By Megan Messerly; Las Vegas Sun Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016
With one month until Nevada’s caucuses are held, presidential campaigns are hunkering down and making their final plays for voters in the state.
The campaigns have filled their itineraries for the next month largely with routine campaign efforts, such as phone banking, canvassing and caucus trainings. But the extent to which they are doing those three things will have a significant impact on who turns out to the caucuses in late February and, in turn, which Republican and Democratic presidential candidate walks away from Nevada victorious.
Heading into the caucuses, three Republican and two Democratic state contests will have already been decided. That makes winning Nevada all the more crucial for candidates here.
With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders neck-and-neck in Iowa and Sanders pulling ahead in New Hampshire, winning Nevada could make a big difference.
“Clinton was here early, she’s the known candidate here, and she’s done a nice job reaching out to minority voters in particular,” said UNLV political science professor David Damore. “Sanders got here late, he’s had some staff turnover. But you look in the rurals, at millennial voters, they’re allowing same-day registration — those might help him a little bit.”
A wild card this week for Democrats was the announcement by Culinary Union Local 226, Nevada’s largest and most politically active union, that it will not endorse before the Nevada caucus, leaving its members to support whomever they like.
For Republicans, even more is up in the air.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush each has the support of various Republican contingents across the state. Donald Trump has name recognition and support in the polls.
“How does all that play out in those caucus rooms?” Damore said. “I don’t really know.”
Right now, it’s a wait-and-see game for their Nevada campaigns.
The caucuses also will be a test of the state parties’ ability to organize their bases.
Over the next month, Nevada Democrats will continue to host caucus training events heading up to the election.
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They have created an online caucus locator tool and will even pre-register caucusgoers online to speed up the process on caucus day.
However, February will be a test for Nevada’s GOP since the state has not held a competitive caucus since its first early caucus in 2008. To that end, the party released an online caucus locator tool last week and will host four to five caucus trainings a week across the state. The GOP also is sending out military ballots so those serving overseas can participate in the caucus.
“With just a little over a month out, the Nevada Republican Party is hard at work to ensure Republican voters have everything they need to caucus on behalf of the candidate of their choice,” said Greg Bailor, Nevada Republican Caucus director, in a statement.
Looking ahead to the caucuses, here’s what some of the campaigns in the state had to say about where their efforts will be focused over the next month and how crucial of a win they think Nevada will be.
Democratic caucus: Saturday, Feb. 20
For more caucus information: nvdems.com/caucus Republican caucus: Tuesday, Feb. 23
For more caucus information: nevadagopcaucus.org Clinton
Clinton’s campaign has long played a ground game here in Nevada — in fact, since the day she announced her campaign in April. Across the state, she’s raked in about $433,000 in donations directly to her campaign, and the most recent poll in Nevada puts her 23 points ahead of Sanders.
The campaign faces a tight race in Iowa and an even more uncertain one in New Hampshire, which could make a Nevada victory that much more critical for the campaign.
“There’s a reason we landed here on the ground here in Nevada in April,” said Tim Hogan, the campaign’s Nevada communications director. “We always knew it was going to be a race.”
Campaign officials believe that they have already established a solid base in Nevada and plan to continue traditional campaign outreach over the next month to ensure their supporters turn out. That includes continuing outreach to specific communities, like LGBT-focused phone banks and its Mujeres in Politics group, which focuses on getting Hispanic women involved in civic participation.
By contrast, Sanders’ official campaign in the state didn’t ramp up until the fall, when the campaign hired its first state director. Since then, it’s built up a significant ground campaign with 11 offices across the state, including most recently in Elko and Winnemucca.
A win in Nevada could also be decisive for the Sanders campaign, depending on how it fares in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Here in Nevada as across the country, the campaign has stressed its grassroots character. Lacking a list of endorsements as long and as prestigious Clinton’s, the Sanders campaign has stressed that the support of everyday voters will push it to victory.
“We’re not going to come out with lists that are huge, like our opponent, like the Clinton campaign,” said Joan Kato, the campaign’s state director. “We’re going to come out with names of the average person who shows up at our rallies.”
Sanders has raised about $61,000 in donations in Nevada.
Similar to the Clinton campaign, the Sanders campaign has focused on getting volunteers involved in phone banking, canvassing and other events. The campaign has also focused outreach to the Latino community, planning a series of events for this weekend and announcing the endorsements of several Nevada-based Spanish language media outlets.
Trump is polling first among Republican candidates in Nevada, as he has continued to do so nationally over the last several months.
His ground campaign in the state is modest. The campaign hired Charles Munoz, who helped organize the Nevada branch of Americans for Prosperity, as its state director in August and opened its first campaign office in November. Trump’s fundraising numbers also are smaller than those of the other candidates — about $18,000. But that was expected, given that Trump is largely self-funding his campaign
Over the past month, the Nevada campaign has held a series of caucus and convention informational meetings and phone banking days. Neither Donald Trump’s national campaign spokesperson nor his state director responded to requests for specifics about what the campaign’s efforts in Nevada would look like over the next month.
Polling second in the state and in the nation, Cruz has a well-oiled campaign in Nevada.
The campaign appointed state director Robert Uithoven — who most recently shepherded Attorney General Adam Laxalt to victory in Nevada in 2014 — in June. So far, Cruz has raised about $90,000 in contributions from Nevadans, putting him fourth in that ranking.
Cruz has two campaign offices in Nevada — one in Reno and one in Las Vegas — and the campaign also is traveling to rural counties to schedule caucus trainings there as well. The campaign has continued its “phone from home” program, which lets volunteers phonebank from their houses through an app.
Recently, the campaign scored a boon by capturing Laxalt’s endorsement. Laxalt will campaign for Cruz in Nevada, and Cruz will also return to the state between now and the caucus, Uithoven said.
“The way we look at it, we have to prepare to win our caucus. We have no control over what happens in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina,” Uithoven said. “All we can do is control the energy of our volunteers and put the infrastructure in place so that we can compete and win here.”
Nevada has long been called Rubio’s “firewall,” should he fail to win Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
In line with that strategy, Rubio’s campaign poured resources early on into the state to establish a strong ground campaign. Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison announced he would be the Florida senator’s campaign director in Nevada in May, quickly joined by some of the staff who managed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s campaign for governor in 2014.
Rubio’s fundraising numbers in the state are second only to Bush’s, at about $172,000. Plus, Rubio has ties to Nevada, having spent some of his childhood in Las Vegas and with many family members still living in the area.
Right now, most of the national focus of the Rubio campaign is on Iowa and New Hampshire, but after those, the focus will turn to South Carolina and Nevada, the campaign said. Most of the efforts in the state are “nothing fancy,” said Jeremy Hughes, the campaign’s state director. They will continue canvassing efforts, phone banking, caucus trainings and otherwise reaching out to supporters and encouraging them to turn out to the caucus.
Though the retired neurosurgeon’s poll numbers have fallen since November, Carson is still holding at fourth in polls across the nation and in the state.
Carson’s campaign has had a long presence in Nevada, hiring its state director back in April managing to raise about $136,000 in the state.
Interest among volunteers has dropped off since Carson lost his front-runner status, according to the campaign. Still, state director Jimmy Stracner says the campaign had a solid group of about 300 volunteers it was relying on to phone bank, canvass and put on caucus trainings, which he said were especially important since many Carson supporters are first-time caucus goers.
“Caucuses are harder than primaries, obviously,” Stracner said. “They require a lot more work, a lot more attention to detail, training, volunteers going door to door and that sort of thing.”
As with Rubio, much of the focus of the national Carson campaign is on Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the Nevada campaign is focusing on traditional campaign strategies in an effort to get voters to turn out at the caucuses.
Bush has the highest fundraising numbers of any Republican candidate in the state, about $208,000. Bush’s campaign started early in Nevada, hiring its first campaign staff in May, and has secured more than a dozen endorsements from politicians in the state since then, including Rep. Mark Amodei and Sen. Dean Heller. The campaign also has county chairs in all seventeen of Nevada’s counties.
“Nevada is clearly a very important state,” said Emily Benavides, campaign spokeswoman. “We’ve devoted a great amount of resources, we’re proud of voter contacts we’ve made across the state.”
Over the next month, the campaign will focus on walking precincts in all the state’s counties, reaching out to voters and conducting caucus trainings, including Hispanic-focused events.