As I write this, I’m curled up on the couch and recovering from a very long three days on the Nevada Caucus campaign trail. Don’t worry, I’ll soon be back on the trail and back to full speed ahead. But while we do have this tiny bit of down time together, let’s recap last night’s glitzy and glamorous fundraising dinner where the leading candidates got another chance to wow local Democrats.
Let’s also look under the hood on the early voting system that seems to be weathering the storm, even if it’s looking a little tattered and torn after 13,000+ Democratic voters braved long lines to experience it for themselves yesterday.
So what happened at that “Kickoff to Caucus” last night?
As per usual, the candidates integrated much of their typical stump speeches into their presentations at the Clark County Democratic Party’s “Kickoff to Caucus” fundraising dinner. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) followed up his epic “get out to caucus” march and rally with his signature call for a “political revolution” of social and economic justice. Fellow progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) urged the audience not to let fear get in the way of the “big, structural change” that America needs. And at the tail end of the program, former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg called on the audience to “turn the page” on the “old ways of Washington”.
However, there were a few interesting twists and turns last night. For one, it seemed like Biden’s campaign was in its element and on its A-game at the dinner. As soon as Biden entered the room, a mosh pit formed on the floor as attendees stampeded to snag selfies with him. And during candidate speeches, Biden had the largest and most vocal contingent supporting him near the stage.
And then, there were the attacks. Sanders called out former New York City Mayor (and candidate who’s refused to campaign here in Nevada) Mike Bloomberg for several of his past anything-but-progressive stances on social and economic justice. Biden called out Sanders for his checkered past on gun violence prevention, as in his past opposition to expanding background checks and past support for legal immunity for gun manufacturers. And in another of his signature “values talks”, Buttigieg snuck in digs on both Sanders and Biden for espousing the “old ways of Washington”.
Yet for all the negativity, there were also lighter and more positive moments at the “Kickoff to Caucus” dinner. Warren joked about her signature attitude of “nevertheless, she persists” as she persisted through a cold and raspy voice to deliver her speech. And when she spoke, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) got in some hearty applause with her signature humor. Here’s one good example: “We’re going to build a beautiful blue wall across [the Midwestern swing states] and make Donald Trump pay for it!”
“Spirits are high, so I’m thrilled with it. […] They’re staying in line. They’re voting.”
– Governor Steve Sisolak, on the first day of caucus early voting
Despite the snide comments, all the candidates who took to the stage implored upon the audience to unite to defeat Trump no matter which of them ends up with the nomination. That was music to Governor Steve Sisolak’s (D) ears. And while speaking with reporters before the program began, Sisolak struck a very upbeat tone on his own early voting experience at The (LGBTQ+) Center in Downtown Las Vegas.
On his wait to caucus there, Sisolak noted, “The line was not bad. It gives you an opportunity to see your neighbors, meet new friends. We had nice conversations in line. People were getting along well.”
And in a possible “pre-buttal” to the inevitable criticism over such long lines at The Center and several other early voting locations across the state, Sisolak thanked the Democratic Party staff and volunteers for all their hard work. As Sisolak put it, “I’m incredibly impressed with the work we’re doing in Nevada. We have the best volunteers and best staff in the country.”
And about those voters who’ve had to endure the long lines, Sisolak stressed, “Spirits are high, so I’m thrilled with it. […] They’re staying in line. They’re voting.”
“They stood in long lines, but they didn’t mind waiting because they know how important this is. There’s too much at stake to give up, get mad, and go home.”
– Rep. Dina Titus, on the first day of caucus early voting
While Sisolak and most other party leaders have been consistently upbeat on the state of the caucus, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) has been more forthcoming on her concerns about the party’s post-Iowa scramble. Yet last night, she mostly stuck to praising her constituents and other Nevada Democratic voters who braved the lines to participate in the caucus.
According to Titus, who checked in on the Chinatown early voting site herself earlier in the day, “Everybody in those long lines has been very patient. […] They stood in long lines, but they didn’t mind waiting because they know how important this is. There’s too much at stake to give up, get mad, and go home.”
From the reports we’ve been seeing and receiving, most have stayed in line, but some did go home in frustration. There have so far been no indications of total meltdowns at any of the early voting sites, but a few of them did have to retool the “iPad tools” to just focus on finding voter registration because the Google Forms for check-in were contributing to the slow lines.
As I warned earlier this month, the caucus itself is so time and labor consuming that even the best of plans still run the risk of worst-case scenarios becoming reality. So far, the Democratic Party seems to have successfully avoided that worst-case scenario materializing Iowa-style. But even if this holds, this is still a whole lot to ask of our voters.