Bernie Sanders closed a crucial week in the 2020 Democratic primary by making his case to west coast voters, hoping to solidify his lead in the race with a win in Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada.
After a solid debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, the Vermont senator headed to Bakersfield, California, on Friday morning to energize voters and was hosting a final “Get out to caucus” rally in Las Vegas’s Springs Preserve Amphitheater on Friday evening. His campaign is counting on a coalition of Latinos, young people and progressive voters to carry him to victory in Nevada, and beyond.
Sparse polling in Nevada has Sanders well ahead of his Democratic rivals. A Las Vegas Review-Journal/AARP Nevada poll from last week found him 25% support in the state, with three-fifths of voters under 30 backing him.
Sanders has invested big, and early, in Nevada.
The campaign employs at least 250 people in the Silver state, more than double the staff of Pete Buttigieg, who has the second-largest campaign with 100 people. And large army of volunteers has canvassed for Sanders on foot and and horseback, to reach as many urban and rural voters as possible.
His campaign has also invested in Spanish language advertisements outreach across the state, hosted supporters over tamales and held a soccer tournament as part of its outreach to Latinx voters, who account for one in five voters in Nevada.
Sanders’ outreach appears to have paid off: he has 33% support among Latino voters in the state, according to a recent Univision poll. And just ahead of the caucus, Mijente, a prominent grass-roots organization that mobilizes Latinx and Chicanx voters – endorsed the Vermont senator.
If Sanders wins Saturday’s caucus, he will have established a crucial lead heading into the primary in South Carolina on 29 February and Super Tuesday on 3 March.
One potential roadblock for the senator is the tension between his campaign and the powerful Culinary Union, which says it represents 60,000 hotel and casino workers in Nevada. The union, which provides hard-won health insurance for 130,000 people, came out this month opposing Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal. The dispute over policy escalated in the week leading up to the caucuses, with the union reporting that its leaders were being trolled by people who said they were Sanders supporters.
During the Wednesday night Democratic debate, Sanders disowned any supporters who may have acted inappropriately. It was a rare, contentious moment for the candidate, who largely stayed above the fray during the fiercest debate of the election cycle.
Sanders also suggested some of the online vitriol blamed on his supporters might be coming from Russia. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that US officials had warned Sanders that Russiawas trying to help his campaign.
Nevada’s large labor movement has been divided on Sanders. Whereas the Culinary Union – which has not endorsed any candidate – appeared to implicitly criticize him, the Clark County Education Association, which represents more than 18,000 educators, endorsed Sanders last month.
Across the state, Sanders’ ambitious, progressive message seem to have landed with supporters looking for change. Tanya Duncan, a 47-year-old Reno resident who takes care of the medical needs of both her parents, said his health plan held a lot of appeal.
“He genuinely cares about what he’s doing. He has his heart and soul in it,” said Duncan, who works as a financial analyst. She said she also appreciated Sanders’ plans on student debt and healthcare. “He’s going to negotiate on the side of the people.”