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Essential Politics: Getting scrappy in Nevada

I’m Christina Bellantoni, today’s Essential Politics host, wondering how it’s only Thursday.

But this action-packed week is really just getting started.

We’ll begin with a Los Angeles congressman who has been pounding the pavement, traveling from union halls to drab campaign phone bank centers to convince voters that Hillary Clinton should be the next president of the United States.

As Rep. Xavier Becerra makes the rounds for Clinton, speaking to voters in English and Spanish, he is also laying the groundwork for his own second act.

He’s the highest ranking Latino in Congress and is prominent in Democratic leadership. But with no clear path to more power in the House, what’s his next move? Should things work out for Clinton, he could have more options.

Sarah Wire observed him on the campaign trail in Las Vegas to get a sense of how his efforts might pay off in 2017.

THE REPUBLICANS IN A FEW CLICKS

Donald Trump lost his lead for the first time in a national survey and Sen. Marco Rubio was endorsed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

A campaign rally for Jeb Bush turned into an intervention Wednesday, with multiple members of the audience giving the former Florida governor advice on how to fix his campaign.

As Seema Mehta reports, voters normally grill candidates on policy, but people used Bush’s event at a golf course to offer conflicting suggestions on how to improve his chances in South Carolina on Saturday.

From saying they would mount a totally different policy toward Cuba to Sen. Ted Cruz bursting out in song, three of the Republican hopefuls took questions from voters at a CNN town hall Wednesday night. Our team was all over it. There’s another one tonight with the other three, and we’ll be all over that too.

THE DEMOCRATS IN A FEW CLICKS

Campaign organizers for Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have filtered out far beyond Las Vegas’ glitzy casino core to woo rural voters who will carry an outsized influence in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses because of the way the party allocates precinct delegates, Kurtis Lee reports.

Though Democrats are sparse in these pockets of the state, rural counties are allotted more delegates than their population would be granted under a system of proportional representation. While 8% of Nevada Democrats live in rural areas, they account for 12% of caucus delegates and can be a fruitful target for candidates willing to traverse parched swaths of desert dotted by Joshua trees in search of support.

Mark Z. Barabak explains why polling in Nevada is troublesome, making Saturday’s results for the Democrats difficult to predict.

It’s worth noting that in 2008, Clinton won the popular vote in Nevada, while then-Sen. Barack Obama netted one more delegate. (John Edwards was still in the race at that point.)

Team Clinton is targeting voters with a robocall portraying Sanders as anti-Obama, using comments he made on a radio show nearly five years ago. Listen.

TRACK THE STORY IN NEVADA AND SOUTH CAROLINA

David Lauter will be back tomorrow with our afternoon weekly newsletter, but the news doesn’t stop Friday. We’ll have robust coverage from our reporters on the campaign trail in both states, a new podcast looking at the importance of Saturday’s two contests and live results on Trail Guide. Join us!

Until then, here’s a Throwback Thursday look back at what a Las Vegas caucus site looked like eight years ago. I took this video from The Rio, an off-the-strip casino.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

George Skelton remembers covering a nation’s shock after a college student shouted "liar, liar pants on fire" at President Reagan 32 years ago. Those days are long gone, he writes, as today’s politicians don’t even pretend to be civil.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Legislators in Sacramento are just about out of time to submit new bills for 2016. On Wednesday, we saw legislation ranging from an effort to bolster the privacy of student data to a measure aiming to reduce wage gaps by racial group. We’ll keep tracking the most notable ideas on our Essential Politics news feed.

— A law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 to expand the membership of the state Air Resources Board has now produced two new members, with the most recent being appointed by state senators on Wednesday. As Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers reports, the newest board member is former state Sen. Dean Florez, who’s already pledging to focus on air pollution in disadvantaged communities.

— Brown on Wednesday called on the state to spend $176.6 million to speed up the testing and cleanup of potentially thousands of lead-contaminated homes surrounding a shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon, Tony Barboza reports.

— Curious who might get Obama’s Supreme Court nod? There’s an interactive for that.

LOGISTICS

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