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Blueprint for a “Blue Wave”: The Last Word on How Progressives Won in 2018

Over the past month, we’ve been poring over the election results to determine how and why Nevada Democrats won so big this year. At UNLV today, we heard directly from the local progressive leaders who made this wave so big, and from a few independent observers who shed a little more light on why Nevada Republicans fell so hard so fast.

In case you still had any doubt, Nevada’s electorate is changing. And while certain groups have played a role in changing our electorate, others refuse to even acknowledge how we’ve changed.

“The Republicans felt like it would be [a repeat of] 2014 for a long time.”

– Michelle Rindels, The Nevada Independent

Photo by Andrew Davey
Photo by Andrew Davey

On Election Day, we witnessed firsthand how local progressive non-profit groups were working to turn out the voters who Republicans and most outside pundits were not expecting to cast ballots this year. Once the county statements of vote were released, we could see in further detail how exceptionally high turnout in the Las Vegas and Reno urban cores tipped the scales in Democrats’ favor. And at a post-election discussion at UNLV Boyd Law School, UNLV political science professor David Damore put to rest any lingering doubts about what happened.

As Damore noted, “The white participation rate was higher, yet the white share of the electorate shrank. That shows right there why Democrats are doing better in Nevada.” And as an advisor to the nationally renowned Latino Decisions polling firm, Damore cited Latino Decisions’ final pre-election survey as he explained in further detail how Nevada’s electorate became became more diverse this year.

So why did Democrats do so much better with this more diverse electorate? For one, as The Nevada Independent reporter Michelle Rindels explained, Republicans did nothing to appeal to this larger and more diverse electorate: “The Republicans felt like it would be [a repeat of] 2014 for a long time.”

And because Republicans like outgoing U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) were betting so big on 2018 nearing the historically low turnout Nevada experienced in 2014, they figured that tying themselves so tightly to President Donald Trump and his xenophobic platform would work in their favor. As Rindels explained, “[Heller] got on that strategy and stuck to it. It probably would have worked in a different election cycle, had this been 2014.”

“What really resonated with [voters of color] was keeping families together. Using language that’s inclusive of everyone conveyed the message, ‘We’re talking to you, too.’”

– Amanda Khan, PLAN Action

Photo by Andrew Davey

Later in the conversation, The Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston answered moderator and UNLV Immigration Law Clinic Director Michael Kagan‘s question on how immigration reform played into this year’s election by noting how Nevada Republicans hoped to capitalize on the smaller and whiter electorate we normally see during midterm cycles: “They used this dog whistle of using sanctuary cities, to enrage the white voters.” Ralston continued, “It was a dog whistle to racism. It backfired, it blew up in their faces, and that’s how it should be.”

Yet according to PLAN Action State Field Director Amanda Khan, Republicans weren’t the only party having trouble with immigrant communities and voters of color. As Khan put it, PLAN Action’s program engaged the Democratic voters who were often being overlooked by the Democratic Party: “The [Democratic Party] strategies didn’t include immigrant communities and people of color. It wasn’t a headline. It wasn’t considered most important.”

After the program concluded, I caught up with Amanda Khan and asked some more about this issue. She acknowledged the brutal reality of politics that, “Candidates want to talk to people who are voting for them, people who vote in every year, and vote in midterms.”

However, she then pointed out how the Democrats’ big victories wouldn’t have been possible without the progressive groups’ campaign to convert infrequent voters into actual midterm voters. Khan also noted how their dialogue with these voters can aid fellow progressives and the Democratic Party in connecting with more voters on the issues they care about. For example, according to Khan, “Immigration was an issue that was important to [voters], but what really resonated with them was keeping families together. Using language that’s inclusive of everyone conveyed the message, ‘We’re talking to you, too.’”

“[Democrats] need to stop taking [these voters] for granted. They need to stop talking exclusively to their [traditional] base, and to just the folks they mobilized in the past.” 

– Raquel Cruz-Juarez, Nevada Advocates for Plannned Parenthood Affiliates 

Photo by Andrew Davey

And yet, despite Democrats’ occasional struggles in connecting with diverse communities, they won thanks to these progressive groups’ tireless efforts. And contrary to long-held “conventional wisdom” about voters of color being more “socially conservative”, groups like Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates (NAPPA) joined in on the effort to make Nevada blue again.

During the discussion, NAPPA Southern Nevada Field Director Raquel Cruz-Juarez made clear, “Ultimately, we want politicians to know that you cannot be anti-choice and still win in Nevada. A lot of voters specifically turned out to vote for pro-choice candidates.”

Like other progressive groups, Planned Parenthood Action invested early in programs like Raíz to build lasting relationships with voters of color. In order for Democrats to win again in 2020 and beyond, Cruz-Juarez wants to see the party make more of its own effort to build stronger relationships with these voters: “They need to stop taking [these voters] for granted. They need to stop talking exclusively to their [traditional] base, and to just the folks they mobilized in the past.”

Cruz-Juarez continued, “2018 proved that talking to low-frequency voters who normally didn’t turn out is just as important.” She also added, “The [progressive groups] delivered for Democrats in a way that the candidates couldn’t have [done themselves]. We talked with them about issues. […] We can not continue ignoring them.”

This happened to be another point that was backed up by Damore’s polling data, the point that these and other issues motivated these historically infrequent voters to show up when hardly anyone expected them… Real issues, not attacks on the State of California, not humble-brags of “bipartisanship”, and not any slick ad campaign to muddy the waters between themselves and Trump. And perhaps the sooner Democrats understand this, the sooner they can prove that 2018 election results are not a Trump-driven aberration, but rather the start of our new political reality.

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