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Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez during a radio interview with The Nevada Independent at the ESPN Deportes studio on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez acknowledges that the 2016 Nevada presidential caucus to convention process was less than smooth. But he’s hopeful that newly implemented changes to the caucus process in the Silver State will bring the party together as Democrats prepare to select a presidential nominee next year.

In a recent interview for the IndyMatters podcast, Perez pointed to changes that the state and national party are making  — including allowing virtual caucusing and early voting — as indicative of the party’s effort in the last couple of years to be more inclusive and, by extension, smooth over old wounds. The 2016 caucus to convention process in Nevada was fraught with controversy, including allegations by supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that the party was biased in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and death threats against the state party chair.

“I'm certainly well aware of the serious challenges from the 2016 process, and that's why we got right to work in the beginning of 2017 shortly after my election to listen, learn, build a very large inclusive table,” said Perez, who was previously labor secretary in the Obama Administration. “I think there's a mutual understanding that we had to improve from 2016. There's a mutual understanding that we want to make it easier for people to participate.”

Perez promised a “qualitatively different and better” experience on caucus day, which in Nevada is on Feb. 22, 2020, and said that the caucus “is going to be used in the future as a model across America of how to expand participation and how to ensure inclusion.”

“I think we all understand that we had healing to do, and the way you heal is to build an inclusive table, to listen and learn from your experiences from mistakes and to build a blueprint for success that enables everybody to participate and everyone to feel like their candidate got a fair shake and everyone to feel like their own voice was heard,” Perez said. “And I think that's what's going to happen in 2020.”

But he said that only time will tell whether the changes, which also include diminishing the role of superdelegates in the nominating process, will be enough to allay concerns that the 2016 process wasn’t grassroots enough.

“I think so, and I hope so,” Perez said.

The DNC chair also shrugged off concerns that Nevada’s importance in selecting a Democratic presidential nominee will be diminished by the fact that early voting in California, a Super Tuesday state, will overlap with early state caucuses and primaries.

“I think you will have all eyes on Nevada in the same way you have in previous cycles because of the simple reason that Nevada truly does reflect America in so many respects — a strong union density on the Strip and elsewhere, really important rural pockets of the state, a remarkable diversity,” Perez said.

Though Nevada is increasingly being viewed as a lean blue state, Perez said Democrats won’t take their recent victories here for granted, pointing to the party’s year-round operation as key to the party’s recent successes here. In the 2018 midterm election, Democrats took the governor’s mansion, won a competitive U.S. Senate race, held onto two in-play House seats, secured a supermajority in the state Assembly and won a near-supermajority in the state Senate.

“They've understood that you have to invest every year and you must ensure — and this is the motto of not only the Nevada party, but the DNC — we must work to elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” Perez said.

Still, Perez promised ongoing investment from Democrats nationally in the lead-up to the 2020 election. He said that the Democratic Party has purchased over a hundred million cell phone numbers in the last two years nationwide and distributed them to state parties, including about half a million in Nevada.

President Donald Trump lost Nevada by 2.4 percentage points in 2016, but Trump campaign officials aren’t willing to cede the state, instead touting an economic message they believe will resonate with voters here. But Perez is skeptical.

“The economy's working great for people like Donald Trump. For everybody else, they're wondering what's going to happen if they have to go to the doctor and they have diabetes because the Republicans want to take away your health care,” Perez said. “This president promised change and boy, people have gotten change, but it's not the change that has improved their lives.”

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