Nevada residents will be casting their votes in the “first-in-the-west” primary contest that will play a key role in choosing the Democratic candidate to take on Donald Trump.
Saturday’s caucuses could be a make-or-break moment for several Democratic contenders and mark the first voting in a state with a diverse electorate that more closely resembles the demographics of the US and the Democratic party. Nevada is nearly 30% Latino and 10% black and has a rapidly growing Asian American population.
Polls have shown the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders with a significant lead after he cemented his frontrunner status in Iowa and New Hampshire. The first two states, which are 90% white, also delivered strong results for the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, but polling has shown the more moderate candidate struggling with black and Latino voters. The Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, the other midwestern candidate vying for moderates, has also polled poorly with voters of color and has recently faced tough questions about her record as a prosecutor.
The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren had disappointing results in the first two states, but a standout debate night in Las Vegas this week has re-energized her campaign. Joe Biden’s poll numbers have continued to drop since his weak performance in the previous two contests, and another disappointing finish could jeopardize his bid for the presidency.
The billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had an embarrassing first debate performance this week, is not on the ballot in Nevada due to his late entrance into the race.
Unlike private votes in traditional primaries, the caucuses have voters gather in groups based on their top-choice candidate, giving them an opportunity to switch to a second choice if their first pick doesn’t gather enough support to be considered “viable” in that precinct.
It’s also the first time the state has offered early voting opportunities, and nearly 75,000 residents have already cast their ballots. A majority were first-time caucus-goers, according to Democratic party officials.
Nevada Democrats have been scrambling to avoid the technology failures that caused chaos in the Iowa caucuses, due to mishaps involving an app. Nevada officials initially said precincts would use Google forms software to relay the votes, but a day before the election said they would instead rely on a more traditional phone hotline. The last-minute changes have raised concerns that the counting could be slow or messy, and the party has said it cannot commit to releasing same-day results after the caucuses, which begin at noon local time.
The campaigns have been devoting significant resources to Nevada in recent weeks, recognizing the importance of the race here, which is the second-to-last before 14 states vote on Super Tuesday in March. The candidates have been hosting rallies and canvassing events across Las Vegas and Reno in the final stretch, and many made appearances to support a union picket outside a resort on the Strip on the morning of the debate.
“Nevada determines how things are going to go in the rest of the country,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary treasurer for the Culinary Union, the state’s most powerful labor group, which represents Las Vegas casino workers. Immigrant communities were motivated to back a candidate who could beat Trump and end the terror of his deportations, she added: “People are suffering. They are scared to be separated from their kids.”
Attending an immigration forum this week in Vegas, José Echevarria, a 48-year-old from El Salvador, said he wanted to know what the Democrats would do to keep families together.
“I feel like a bargaining chip because most candidates, they use us to get votes and when they get into office, they forget about us,” said Echevarria, who has temporary protected status, a designation Trump has repeatedly threatened.
Duke Williams, a 29-year-old University of Nevada, Reno, student who was raised in the city, said he considered voting early but thought the lines were too long. He planned to return on Saturday, but hadn’t yet decided who to support: “I grew up on a side of town where opportunities and benefits aren’t really provided. I want my vote to be felt in this race.”