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What’s the Issue: Thoughts on What This Election May Be Decided On

In light of recent news, I figured this may actually be the most opportune time for us to talk about the message(s) of this election. It’s really not just about who voters are choosing, but also why they’re voting one way or another (and for that matter, why they’re voting at all).

Health care, really? (Yes, really.)
Photo by Andrew Davey

In D.C. and closer to home, reporters, pundits, and political junkies (myself included) have been asking why President Donald Trump has successfully convinced the vast majority of Republican candidates this year to embrace his platform of “nationalist populism” to take on “economic anxiety” while Democrats have countered with… Health care?!

Yes, really, everyone from former President Barack Obama to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has talked a whole lot about health care while campaigning for Democrats. There’s a reason why: It’s the top issue for voters nationwide, and the top issue for voters here in Nevada.

When I spoke with Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) at Touro Health Center earlier this month, she noted, “People are telling me they’re scared to death for their kids, especially if they have congenital disease or chronic disease. […] All of us are one diagnosis away from a pre-existing condition.”

While Rosen’s laser-focus on health care (and more specifically, protecting the Affordable Care Act [ACA]) has caused plenty of consternation among progressives yearning for a broader and bolder message of economic justice, she is focusing on something that affects the vast majority (if not virtually all) Nevadans. Think of it this way: Some 240,000 Nevadans would lose health insurance if the ACA were “repealed and replaced” (with one the recent GOP alternatives), so you almost certainly know someone who’s benefiting from Medicaid expansion, new patient protections, and/or other parts of the health care law. And with Republicans in the White House and Congress hellbent on expanding access to “junk insurance” that is essentially “coverage in name only”, we may soon have even more Nevadans who are very concerned about their medical bills.

What about this year’s epic immigration conflagration?
Photo by Andrew Davey

All this week, Trump and his allies have been dialing their “outrage-o-meter” up to 11 over refugee caravans (again). Republicans across the country, including Nevada’s own U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) and Gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt (R), have taken their cues from Trump as they’ve been running on the alleged danger these new refugees and established immigrant communities pose to Americans who are already struggling with “economic anxiety”.

Never mind that these refugees are escaping unimaginable hardship and seeking refuge the perfectly legal way, Trump is making them part of the Republicans’ closing argument as national media pundits debate how many voters will be won over by Trump’s xenophobia. Yet not only are Trump’s policies based on bigotry and lies, but his politics may not be a winning bet either. Several polls released over the summer showed voters aligning more with Democrats than Republicans on immigration reform, and new Latino Decisions polling data in Nevada and nationally show that voters of color continue to reject the Trump-GOP anti-immigrant agenda… And by extension, Republican candidates like Heller who have come to embrace that agenda.

When Trump was in Las Vegas last month, Culinary Union member Alfonso Maciel spoke with me about how Trump’s attacks on his family and his community have compelled him to take action: “That inspired something in me to make a difference. I want to help make Nevada a place where my family can feel safe. More importantly, I want to make this a place I feel proud to call home.”

I doubt Maciel is alone here. And if the bulk of public polls are just as off on the Nevada electorate this year as they were in 2010, then Heller and other Republicans may soon regret their quick embrace of Trumpism.

What else is motivating voters? (And what’s not?)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Of course, health care and immigrant rights aren’t the only issues motivating voters here. There’s plenty of evidence showing an expanding “gender gap” that’s breaking in Democrats’ favor, a “gender gap” that looks as wide as ever after Republicans’ rush to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and disparage the #MeToo movement.

Closer to home, I’ve witnessed some dedicated local activists who have been pushing for gun violence prevention since the 1 October Las Vegas Shooting (and in some cases, long before last year). At the Culinary Union rally with Joe Biden last Saturday, I reconnected with one of these very dedicated activists: Christine Caria, herself a 1 October survivor. Caria insisted that she’s not alone in making gun violence prevention the make-or-break issue in this election.

As we’ve entered the home stretch of 2018, we’ve seen plenty of headlines and plenty of heartburn over the coarsening and degradation of our politics to the point of “civility” being weaponized as a series of attack ads instead of an actual goal worth aspiring towards. Why isn’t this the biggest issue, that of the survival of our very democracy? Here’s the problem: Most voters don’t see “civility”, “democracy”, and “integrity” as tangible “bread-and-butter, kitchen-table issues”. Or to paraphrase a famous local Gleaner, you can’t eat any of Robert Mueller’s indictments.

Maybe I’m wrong and the Trump administration’s corruption scandals will end up being the deciding issue. But if I’m not, then expect the remainder of the home stretch to be decided on the issues that hit closest to home. And in the meantime, stay tuned for another early vote update to come your way very soon (as in, hopefully tomorrow).

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