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Blueprint for a “Blue Wave”: A Conversation with the Activists (and the Senator) Who Helped Make the “Wave”

Last night, Nevada delivered a stunning rebuke of President Donald Trump and the Republicans who were riding on his coattails. U.S. Senator-elect Jacky Rosen (D) won fairly comfortably over Senator Dean Heller (R), and Governor-elect Steve Sisolak (D) defeated Adam Laxalt (R) to become the Silver State’s first Democratic Governor in two decades. How on earth did this happen?

Fortunately for us, I was able to speak with a couple more activists at the heart of local progressives’ effort to make our state’s electorate as diverse as our overall population.

“[Nevadans] do know there are guys who want to take their health care away, ruin the planet, and those guys have names like Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt. Folks are going to remember that when they vote.”
– Laura Martin, PLAN Action
Photo by Andrew Davey

While pundits near and far were speculating on Donald Trump’s “unique appeal” to Nevada and how few voters of color would actually turn out, organizations like PLAN Action, Battle Born Progress, For Nevada’s Future, and NextGen Nevada were out to prove Trump and the pundits wrong. As the early voting tallies began to pile up, it became clearer to local experts that they were on track to prove their point.

Photo by Andrew Davey

When I visited PLAN Action’s Las Vegas office yesterday, Associate Director Laura Martin spoke with me about how they were making this victory happen: “Organizing works.” She then explained how the long-term relationships they’ve been building in diverse communities (including in the “off years” between elections) made the difference in turning out folks who were previously considered low-propensity voters: “Every day, we’ve been organizing. We’ve been knocking doors since February. That’s what counts.”

So what motivated these previously low-propensity voters to turn out? According to Martin, “People are worried about their health care. People are worried about efforts to defund public education. They’re worried that ten or twenty years from now, people are not going to be able to go out and take a breath of fresh air. That’s what they’re worried about.”

Or in other words, they weren’t catching a critical mass of voters who were taking Trump’s bait on “caravans” and “sanctuary cities”. As Martin put it, “They see it as a racist scare tactic. They do know there are guys who want to take their health care away, ruin the planet, and those guys have names like Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt. Folks are going to remember that when they vote.”

“People in this state have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, over 400,000 of them here in Nevada. […] We have seen benefits in the long term, and that’s worth fighting for.”
– U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D)
Photo by Andrew Davey

This leads us back to that #1 issue on the campaign trail: health care. Rosen emphasized the importance of preserving and enhancing the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) throughout this election cycle, and she got a key assist in Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) staying on the same message. After thanking PLAN volunteers at their Las Vegas office yesterday, Cortez Masto spoke with me about what she saw on the ground, and what Nevadans were most concerned about as they cast their ballots: “People are paying attention. They’re concerned about their health care.”

Cortez Masto continued, “People in this state have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, over 400,000 of them here in Nevada. About 1.2 million Nevadans with pre-existing conditions are covered. Essential benefits are covered. We have seen benefits in the long term, and that’s worth fighting for.”

When I asked whether she’s been disappointed by Heller’s capitulation to Trump’s drive to repeal the ACA, Cortez Masto pivoted to the universality of the health care issue: “Enough is enough. […] This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or where you come from. Everyone should have access to affordable health care in this country.”

That universal concern over Trump’s efforts to destroy the ACA turned out to be key in Rosen’s victory over Heller, but will she and Cortez Masto be able to actually do something about it next year? Cortez Masto voiced confidence that they will: “We are going to be able to protect the Affordable Care Act and improve upon it. […] We have a problem in this country, and we should be able to solve it in a bipartisan way to ensure everyone has access [to the health care they need].”

“I’m fighting for my parents as well. I just need [Congress] to stop the separation of families and get us a good, clean reform.”
– Daisy Castro, Las Vegas
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Democrats like Rosen were expertly fine-tuning their message on Americans’ very real health care concerns, Republicans were too busy fighting each other over how to handle Trump’s fear-mongering over fictitious threats from immigrant communities. But while Trump’s tales of “invasion” and “crime” are fictitious, the threat his deportation regime poses to Nevada’s immigrant communities is all too real.

Because she’s a DREAMer, Las Vegas educator Daisy Castro couldn’t vote yesterday, but that didn’t stop her from volunteering at the PLAN office to encourage those who could vote to exercise their constitutional right. And as Daisy told me at the office, they had successfully convinced quite a few (thousand) Nevadans to do so: “Overall, I’m just glad that everything is coming together and all the hard work these volunteers have put in will make for a good result.”

When I asked how she’s been handling the extremely hateful rhetoric on the campaign trail, Castro responded, “It’s been a little hard. I try to stay positive and focus on […] what I can do.” She continued, “That’s one of the main reasons I’m here, which is to get as many voters out there and make this change. We need this change.”

So what kind of change does Castro want to happen? For her, it’s a very personal call to respect real family values: “I’m fighting for my parents as well. I just need [Congress] to stop the separation of families and get us a good, clean reform.” She then added, “DACA has been in the limbo for quite a while now, so I feel they need to clean that up and give us results.”

“The politics of fear and division lost here. That’s good news for our state, and it’s good news for the country.”

– Senator-elect Jacky Rosen (D)

Photo by Andrew Davey

About nine hours after I spoke with Daisy Castro at the PLAN office, Governor-elect Steve Sisolak thanked her during his victory speech. Considering all the hard work she and other activists put into turning out votes for him, the shout-out was very well deserved.

Meanwhile, Senator-elect Jacky Rosen pledged to fight for immigrant families like Castro’s in her victory speech. She also declared, “The politics of fear and division lost here. That’s good news for our state, and it’s good news for the country.”

Indeed, Trumpism ultimately fell flat here in Nevada last night. However, Trump is still President and his allies will still control the Senate next year. But now that Democrats are taking control of the House, progressive activists finally see some opportunities to push back against Trump’s agenda. And thanks to some very stalwart activists here in Nevada, the Silver State may have just provided the rest of the nation with a blueprint for a big “blue wave”.

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