The campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had expected for some time that it would lose New Hampshire to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to nearly all press accounts. Most media reports have suggested the Clinton campaign wasn’t overly worried because it felt the next two contests, in Nevada and South Carolina, would favor Clinton because they have larger populations of nonwhite voters, a group Clinton has generally been successful in appealing to this time around.
Today, however, there are numerous articles suggesting that in Nevada at least, which holds caucuses on Feb. 20, the Clinton campaign may face a tougher challenge than previously thought. From The Daily Beast:
So. Nevada. Clinton’s firewall? That’s what they say. It’s supposed to be the state where Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook will work his magic, as Mother Jones reported Wednesday. Mook ran Clinton’s effort there in 2008. She won then. But times are clearly different now. I don’t think for a minute that Nevada is a Clinton cakewalk, especially not after the shellacking she took Tuesday….
Okay, so let’s go through some factors. First is the Culinary Union. Local 226 is big, with 60,000 members, and it has a lot of muscle in Las Vegas. It’s not endorsing. Last time, it endorsed Barack Obama, so that represents an improvement for Clinton insofar it won’t be out working for her opponent.
But two buts. The first is that the Clinton people wanted the endorsement. It’s exactly the kind of big and (dare I say) establishment organization that the presumed front-runner is supposed to lock down. They had an extra reason to think they might get it a couple of weeks ago after some Bernie Sanders people infiltrated the union, posing as members to gain access to the rank and file. But the union is sitting it out.
Here’s the second but. Remember in 2008, how there were caucus sites set up at the hotels and casinos so on-duty workers could take a break from their shifts and go caucus? Clinton carried them. The union pushed its voters to attend those sites in 2008, but this time around, because it’s staying neutral, the union is not doing so. That could be a setback for Clinton….
The article also delves into the state’s nonwhite voters, estimated to be around 30 percent of caucus-goers, which may help to bolster Clinton’s numbers. She also started organizing in the state back in April, while Sanders didn’t open an office until October. But Sanders has some real advantages too, as ABC News reports:
Sanders, whose impressive fundraising has put him on equal footing with Clinton, has invested heavily in a state that was hard-hit by the real estate bust. His campaign now boasts more offices than hers. He is outspending Clinton on the airwaves in Nevada. Though Sanders' first staffer arrived in Nevada in October, his campaign says it now has more than 100 here, bolstered by volunteers who had organized themselves for months, even going as far as to create their own campaign literature and buttons.
Finally, Nevada Democrats can register to vote at the caucus — even if they don't turn 18 until election day. That will also probably help Sanders, who does especially well among younger voters.
A New York Times article this morning explains that same-day voter registration and the 2008 recession experience of many Nevada residents could be helpful to Sanders:
Few states endured the degree of economic turmoil that racked Nevada during the recession. Vast tracts of housing developments were abandoned as the mortgage foreclosure crisis sent new homeowners fleeing, unemployment soared into the double digits and projects on the Las Vegas Strip were abandoned. The economy has turned around to a large extent. But memories of that brutal time endure and could create a political environment ripe for Mr. Sanders: His campaign has seized on the issues of income disparity and Wall Street abuses in the television advertisements airing here, which proved powerful in New Hampshire….
Nevada permits same-day voter registration, a matter of special concern to Mrs. Clinton since first-time caucusgoers flocked to Mr. Sanders in Iowa. And 30,000 Nevadans registered and voted on caucus day here in 2008, many of them brought in by Barack Obama.
The Times article also notes, however, that Clinton is positioned to do well in the Nevada caucuses:
Mrs. Clinton has some noteworthy advantages. Her campaign is staffed by people steeped in Nevada politics, led by [Clinton campaign manager Robbie] Mook, who is taking particular interest in the state. “We built this campaign, starting when she announced in April, to win a competitive primary,” Mr. Mook said. “That means not taking anything for granted. That means building a real presence. Nevada is an important part of that strategy.”
And Bill Clinton is a popular figure here. “In Nevada, the one big guy in the room is Bill Clinton,” [Nevada Senator Harry] Reid said. “He comes all the time. He has very good friends there. He plays golf. So Bernie has a real problem there.”
When Mr. Clinton campaigned for his wife here on a chilly evening before the first votes were cast in Iowa, people lined up for hours to see him.
In addition, some quirks of the way Nevada allocates delegates based on caucus results could also benefit Clinton. Bloomberg Politics explains how Clinton’s focus on rural parts of the state could make a difference:
After losing the New Hampshire primary to Bernie Sanders, Clinton is counting on Nevada to deliver her a decisive victory. In 2008 she won the Nevada caucus by 602 votes over Barack Obama, but Obama netted more delegates because of the state's caucus math, which gives Democratic voters in Nevada's rural precincts extra weight, rewarding candidates who venture into the desert looking for support. “We didn't win,” says Emmy Ruiz, the first Nevada organizer Clinton hired in the 2008 race and now head of her campaign there. “I think that’s part of what informed our strategy here and part of why it’s so important to build that organization.” This year, precincts in counties with 400 or fewer Democrats will get one delegate for every five registered Democrats; those in counties with more than 4,000 registered party members will get one delegate for every 50 registered Democrats. “Let’s say our opponent had 10,000 more supporters than we did come caucus day,” says Ruiz, “but they were all in the same two precincts—doesn’t matter, we would win everything in a landslide.”
It should be noted that the Clinton campaign was relying on the same sort of rural over-weighting in terms of delegates to help her win Iowa, but because the Iowa Democratic Party doesn’t release raw vote totals, only “delegate equivalents,” it’s difficult to know if the strategy paid off for her or not. In Nevada both the raw votes as well as the delegate totals will be available.
There hasn’t been any polling in Nevada for over a month and a half, according to RealClearPolitics.com, which reports a December 23-27 poll by Gravis Marketing as the most recent survey. According to that, Clinton held a 23-point lead.
Most accounts suggest Clinton remains favored to win the Nevada caucuses next week, but with so little polling and Sanders’ impressive performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s difficult to predict what will happen. But as the article from The Daily Beast suggests, it would probably be a mistake to assume that Clinton’s “firewall” in Nevada will easily turn back Sanders.