hold monthly training workshops to instruct interested volunteers on how to most efficiently communicate the president’s platform to Nevadans. To Smith, however, her political support comes down to one simple question:
“Are you any better off now than you are then?” she said. “Of course you are “You’re much better off now.”