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Welcome back to Nevada, Democrats — the locals have missed you

Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LAS VEGAS -- At long last, Nevada's hour has come, and with it, a new stage of the Democratic presidential campaign.

As the presidential primary swings west of the Rocky Mountains, Democratic presidential hopefuls face a different field of combat in the deserts of Nevada, where a diverse electorate and the lack of an endorsement from the state's most powerful labor union have shifted the terrain leading up to the Feb. 22 caucuses.

Gone are the ice-crusted sidewalks and the snow-glazed fields of Iowa and New Hampshire, where Democratic candidates trudged for months to court the votes of overwhelmingly white voters.

"Nevada and South Carolina are going to be the first tests of a candidate's ability to pull together a diverse coalition of Democrats and Americans," billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has made more campaign stops in Nevada than any other candidate, said in an interview Wednesday.

The campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire had forced a strange kind of guesswork upon voters there, who, in their deliberations, often had to look outside their own states' borders to size up a candidate's popularity with voters who aren't white.

That's not necessary in Nevada, where a candidate needs to appeal to whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, naturalized citizens and union workers -- in short, the constituencies that form the backbone of today's national Democratic Party.

 

The campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off a victory in New Hampshire, feels particularly good about its chances in the new landscape.

"This is the multiracial, multigenerational coalition that will enable us to win in Nevada, South Carolina and to do extremely well on Super Tuesday," Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.

Yet despite its symbolic significance, Nevada has been unable to escape its also-ran reputation among the first four primary states. The state hasn't been polled in a month, and many of the top candidates have not visited in weeks; nor have they rushed westward after Tuesday's contest in New Hampshire, even as their campaigns pour money and reinforcements into Nevada.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has collected the lion's share of top endorsements in Nevada, fled New Hampshire before having to face a humiliating fifth-place finish -- and he went to rally with black Democrats in South Carolina. Sanders is making stops in North Carolina, Texas and Colorado first. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who hasn't visited since early December, booked campaign stops in Virginia and South Carolina first.

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