Democratic presidential candidates ramp up efforts in Nevada as early voting begins
The Democratic presidential campaign turned west this weekend, with candidates barnstorming Nevada in the lead-up to the state’s caucuses on Saturday.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, her voice hoarse from a cold, spoke about the pain of the housing market crash in Las Vegas. Former Vice President Joe Biden, growing emotional as he spoke of the deadliest mass shooting in American history that occurred on the Las Vegas Strip, renewed his calls for an assault weapons ban. Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg occasionally broke into Spanish as he courted Latino voters, while California billionaire Tom Steyer brought taco trucks to an early-voting site.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made the most news when he offered a sharp rebuke of his ascending rival, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, at a fundraising dinner for the Clark County Democratic Party.
“Regardless of how much money a multibillionaire candidate is willing to spend on his election, we will not create the energy and excitement we need to defeat Donald Trump if that candidate pursued, advocated for and enacted racist policies like ‘stop and frisk,’ which caused communities of color in his city to live in fear,” Sanders said Saturday, referencing the New York Police Department during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor that disproportionately targeted black and Latino men.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar criticized Bloomberg when asked Sunday about a recent Washington Post report that resurfaced allegations of Bloomberg’s gender discrimination.
“I’ve got to answer questions like I just did on my record, and he has to do the same thing,” she told CNN. “I don’t think he should be able to hide behind airwaves and huge ad buys.”
Michael Bloomberg’s spending and rise in polls have made the billionaire a target of attacks by rival candidates, notably Bernie Sanders.
Bloomberg could face such critiques head-on if he qualifies for the Democratic debate taking place in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The billionaire entrepreneur, who announced his presidential bid so late that he bypassed the first four contests, needs one more strong poll performance to qualify.
Most of his rivals traveled the state, from snow-topped mountains near Lake Tahoe to the glitzy Las Vegas Strip, hosting rallies, town halls and other events to nudge their supporters to the polls.
It’s unclear who leads and who is struggling. Nevada, with a large transient workforce, is notoriously difficult to survey, and there have been few polls this year. A recent one conducted by WPA Intelligence for the Las Vegas Review-Journal found that Sanders was leading in the state with 25% of the vote, followed by Biden at 18%. Eight percent of voters were undecided.
On Saturday, more than 18,500 Nevadans cast ballots on the first day of early voting, according to the Nevada Democratic Party. Voters could rank up to five candidates on their ballot. There were reports of long lines that lasted hours, and Sanders led a march of hundreds of supporters to a polling place in East Las Vegas.
Some voters found the lines and wait time daunting, but the state Democratic party said no major problems were reported.
Buttigieg, riding high off successes in Iowa and New Hampshire, must prove he can win diverse voters in states such as California.
Though the presidential campaign has been underway for a year, many voters said they were just making up their minds.
Sisters Alem Seghit, 57, and Antoniette Mcgrue, 74, members of the influential Culinary Workers Union, were focused on one priority when they cast their ballots on Saturday — picking the candidate they think has the best chance of beating President Trump in November.
“I want a Democrat to win,” Mcgrue said when asked about what drove her to vote on the first day. “We want an honest candidate to win.”
Seghit, an immigrant from Ethiopia, said Steyer is her top choice because she saw him on TV every day. Mcgrue, also an immigrant from Ethiopia, said Biden is her top choice and Sanders is her second, although she said she likes them equally.
But some voters remained undecided with just days to go before the caucuses.
Christian Cardona walked into the Rancho High School auditorium Sunday armed with a blue notebook ready to write down his thoughts on the Democratic field. Buttigieg was about to make his pitch.
Cardona, a former Republican, is still unsure whom he will support. He was grocery shopping when he stumbled upon Steyer, who was making remarks near the produce section.
The 33-year-old also wanted to hear what the former mayor had to say because Buttigieg had made it clear that his campaign was looking to attract voters who don’t fit with the progressive or “status quo” candidates.
“If you don’t see where you fit between those two choices, this campaign is for you,” he said.
By the end of the event, Cardona remained undecided but said he was definitely considering Buttigieg.
“It’s helping,” he said of hearing Buttigieg speak.
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.
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