As I explained yesterday, Nevada Democrats experienced a whole lot last weekend. In fact, we experienced so much that I had to leave a whole lot of material on the cutting room floor. Yet just because I had to leave it on the cutting room floor then doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting today.
As we discussed yesterday, there’s been plenty of talk about how much Nevada matters as an early state because of our diverse population. But really, how many of these candidates are listening and how much are they learning? One of these candidates has taken great strides to prove he is listening and learning. Yet in an ironic twist of fate, this candidate may not be in the race much longer as two other early states are playing outsized roles in winnowing the field.
“I certainly did not pledge under any loyalty oath to forever more say that Iowa or any other state is to go first. It surprises me that Iowa wants some sort of pledge in blood.”
– Julián Castro, at the “First in the West” event on Sunday
Throughout the weekend, the most common refrain was, “Nevada matters because Nevada is the microcosm of America.” Yet for the most part, candidates and other top Democrats sidestepped the question of whether Nevada and/or other more diverse states should replace Iowa and New Hampshire at the top of the caucus-primary calendar.
Yet while the rest of them sidestepped, Julián Castro leaned in. Like most everyone else, the former San Antonio (Texas) Mayor and federal HUD Secretary gushed, “Nevada is in many ways a model for the future of this country. It’s diverse. It’s growing,” and he congratulated Nevada Democrats at their “First in the West” Event on Sunday for their masterful ride of 2018’s “Blue Wave” into historic dominance.
Yet unlike other candidates, Castro has recently called for the Democratic Party to drop Iowa and New Hampshire from the top of the calendar in order to make room for states whose electorates better represent the present and future of the Democratic Party and America as a whole. After taking a question in the press filing room on the pledge he and other candidates signed in Iowa to respect Iowa Democrats’ first in the nation status, Castro retorted, “I certainly did not pledge under any loyalty oath to forever more say that Iowa or any other state is to go first. It surprises me that Iowa wants some sort of pledge in blood. […] That has no bearing whatsoever.”
“We can’t go on and claim we’re ensuring great representation [of diversity…] yet at the same time start our presidential nominating contest in a way that completely diminishes the vote of African-Americans, of [other] people of color, of people with disabilities, of working people.”
– Julián Castro, at the “First in the West” event on Sunday
Hold on, as Julián Castro didn’t stop there. Castro continued his rant as he claimed, “So many people in Iowa and New Hampshire have come out and said, ‘You’re right. Yeah, we love the access we have with candidates. But you’re right, as Democrats we recognize that our states don’t reflect the diversity of our party or our country.’”
Castro then called out Iowa’s caucus system for excluding people with disabilities and working-class voters who can’t afford to take spend several hours arguing over caucus rules, the party platform, and which side of the room they’ll ultimately migrate to once it’s time to allocate delegates. As Castro vented, “We can’t go on and claim we’re ensuring great representation [of diversity…] yet at the same time start our presidential nominating contest in a way that completely diminishes the vote of African-Americans, of [other] people of color, of people with disabilities, of working people.”
It’s easy for Iowa Democratic leaders and national media pundits to dismiss Castro’s rant as that of a candidate who missed the cut for tomorrow’s debate and may not even make it to the Iowa’s or Nevada’s Caucus next February. And when it comes to caucuses’ exclusionary nature and practices, it’s not as if Nevada is blameless on this count, though the state party can forge ahead with its 2020 early voting plan thanks to our caucus occurring after New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation” primary. Still, it’s becoming more and more of a glaring disparity that the party that relies on voters of color to come anywhere close to winning kicks off its caucus-primary season in lily-white Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Let’s be clear: The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people.”
– Kamala Harris, at the Westside Pride Black Community Summit on Monday
If anything, Castro is saying publicly and explicitly what some other campaigns are privately whispering or surreptitiously implying. While former Vice President Joe Biden was in town for the big weekend, his camp privately voiced optimism that the recent bumper crop of polls showing South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg vaulting into the lead in Iowa won’t harm Biden going forward because Biden can do what Buttigieg can’t: Win a significant amount of voters of color.
At the Westside Price Black Community Summit in North Las Vegas yesterday, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) came close to saying publicly what other Biden supporters have been saying privately when he implored upon the audience, “You know, Iowa and New Hampshire are not demographically reflective of the nation. Nevada, however, is demographically reflective of the nation. What happens here in Nevada will set the stage and set the tone for South Carolina [… and] Super Tuesday. We’ve got to get it right here in Nevada.”
Minutes later, when U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) spoke with reporters backstage, she was asked about Buttigieg’s ongoing failure to connect with voters of color. Harris’ response? “Let’s be clear: The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people.” She then added, “[The Democratic nominee] is going to have to have the ability to speak with and speak to the issues that impact everyone.”
“[… We] have a nation that has more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850? This should be an outrage for all of us.”
– Cory Booker, at the “First in the West” event on Sunday
At the “First in the West” event in Bellagio on Sunday, Julián Castro said that when he’s in Iowa, he fields more questions about ethanol than mass transit, even though the latter is far more critical to the nation’s transportation and environmental future than the former. Perhaps more than any other 2020 contenders, Castro has gone deep into the weeds to address the issues affecting everyday Nevadans. Yet even as national reporters occasionally file huge think pieces on other low-polling “debate dropout” candidates who are still dropping resources into Iowa and New Hampshire, typically white candidates like Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Castro is left to make what might ultimately be remembered as his campaign’s last stand here in Nevada.
Again, this issue is actually far greater than Castro’s presidential campaign. He’ll likely leave his mark on the race for advancing the party’s thinking on immigration reform and housing policy, just as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) will likely leave his mark for advancing the party’s conversation on criminal justice reform and gun violence, and just as Kamala Harris may yet leave her mark for making the economic justice conversation more intersectional.
And yet for the time being, the national media cycle is still being flooded with speculation over Buttigieg’s Iowa poll numbers, banter over how “crazy” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) allegedly is for carefully crafting her own health care plan, and even more speculation over whether Democrats are moving “too far left” to win over any Trump voters in Midwestern roadside diners while neglecting the more diverse swing states that may very well determine the balance of power in the White House and in Congress in 2021.
At the “First in the West” event on Sunday, Booker vented his own frustration over this seeming disconnect between the multiracial Democratic Party base of 2020 and the “horse race” narrative at often feels stuck in 1960. As Booker noted, “We do live in a country where implicit racial bias is dramatically affecting everything from the mortgage industry to employment, and definitely the criminal justice industry. [… We] have a nation that has more African-Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850? This should be an outrage for all of us.” Indeed it should be, yet it remains to be seen whether it will be in this election.