Nevada's unpredictable electorate and "fractured Latino vote" are in the spotlight on the eve of the state's Democratic caucus, with polls showing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders going into Saturday's contest neck-and-neck.
As The New Republic explained, "Nevada offers a much different terrain" than Iowa or New Hampshire: "The state’s population is 28 percent Latino, 8 percent Asian-American, and 9 percent African-American."
"Sanders needs to prove he can win over Latinos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans—there’s no other way that he can seriously compete for the nomination," wrote TNR's Jeet Heer. "Clinton, conversely, needs to prove that her 'firewall' of non-white support, which she’s also counting on in the upcoming Southern primaries, is going to be strong enough to block Sanders."
For Clinton to be victorious in the Nevada caucuses, she needs blacks and Latinos to turn out in numbers like in the 2008 race, and she needs to carry that Las Vegas-based segment of the electorate. She has to make sure she doesn’t get swamped in rural counties like she did running against Barack Obama eight years ago. And although she doesn’t need to dominate Nevada’s other population base — Reno — she needs to post a decent showing there.
“Our state is a three-pronged approach,” said Leo Murrieta, a Democratic political consultant and Latino activist in Las Vegas who supports Clinton.
Sanders, who didn’t open his first office here until October, three months later than Clinton, must thwart her meticulously planned strategy in those three areas by stoking the last-minute fever of enthusiasm that left-leaning Nevadans are feeling for him, strategists said.
Indeed, "the fractured Latino vote threatens to further erode Clinton's aura as the party's nominee-in-waiting," the Guardian reported on Friday.
While Clinton "still maintains the backing of Nevada’s older, democratic establishment, including a string of prominent Latino figures...look beyond the endorsements from prominent figures, such as civil rights leaders Astrid Silva and Dolores Huerta and actor Eva Longoria, and the Latino community’s alliances begins to fray," the paper continued, writing:
The same is true for unions in Nevada, which also tend to be heavily Latino and, in a service-sector dominated state, have historically been kingmakers in Democratic elections.
While labor leaders back Clinton, low-wage workers and indebted students are being drawn to the message of radical economic change propagated by the 74-year-old senator from Vermont who some are calling “El Viejito” (the little old man).
Meanwhile, the Clark County Black Caucus, an organization located in Nevada's largest county, endorsed Sanders late Thursday. And the Sanders campaign on Friday launched its #AmericaTogether hashtag, which highlights the Vermont senator's multicultural appeal.
To that end, the Clinton campaign has appeared to be trying to lower expectations, painting Nevada as a largely-white state.
"There's an important Hispanic element to the Democratic caucus in Nevada, but it's still a state that is 80% white voters," Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign press secretary, said last week. "You have a caucus-style format, and he'll have the momentum coming out of New Hampshire presumably, so there's a lot of reasons he should do well."
Renowned Nevada pundit Jon Ralston scoffed at that "canard," noting that "Nevada's Hispanic population is about 27 percent," and that "nearly half of the state's population is made up of minorities."
According to Politico, Sanders' surge in Nevada has been served by his "ability to tap directly into the bloodstream of Nevada progressives."
While Clinton has been making a direct appeal to Latino voters here by saying she would go further than President Barack Obama on immigration reform, Sanders’ resolute message reverberated across the demographic board here, party leaders said.
“Nevada was one of the states hit hardest by the Bush recession and the foreclosure crisis,” said Rebecca Lambe, a senior adviser to the Nevada Democratic party and to Sen. Harry Reid, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race. “The unemployment rate was the worst in the nation. The Sanders campaign recognized that their candidate’s economic message would resonate here and they pounced.”
Or, as University of Nevada-Las Vegas English instructor and restaurant server Brittany Bronson wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Friday:
Clinton’s proposals are a step in the right direction. But with the economy tepid and income inequality only growing, modesty is not a good enough policy. And as anyone who has spent time in the real Las Vegas — the struggling, striving working-class metropolis behind the neon lights — can attest, her proposals won’t make a dent in most Americans’ lives.
Nevada’s recent history testifies to the tragic ramifications of corporate greed and power, but also to the benefits of worker-centered policies. Mr. Sanders speaks directly to those themes, and to voters’ growing concerns. Nevada, more than any other early contest, will show how well he is getting through to them.
"With its relatively few delegates, Nevada isn’t a do-or-die state—but its diversity does make it a bellwether state," Heer wrote at TNR. "If Sanders can pull off a win on Saturday, or even if he comes close, it’ll be clear that his revolution has real legs."