Early voting in the Nevada Democratic caucus has begun, and polls suggest that it is a wide-open race.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the favorite to win, after trailing former Vice President Joe Biden until very recently. But in a race that remains close, anything can happen — and with a caucus that awards delegates proportionally, with a 15% minimum threshold and the same ranked-choice system that led Iowa’s caucuses into chaos, anything is possible.
Adding to the drama is the fact that the caucuses, which will be held at noon on Saturday, will precede the highly-anticipated heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury at the MGM in Las Vegas. In effect, the caucuses will serve as a kind of undercard bout. (Republicans elected not to have a caucus, though President Donald Trump will make several appearances in the state this week.)
The latest survey, by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and AARP Nevada, shows Sanders with 25%, seven points ahead of Biden at 18%, with a 4.8% error margin.
But third place is essentially a four-way statistical tie between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), billionaire Tom Steyer, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). And adding to the confusion is the fact that oligarch Mike Bloomberg, who is not on the ballot, seems likely to qualify for the Nevada debate on Feb. 19, after the Democratic National Committee changed the rules.
Nevada is the first early contest to feature a significant bloc of minority — in this case, Hispanic — voters. Candidates who do poorly may struggle to convince Democrats they can represent the party as a whole.
Moreover, the top three finishers in Nevada in the Feb. 22 caucus will position themselves well for the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, just a few days before Super Tuesday on Mar. 3. Joe Biden is still leading in polls there, even though his lead has narrowed. If he finishes second or even third in Nevada, he will likely be able to keep his campaign going despite disappointment in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The race for third place in Nevada therefore is therefore very important. And each candidate seems to have adopted a different strategy for finishing in the top three (or even better than that, if possible).
Buttigieg has the most ambitious Nevada schedule, by far. According to the campaigns’ published plans, he is the only one who will appear personally in every metropolitan area in the state — Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City, and even Elko. The latter is remote and difficult to reach on demand without a private plane. Whatever that means for the politics of climate change, it shows Buttigieg has a financial advantage.
Another big spender is Steyer, who was recently reported to have been responsible for over 90% of the political advertising on television in the Silver State. He may finally break through on name ID alone.
Warren is focusing on organizing. As of last fall, she had more offices (five) than any other candidate in the state. She needs to do well in Nevada to keep her campaign going. Curiously, she is not spending all her time this week in the state, but is traveling to Super Tuesday states as well, a sign she is optimistic.
Finally, there is Klobuchar. She is rushing to catch up to the other candidates after surging from the back of the pack into third place in New Hampshire last week. She remains a novelty in Nevada, but she could pick up support from disillusioned voters who think Biden or Warren are no longer viable candidates.
The race remains a gamble. It could have shifted last week, when the powerful UNITE HERE Culinary Workers’ Union Local 226 announced its endorsement — but the union decided not to endorse anyone.
Wednesday’s debate, hosted by MSNBC at the Paris casino, is more likely to produce headlines about Mike Bloomberg, who will not be on the ballot in Nevada or any state until Super Tuesday, on March 3.
Add to that the fact that the caucus is structured similarly to the Iowa mess, and anything seems possible.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
Photo: file (2015)