Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Gear Up For Nevada Caucuses

Feb 16, 2020
Originally published on February 16, 2020 10:25 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Early voting has begun in the Nevada caucuses. The Democratic field is still pretty crowded and contentious, and yet another debate is scheduled for Wednesday. And here to talk about all that is NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. So the Nevada caucus doesn't start formally until Saturday, but early caucusing is already underway there. And this is the first time that they're doing this, right? How does it even work?

DETROW: What a time to try a new experiment in caucusing, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. It went so well in Iowa.

DETROW: So up until Iowa did its thing, the biggest knock on caucusing was that if you can't come at a specific time, you can't take part in the process. Nevada is a state with a long tradition of early voting, so they're trying to merge the two here. So yesterday through Tuesday, there are sites where people can go fill out a ballot - and not just their first choice, but their several choices that they would make if their candidate isn't viable. So it is a new experiment at the exact time when caucusing is under incredible scrutiny.

Nevada had been set to use the same app that Iowa did. They obviously scrapped that plan, but they are still using Google forms. They're using iPads. There is a backup paper trail. And according to The Nevada Independent, yesterday, some of these sites just switched to that paper tabulation. The goal is to merge the early results with the onsite caucusing Saturday. And there is obviously going to be a ton of scrutiny over security, over math, over organization. We - a lot of people will be watching very closely after what happened in Iowa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. Let's talk about something else briefly - the suddenly tense relationship between the Culinary Union in Nevada and Bernie Sanders. His supporters did not take kindly to the union's criticism of his health care plan. They targeted some union officers then on social media with, quote, "vicious attacks." Here's what Sanders had to say about it on Thursday when he spoke to "PBS NewsHour's" Judy Woodruff. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

BERNIE SANDERS: I don't know who these so-called supporters are. You know, we're living in a strange world on the Internet. And sometimes people attack people in somebody else's name. But let me be very clear. Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement. We don't want them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do you think? Is that enough of a response?

DETROW: Well, this morning on "Meet The Press," former Vice President Joe Biden said it is not enough of a response. He said that Sanders has some accountability here. And I think this whole episode really highlights a long-running problem for Sanders and his campaign. On one hand, he has millions and millions of passionate supporters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He does.

DETROW: But there is a clear track record of some of them really viciously attacking critics, reporters, political opponents in personal ways like this. And Sanders' response has been what you heard there on PBS. He says he disavows any kind of attack, but he also often puts some distance between them and his campaign and says, essentially, I don't know what this is; I have no control over this.

And this is a situation where this could really hurt him in Nevada. You know this union is incredibly powerful in Democratic politics. And even though they had said they had major concerns about his "Medicare for All" health care plan, his campaign thought they had made a lot of inroads with rank-and-file members. Now, his supporters are out there flaming union leadership, and that really raises questions about how many will support him next week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. We should say, elsewhere in the show, we do talk to the Culinary Union. And I asked them three times point-blank that if Bernie is the nominee, would they endorse him? And they refused to say, which does not bode well.

We don't have much time left, but how much is at stake for the rest of the candidates? Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar did pretty well in New Hampshire, but Nevada's a very different state, far more diverse.

DETROW: Yeah. This is not the home turf for Buttigieg and Klobuchar. They have had a hard time making inroads with minority voters. And now Nevada, one of the most diverse states in the country, and South Carolina after that with a lot of African American voters - they really have only those two states to sort themselves out and have one moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders because we need to remember - March 3, this race becomes nationalized. And a third of the delegates up all year are at stake. So it's a very short runway for the two of them and Joe Biden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you so much.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.