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Indy 2020: Caucus season, the most wonderful time of the (every 4) year(s)

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Election 2020
Democratic presidential candidates appear on stage with Harry Reid

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.

Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

With temperatures dropping, rain in Las Vegas, snow up north, the twinkle lights, that hum of excitement in the air, it’s beginning to look a lot like... the caucuses. (Didn’t say those twinkle lights were on trees, did I?)

Sing it with me: “Caucus time is here, happiness and cheer. Fun for all that campaigns call, their favorite time of year.”

Happiness. Cheer. Fun. I know, I kid. But it does feel like we’ve entered a new phase of the campaign since the last newsletter. We crossed the 100 days out threshold two weeks ago, and are now 88 days away from Nevada’s Democratic caucuses. Almost all the Democratic presidential hopefuls were in town recently for the Nevada State Democratic Party’s First-In-The-West Event, where a rainbow of campaign supporters (in “Heartland Yellow” t-shirts for Mayor Pete and “Liberty Green” for Warren) packed the room and the thrum of thundersticks filled the air. Team Kamala even brought a drum line and Team Biden a marching band. It was, dare I say, a festive occasion. 

But, with an actual holiday upon us, let’s get to the actual newsletter.

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions, and your favorite holiday song at [email protected]. (I know, I couldn’t even wait until after Thanksgiving to start the Christmas music, and I put my tree up last week.)

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


Titus endorses Biden: The big news Monday morning was that Rep. Dina Titus is backing former Vice President Joe Biden for president. She's the first major elected official in the state to come out in support of Biden.

One interesting highlight of her statement in support of Biden: "I am a proud progressive champion and I believe that nominating Joe Biden gives us the best chance to enact the progressive reforms that our country desperately needs."

You can read more about her endorsement here.

Biden and pot: Biden’s position against legalizing recreational marijuana on the federal level has been quite the story over the last couple of weeks.

His position isn't new. He's talked about it before, including in an interview with me in July. He told me that he wouldn’t, as president, restrict state decisions to legalize marijuana recreationally, but that he would not legalize it on the federal level without further research.

I even pressed him on why the decision should be left up to the states when studies have shown that people of color are disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. He told me that it’s a “state law” and tried to argue, essentially, that the federal government was powerless in the matter.

“The federal government cannot impose state law. You can’t come, in the federal government, and say that this is what you do,” Biden told me. “What you do is you hold accountable those departments and those agencies which in fact do not in fact enforce the law equally.”

The former vice president’s position on the issue came into the national spotlight, however, after he was asked whether his position on recreational marijuana has changed at a town hall-style event before Nevada State Democratic Party’s First-In-The-West Event two weekends ago. Biden said it hasn’t, and that there "hasn't been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not (pot) is a gateway drug." (It was the use of the phrase “gateway drug,” reminiscent of the “Just Say No” campaign of the ‘80s and ‘90s, that earned Biden the most criticism.)

Then all of that led to a moment of incredulity from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker over Biden’s position on marijuana on the debate stage last week. (Remember, most Democratic presidential candidates do support legalizing marijuana on the federal level.)

“This week, I hear him literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said, turning to Biden. “I thought you might have been high when you said it.”

Finally, on a press call with Biden on Monday, I asked the former vice president whether he was wrong to suggest marijuana might be a gateway drug.

"I don't think it is a gateway drug," he said. "There's no evidence I've seen that suggests that."

Marijuana policy is not likely to be a make or break issue in the campaign, but Biden’s position against legalization is one distinct difference between him and not only his progressive competitors in the race — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — but also the moderates who are gunning for his supporters, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Speaking of which…

Klobuchar staffs up in Nevada: Nine months into her presidential campaign, Klobuchar has finally hired staff in Nevada. She’s brought two members of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s presidential team here in Nevada: Marina Negroponte will be state director and C.H. Miller will be political director. It’ll be interesting to see how her campaign ramps up here as she plays catch up over the next couple of months.

Delegate selection: On a press call Monday morning, Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Will McCurdy announced that the party's delegate selection plan has officially been approved by the Democratic National Committee. The plan includes major changes to the caucus process, including four days of in-person early voting and offering presidential preference cards in Tagalog. It also includes provisions continuing the practice of offering at-large caucus sites on the Strip to make it easier for casino workers to participate.

On the call, DNC Chair Tom Perez projected "record turnout" in Nevada's upcoming caucuses because of the changes the party has put forward. (In 2008, roughly 118,000 Democrats, or 27 percent, participated in the caucus, compared to only about 84,000 people, or 17 percent, in 2016.)

You can read the most current version of the party's delegate selection plan here. One interesting detail: Participants will be required to choose at least three candidates, in order of preference, and no more than five when early voting. This is because caucusgoers' early votes will flow back to their home precincts and be counted as if they were actually voting in-person on Caucus Day with their neighbors. If there isn't enough support for a given candidate at that precinct to be considered "viable" in the caucus process, caucusgoers will be given an opportunity to realign in favor of a second (or third or fourth or fifth) choice candidate — which is why having those backup choices will be important, since caucusgoers who early voted will not actually be there in person to take part in that realignment process.

First in the West: I don’t know that any hearts or minds were changed at the Nevada State Democratic Party’s big event two weekends ago. But it was a good opportunity to see the candidates whittle their stump speeches to 10 minutes and give them in rapid fire succession. Warren talked about “big, structural change” and Sanders talked about a “political revolution,” while Biden warned that Democrats have to be “real careful about who we nominate, because the risk of nominating someone who wouldn’t beat Trump is a nation and a world our children and our grandkids won’t want to live in.” I was there, as was my colleague Jackie Valley.

Latinos for Trump: I went to a Latinos for Trump event a couple of weeks ago at the East Las Vegas Community Center, where Second Lady Karen Pence was speaking. A fairly diverse crowd showed up to the event, which highlighted the kind of pitch that the Trump campaign will be making to Latinos. Part of it is economics (including record low Hispanic unemployment), and part of it is religion (Pence talked about faith-based providers in foster care and adoption, as well as abortion.) 

“The power you have as Latinos, this room could be the difference,” Pence told the group.

Pete on the radio: Some news for you first in the Indy — Buttigieg’s campaign started running ads on Thursday on urban contemporary radio stations in Las Vegas. His campaign, which did not specify the size of the buy, said that this is the first radio ad of the campaign in Nevada, and that they plan to expand the buy to include more stations across the state in the coming weeks, including Spanish music and talk stations.


Presidential candidates spend campaign cash in Nevada: Stays at the Bellagio. Catering from Lotus of Siam. Democratic presidential hopefuls spent more than $2.1 million in Nevada in the first nine months of the year. I combed through the campaign finance reports so you don't have to.

Harris on the pod: California Sen. Kamala Harris joined me on the podcast last week to talk about an array of issues — from internal campaign dynamics to Medicare-for-all. She told me that, despite her low polling numbers in Nevada and nationally, she is still “very much in the game.” On her Medicare-for-all plan, which retains a role for private insurers, she insisted that “everybody’s going to have to have to compete, and, you know, the beauty of competition is that the best will rise.”

She also told me that she’d like to see uniform federal regulations on marijuana instead of leaving it up to individual states to regulate it. Read the full interview here, but if you want to hear her favorite movie with a scene in Nevada or what casino game she’d be, you’ll have to listen to the full podcast here.

Reid not ruling anyone out yet: Former Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, talking with reporters before the First-In-The West Event, said he wasn’t ruling any presidential hopefuls out yet — even those getting into the race late in the game.

“I think it’s way too early to start crossing people off the list,” he said.

He also rejected the notion that any of the candidates are too liberal for Nevada.

“You can go back many, many decades. It’s always the same argument,” he said. “So, obviously, people are looking for reasons why people are doing better or worse in any given week. I think that it’s now very fluid who’s going to be our nominee.”

Full details of that conversation here.

First-In-The-West sponsors: Many Democratic presidential campaigns sponsored the Nevada State Democratic Party’s big event. Others did not. I took a look at all of that — and whether it means anything — here.

Indy Video on weekend of campaigning: Videographer Jana Sayson traveled around Las Vegas to many of the candidate events scheduled around the First-In-The-West event, including town halls hosted by Biden, Warren and Sanders and a “Westside Pride” Black Community Summit, which was put on by Rep. Steven Horsford and attended by former House and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Harris and Warren. Check out the video she put together here.

Stop the Madness comes to the Strip: The Republicans took their anti-impeachment “Stop the Madness” campaign to a digital billboard truck the night of the Democratic event.


Staffing changes and office openings

  • Team Buttigieg is now at 55 staffers in the Silver State and plans to open another Las Vegas office before the end of the year, which will bring the campaign to 11 offices statewide.
  • The Sanders campaign plans to have close to 100 paid staffers on the ground by the end of the year. (They were at more than 70 a couple of weeks ago.)
  • Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign opened a new field office in Reno on Sunday. The campaign also recently hired additional staff, including communications staff and a political director.

New endorsements

  • In addition to Titus, Biden has received recent endorsements from former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange, former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and Washoe County School Board President Katy Simon Holland, among others. (Biden now has three former Nevada State Democratic Party chair endorsements.)
  • Castro received six endorsements last week, including from Marianne Williamson’s former state director. He also named his Nevada advisory board which includes prior endorses including Democratic National Committeewoman Allison Stephens and West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona.
  • Booker received endorsements from 30 “community leaders and activists” earlier this month. He has also announced more than 20 new precinct captains.
  • For the latest on presidential endorsements, check out our tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Billionaire Tom Steyer is returning to Nevada for a post-Thanksgiving weekend trip. On Saturday, he’ll participate in a town hall with Hispanics in Politics, tour Veterans Village, and co-host a discussion with the League of Women Voters to talk about implementing Congressional term limits and ending gerrymandering on Saturday. The following day, he’ll participate in a “Women for Tom Steyer Roundtable Conversation” and a town hall with Sun City Anthem Democrats.
  • A group of labor unions and associations is hosting a presidential candidate forum on infrastructure at UNLV over President’s Day weekend. Host committee members include International Union of Operating Engineers, Transportation Workers Union, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Public Transportation Association, Value of Water Campaign, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.
  • For the latest on presidential candidate visits, check out our visit tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta was in town for Harris on Nov. 13. She attended an immigration roundtable with the Nevada Immigrant Coalition and a Latinos Para Kamala house party.
  • Sanders National Political Director Analilia Mejia and Latino Press Secretary Belén Sisa visited Nevada on Nov. 14 and 15 to attend a “Bernie 2020 Happy Hour” at Hop Nuts Brewing and host an immigration roundtable at Mi Familia Vota.
  • North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was in Las Vegas on Nov. 18 to attend a Black Community Summit.

Other election news

  • Buttigieg’s campaign hosted a volunteer summit in Las Vegas over the weekend to train supporters to become precinct captains and organizers. The campaign plans to hold a similar event in Northern Nevada in December. Before the First-in-The-West event, the campaign also held a weekend of action and knocked on 10,000 doors.
  • The Sanders campaign has said that it has made more than 2 million attempted voter contacts, hosted more than 1,500 organizing events across the state and signed up more than 1,000 people to volunteer on Caucus Day. The campaign also recently launched Workers for Bernie in Northern Nevada, a group of labor volunteers with representatives from more than 14 local unions.
  • Harris’s campaign has announced that it has made more than 1 million voter contacts via doors, calls and texts and hosted events in 14 of 17 Nevada counties. It also announced an Educators for Kamala Committee, which includes state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who endorsed Harris in July.
  • Steyer’s campaign has donated $1,000 to the National Latino Peace Officers Association for their annual toy drive and Christmas en el Barrio event. The association plans to provide Christmas gifts this year to kids at C.P. Squires Elementary School in North Las Vegas. The campaign is also pledging to donate toys to this year’s toy drive.
  • Team Booker is to host volunteer potlucks and food drives over Thanksgiving and will begin volunteer caucus trainings in English and Spanish after the holiday weekend.


Assembly Democrats announce endorsements: Seven Assembly hopefuls have received the backing of the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus. They include two SEIU stewards, a teachers union president, and Klobuchar’s new state political director.

House GOP targets Lee on impeachment: The American Action Network, which is funded is funded almost entirely via the Congressional Leadership Fund, launched a half-million dollar ad buy last week targeting Rep. Susie Lee on the impeachment investigation. My colleague Jacob Solis has the details.

Lee defends impeachment inquiry at town hall: Lee told a crowd at a Las Vegas town hall this weekend that she was upholding her oath to the U.S. Constitution when she voted in support of an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (Roughly a dozen pro-Trump demonstrators tried to heckle her at the event.) My colleague Jacob Solis has more.


  • Presidential hopefuls court DREAMer Astrid Silva even though she can’t vote (AP)
  • Reid: ‘Medicare for All is too expensive,’ $22 trillion is ‘a large number to swallow’ (Las Vegas Sun)
  • 100 days to the caucus (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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