In Nevada, Sen. Bernie Sanders had a very strong showing — especially among young voters at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Elizabeth Aguilar, 28, said she supports Sanders for his “Medicare for All” proposal.
“It takes away that power that the private insurance companies, hospitals and clinics have to charge such exorbitant prices,” she said. “I do think that you would see a reduction in health care costs just because of that.”
Avory Wyatt says he supports Sanders because of his health care platform and respect for underserved communities.
"Bernie has a record of actually being with Native people,” said Wyatt, who is Native American. “I think that’s what separates him from the other candidates here, is that he’s actually willing to listen to Natives and give them a voice before his own voice.” -Avory Wyatt, Reno voter, Native American
But while Bernie is projected to win Nevada, elsewhere in Reno candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren earned support.
Julie Peterson-Lunsford and her son, CJ Peterson, caucused at North Valleys High School in Reno.
“For years, we were trying to get Hillary Clinton elected. So I would love to see a woman president before I’m too old to vote,” she said.
Tens of thousands of Nevadans voted early. But some also showed up early on Saturday, such as Carlos Moreno and his son, Juan Moreno, who also voted at at North Valleys High
“I’ve been here since 10 o’clock, which is right now, about two hours,” Carlos Moreno said. “But my spirit coming in here was pretty good. I have no complaints.”
Nevada Democrats joined their neighbors on Saturday for the state’s presidential caucus, when voters participated at more than 250 caucus locations — and same-day registration was available for those who were not yet registered with the party.
The third-in-the-nation, first-in-the-West, early nominating Nevada better reflects U.S. demographics than the two majority-white states that come before it, Iowa and New Hampshire.
About a third of the Silver State’s population is Latino, and it also boasts a rapidly growing Asian-American and Pacific Islander population.
Nevada also has high rates of unionized labor, including the 60,000-member Culinary Union, which represents casino workers across the state.
But its Democratic leadership had to make sweeping last-minute changes to the caucus process after the serious errors in counting and reporting results in Iowa. The Nevada State Democratic Party had been planning to use two mobile apps designed by Shadow Inc., the developer responsible for the unreliable caucus reporting app in Iowa.
After that app malfunctioned, the Nevada party switched to paper ballots and a series of Google forms to register new voters and tally votes.
Before the vote, it was unclear how the process would play out, or whether the party would be able to retrain the thousands of volunteers who ran the caucuses.
But as of Saturday evening, the caucuses avoided any of the drama that occurred with tallying and reporting results weeks ago in Iowa.
This was also the first year the state party offered early voting during the caucus, which allowed Nevadans to cast a paper ballot rather than argue in person on Saturday: voters selected at least three preferred candidates, in a system similar to ranked-choice voting.
Nevada has historically low voter turnout, so the party hoped early voting would make the caucus more accessible. Many people say they are unable to attend the hours-long process.
This year, almost 75,000 voters turned out during four days of early voting between February 15 to18. The total number of voters who participated in the 2016 caucus was 84,000.
But the high turnout resulted in long lines and frustration among some Democratic voters, like Vicky Bischoff of Reno. She was in line at the headquarters of the Washoe County Democratic Party with dozens of fellow voters on the final day of early voting.
“I just heard from my office, that ‘Where are you? We really need you here,’” she said. “I thought that by not going in over the weekend I’d be smarter, but apparently not.”
Meanwhile, support for the caucus system itself has been waning among voters like Bischoff.
“This caucusing is maybe great for the state Democratic Party,” she said. “However, it’s not good for the citizens of Nevada.”
Political science professor Fred Lokken of Truckee Meadows Community College agrees. He is opposed to caucuses because he says they represent too many obstacles to people who would otherwise participate — like people with disabilities, those who work on the weekends or elderly voters.
He also says the caucus is intentionally anti-participatory. “They’re shopping for the right people to participate,” he said.
Last weekend, Gov. Steve Sisolak suggested the state Legislature might consider scrapping the caucus during its next session, in 2021.
Back at the Washoe County Dems headquarters, Nevada Sen.Jackie Rosen indicated she’d be open to replacing the caucus with primary elections.
“People want to make their voice heard,” she said. “And so we have to give everyone every opportunity to feel like their participation counts, whether it’s a caucus or a primary.”
Political observers s be watching the results of the Nevada caucus closely, because it will be an opportunity to see whether Sen. Bernie Sanders will continue to lead the pack and whether the moderate wing of the party will coalesce behind one of the centrist candidates in the race.
According to University of Nevada, Reno, political science professor Eric Herzik, the main thing state Democrats want is a candidate who can win in the fall.
“One point Democrats made clear is that their number one goal is to beat Trump.” he said. “Then, it’s like healthcare or the economy. But the big issue is, ‘We need somebody who can carry the party forward.’”
During the presidential debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday, it was the case each candidate tried to make to voters: that they would be the most likely to inspire high voter turnout and take back the White House in November.
Each of them has also tried to court the politically influential Culinary Union.
The union has declined to endorse a candidate in the race, but its leadership has come out in opposition to Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal. That’s because it would replace all private health insurance, including the union’s health coverage, which is considered some of the best in the state.
Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar attacked Sanders over his plan on Wednesday night, on the heels of a spat between his campaign and the Culinary Union, which accused some Sanders supporters of making online threats against its leadership.
Sanders disavowed anyone who engaged in intimidation and argued Medicare for All would improve health care benefits for union members.
“Let me be very clear to my good friends in the Culinary Union, a great union. I will never sign a bill that will reduce the healthcare benefits they have,” he said. “We will only expand it for them, for every union in America and for the working class of this country.”
But some Culinary Union members are open to Sanders’ plan. The union operates its own health clinic in Las Vegas, but union workers in Northern Nevada don’t have the same access to care.
Kristie Strejc has been a member of the Culinary Union in Reno for 15 years. She is open to Medicare for All, even though it would replace the union’s health plan.
“The fact that he’s not going to reduce anything that they already have in Southern Nevada and here in Northern Nevada where our health care isn’t as good, that he will improve it. I think that sounds reasonable to me,” she said.
Strejc says health care is a top issue, since her insurance costs have gone up in recent years and she has to pay for specialized treatment for her son, who has special needs.
Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg was on the debate stage for the first time in Las Vegas, even though he’s not listed on the ballot for Nevada’s caucus. His campaign also bought ads in the state, although he hasn’t been campaigning in person.
Bloomberg officially met the qualifications to join the debate thanks to the party’s contentious decision to change its rules and allow him to qualify based on polling numbers alone. Originally, he would have been blocked because the party required a certain level of fundraising from supporters and Bloomberg is bankrolling his own campaign.
According to UNR professor Herzik, Bloomberg’s ad buy could earn him some delegates in the Silver State.
“He is eligible in the sense that if caucus-goers line up with him, then the Democrats in an odd way cannot ignore that,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a write-in. And he did get some so-called write-ins in the Iowa caucus.”