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Nevada Today

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Trail Mix: Our Pre-Iowa Nevada Democratic Caucus Power Rankings

So I hear some other state is holding a caucus next week. Whatever. We know who really matters… Don’t we?

Now that we’re less than a month away from “The Most Important Caucus That Will Ever Matter to All the Pundits in the Land”, let’s assess what’s changed in the field and forecast what the final state of play might soon look like.

🤯 #1 (TIE) : Joe Biden (↔️) and Bernie Sanders (🔼 from #2 earlier this month)
Joe Biden, caucus
Photo by Andrew Davey

As per usual, “Joe-mentum” fades as quickly as it builds. While former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead in most national polls and Nevada polls, the two new Nevada polls only show single-digit leads for Biden (+2% according to Suffolk for the Reno Gazette-Journal, and +6% according to Fox News). And even worse for Biden, he’s locked in a virtual tie in Iowa and falling behind in New Hampshire.

While Biden’s team feel confident that he can win the nomination despite whatever happens in those first two early states, I’m not as convinced. As much as some influential Democrats elsewhere refuse to admit, our “First Four” early states matter in terms of setting expectations and narratives, and the “First Two” set the very first expectations and narratives. Perhaps if he only loses one of the “First Two” (or maybe manages very close losses in the “First Two”) and follows with a very strong ground game to seal the deal here in Nevada, Biden can turn it around. After all, Hillary Clinton did just that here in 2016. But if he doesn’t…

Photo by Andrew Davey

Then get ready to “Feel the Bern”. As I just mentioned, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has pulled ahead in New Hampshire, pulled even in Iowa, and quickly closed the gap here in Nevada. As I’ve been saying all along, Sanders has a devoted fan base and solid ground game. And throughout the past year, I’ve noticed that base’s energy and enthusiasm for Sanders and his “revolutionary” ideas that just hasn’t been matched on the Biden side

Since we’re a caucus state, base enthusiasm and ground game organization matter. And since we’re more diverse than other caucus states, Sanders’ outreach to diverse communities may ultimately make all the difference here. While he may yet fall from grace (see his intra-movement feud with our #3 contender, and the controversy surrounding the Joe Rogan endorsement), he may just be flying high enough to win a big “early state jackpot” full of delegates next month.

↔️ #3: Elizabeth Warren (unchanged)
Photo by Andrew Davey

These last three months have been very rough for her, but U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) may yet turn it around. Right in the nick of time, the Des Moines Register and The New York Times have endorsed her (though The Times also endorsed our #6 contender). And now that the national media are focusing more on the Biden v. Sanders fights, she has an opportunity to reintroduce her campaign as the positive, progressive, “I have a plan for that!” drive for “big, structural change” that made her a formidable frontrunner in the first place.

Of course, Warren doesn’t have much time left to make this happen. But since she’s always been focused on building a rock-solid ground game, and now that she’s finally buying some TV ads here (including en español), Warren does have a narrow window of opportunity to get her mojo back and return to the top of the field. Let’s see whether she can make that happen.

🤔 #4 (TIE): Pete Buttigieg (↔️) and Tom Steyer (🔼 from #5 earlier this month)
Pete Buttigieg
Photo by Nevada Today Staff

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been indulging in “high, high hopes for a living” this past year, but he seems stuck at ground level here in Nevada. Buttigieg might have to win Iowa in order to stay in the race. And even if he does win Iowa, that’s still no guarantee that he can win here in Nevada. In case you didn’t hear it earlier, what works in 90% white Iowa and 94% white New Hampshire doesn’t always work here (even if those “First Two” early states do set expectations and winnow the field).

SEIU, caucus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Yes, I’ve obviously had doubts on the shelf life of billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign. But now that I’ve seen him in action at SEIU 1107’s “Unions for All” Nevada Summit, now that I’ve received additional reports from the ground on growing interest and support for Steyer, and now that we’ve seen Steyer gain ground in recent Nevada polls, I can see a path for him to at least win some delegates next month. Keep an eye on this billionaire who’s actually playing to win here (as opposed to the other billionaire who’s decided on a “Super Tuesday or Bust” strategy).

🔼  #6: Amy Klobuchar (up from #7 earlier this month)
Amy Klobuchar, caucus
Photo by Andrew Davey

Now that she finally has campaign staff, a campaign office, and some actual organization on the ground, we can finally take U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) seriously here in Nevada. She’s yet to generate the kind of excitement I’ve seen for Sanders and Warren on the trail, and she’s far from commanding the kinds of institutional support that Biden and Buttigieg have developed. But now that “Klob-mentum” seems to be happening for real this time, she might have a shot at snagging a delegate or two here.

🔻 #7: Andrew Yang (down from #6 earlier this month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last October, I wrote, “I have an incredibly hard time seeing tech investor Andrew Yang coming anywhere close to the Democratic nomination next year. Yet at the same time, it’s increasingly undeniable that the ‘Yang Gang’ is larger than most of us could have imagined.” That still hasn’t changed. He does have a real campaign operation here, he is officially back on the debate stage, but I am wondering how much of a shelf life his gimmick-heavy campaign truly has.

🤪 And finally, some notes on… Us
Joe Biden, caucus
Photo by Andrew Davey

How many times have we heard this: “We matter! We matter! Why can’t they see how much #WeMatter?” Below is not just a frustration-laced rant, but also a much needed reality check.

Yes, our state features a more diverse electorate, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get next month’s caucus turnout to more accurately reflect the full diversity of our state. Yes, we have our own dynamics here in Nevada, but it’s absurd to dismiss the likelihood that Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s respective results won’t hold at least some sway over our voters. And yes, our voters truly can make the difference in this increasingly tight race, but that still doesn’t stop some national media pundits from pretending that not only don’t we matter, but also that we don’t even exist.

News flash: We do exist, our voters matter, those “First Two” states will at least alter our final playing field here, and “diversity!” talking points must be matched by actual diversity in turnout. I guess that’s all, folks, at least for now. But fear not, as I’ll be posting more frequent Caucus Power Rankings updates going forward.

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