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Why Do “We Matter”: A Primer on 2020 Caucus-Primary Season

The calendar may say it’s 2019, but it’s beginning to look a lot like 2020 everywhere we go. Candidates are announcing, campaigns are organizing, and parties are gearing up for their moment in the spotlight. Since Nevada will likely keep its “First in the West” status for at least one more presidential election cycle, “we matter” this year and next.

But really, how will “we matter”? And why does any of this matter? Here’s a head start on what to expect in 202o and how to expect it.

Here’s how an “independent moderate” who’s flirting with a presidential run helps us understand why so many Democrats are already running (or at least preparing to run)

Over the weekend, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz caused a scene by announcing he’s considering running for President next year as a “moderate independent”. Unfortunately for Schultz that scene looks anything but inviting, as everyone from progressive activists to former “moderate independent” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been urging Schultz not to risk aiding in President Donald Trump’s reelection by siphoning votes away from the 2020 Democratic nominee.

Of course, the Howard Schultz controversy has reignited the debate over whether the Democratic Party is “moving too far to the left”. Schultz himself is claiming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) triggered his decision to pursue running as an independent by proposing a 70% marginal tax rate on annual personal income above $10 million, just like how various pundits predicted doom for Democrats last year because Ocasio-Cortez beat an incumbent Democratic Congressman with her unabashed “democratic socialist” platform. Even though Democrats rode the “blue wave” to a new House Majority despite pundits’ “concerns”, the debate rages on as 2018 gives way to 2020.

Photo by Andrew Davey

It remains to be seen how Schultz factors into the 2020 race, or if Schultz even runs at all. Still, this maelstrom illustrates the increasingly complex nature of the upcoming election and the Democratic Party’s drive to make right what went wrong in their failed effort to defeat Trump in 2016. A new ABC-Washington Post poll not only shows Trump falling to an alarmingly low 37% approval rating, but also shows 56% of Americans saying they’ve already ruled out the possibility of voting for Trump next year. And yet, that same poll shows a wide open Democratic field of challengers, as no one Democrat even hits 10% among potential primary and caucus voters. With Trump so unpopular and no one Democrat far more popular than the others, we can see why so many Democrats want to run… And why Schultz seems to think he might have a chance as well.

So who are all these Democrats, and how do they stack up in contrast to Trump (and each other)?
Photo by Andrew Davey

While ABC-Washington Post is just one poll, other recent polls have similarly shown Trump in trouble amidst a wide open Democratic field. Just in the past month, we’ve seen multiple candidates widen this field: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Senator Kamala Harris (D-California), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) are just a few of the Democrats who’ve begun the new year with new national campaigns. All of the above-mentioned Democrats but Brown (who himself was running for reelection in Ohio) ventured here to Nevada last year to campaign for Senator Jacky Rosen (D), Governor Steve Sisolak (D), and other local Democratic candidates, along with politicians like former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), who are expected to announce their respective presidential campaigns in the weeks ahead.

Photo by Andrew Davey

While Biden and Sanders are presidential campaign veterans, make no mistake: Both the Nevada Caucus and the overall nomination are anyone’s game. While Sanders has been credited with exciting progressives with his policy platform in 2016, Harris is already unveiling her own ambitiously progressive policy platform (which includes “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, the “Green New Deal”, and a new assault weapons ban) hot on the heels of Warren unveiling her strategy of “standing out by nerding out” on a number of policy details. While Sanders benefitted by positioning himself as the “fresh face” running against “uber-establishment” Hillary Clinton in 2016, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) seems primed seize the tile of “Instagrammer-in-Chief”.

While Biden and Sanders seem primed to appeal to the “blue-collar voters” who never warmed to Clinton three years ago, Warren and Brown have already begun to make economic justice the centerpiece of their respective campaigns. And while the seasoned Biden seems like the obvious early frontrunner of this cycle, it remains to be seen whether renewed scrutiny of his record will darken his post-Obama afterglow.

Why do “we matter” in Nevada, and how might we make the difference next year?
Photo by Andrew Davey

In February 2016, Nevada mattered in terms of helping Hillary Clinton get her groove back and reclaim her frontrunner status following a near-tie in Iowa and a bruising loss in New Hampshire. Then in May 2016, Nevada mattered in terms of warning Clinton of the increasingly toxic divisions within the party that would ultimately play a role in Trump pulling off his upset victory over Clinton in the general election (nationally, though not here in Nevada). Nevada Democrats will hold another caucus in February 22, 2020, though they’re promising reforms to the caucus process in hopes of expanding ballot access and avoiding the kind of convention catastrophe that left a terrible aftertaste in Democratic voters’ mouths across the nation last time around.

While Nevada will once more be “First in the West” and third in the nation, there is a catch: California Democrats will technically be voting at the same time as Democrats caucusing here, thanks to California moving its primary to March 3 and offering early voting before the official primary date. So does this mean we won’t matter as much? Not necessarily, as this calendar shakeup might lead to some synergy in the form of campaigns having to invest extra resources in the region thanks to the one-two-three punch of Nevada, California, and Arizona (which will hold its primary on March 17). Since the campaigns will already have to prepare to “get out the vote” (or “GOTV”) in California and Arizona around the same time, it probably makes sense for them to put in some effort here and try for a “strong Nevada finish” that will provide “momentum” for California, Arizona, and beyond.

Photo by Andrew Davey

So how can Democrats avoid a repeat of the “caucus fracas” that weakened Clinton in the general election? The complete answer remains to be determined, though a more “small-d democratic process” may help in reassuring caucus-goers that they actually have votes that will really be counted (instead of being thrown by the wayside in a “Hunger Games”-esque caucus-to-convention endurance contest). And as for Schultz’s and the pundits’ ideology-based concern trolling, the 2018 election results suggest that Democratic voters are probably best suited to decide for themselves their best path forward in taking on Trump.

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