Several thousand Democrats stood in a line wrapped around a high school football stadium on Sunday, in hopes of seeing Bernie Sanders speak in west Las Vegas.
The venue, Bonanza high school gymnasium, was filled to capacity. Nevada holds its Democratic caucus on Saturday 20 February, and those who queued up included campaign volunteers from California, military veterans, nurses, and workers from the Vegas Strip.
Rohan Ramadas, 26, and his friend Pear Wilson, 30, had driven from Los Angeles to canvas for Sanders in pivotal Clark County, which is home to 2 million of Nevada’s 2.8 million residents. It was the first time either of the college graduates had donated time and money to a political campaign.
They decided to get involved this past summer, Ramadas said, when it became clear Sanders “wasn’t just a protest candidate”.
John Major, 57, who spent 23 years in the US coast guard, arrived by himself.
“I’m worried about the status of the country,” he said. “The infrastructure falling apart, the student debts that kids are building up because of the system now. It wasn’t like that when I grew up.”
A waiter on the Las Vegas Strip, Matthew Safran, 34, was supporting Sanders in part because he wanted a higher wage for service industry employees.
“So many people are working to pay off student loans,” he said. “Even people who actually use their degrees are also still waiting tables, like myself, to pay off student debt. I think an increased minimum wage would help a lot.”
Whatever happens in the election, said Safran, he is happy that Sanders has pushed a more liberal consciousness on the Democratic party.
“He dragged Hillary out of the center,” Safran said. “I’m glad to see that.”
As the large crowd waited to get in, a group of volunteers wearing red hospital scrubs handed out caucus information.
“Bernie believes in nurses’ values; he believes in healthcare for all,” said Rita-Ann Boegel, part of the contingent volunteering this week in Nevada. “We all have seen what happens when our patients have to be sent somewhere else or they’re discharged because they don’t have insurance, and then they come bouncing back sicker than they were.”
A recent poll showed Sanders tied with Clinton in Nevada, a striking comeback for the Vermont senator, who trailed by 23% in a late December poll.
“Clinton supporters seemed to be a lot more vocal eight months ago,” said Safran. “Now it seems that they’re almost embarrassed to be Hillary supporters since [Sanders] has shined a light on a lot of stuff … They say it’s 50-50 in Nevada, but it’s a lot more vocal from the Bernie side.”
Sanders’s speech hit the usual chords. His most passionate moments were condemnations of income inequality and the Super Pac-dominated campaign finance system. There were also calls to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants, invest in solar power, provide free access to college and “invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration”, in extensive remarks about criminal justice reform.
Clinton’s campaign has tried to temper expectations that it would dominate the Nevada caucus, a shocking turnabout in a state it once considered a potential firewall against Sanders’ momentum. Iowa and New Hampshire are both more than 90% white, which has allowed Clinton to argue that Nevada – and its 25% minority population – offers a more accurate reflection of the voting bloc Democrats need to win the general election.
Sanders’ campaign message has struggled to break through Clinton’s long-held support in black and Latino communities. But his campaign now says millennial Latinos are galvanizing support among Hispanics.
“We’re going to surprise a lot of people,” said Cesar Vargas, Sanders’ Latino outreach strategist. “We’re seeing amazing energy in Nevada that is really reflective of what we’re seeing across the country.
“High school students are getting active and literally dragging their families to get registered. On college campuses in Vegas and Reno we’re seeing a really organic grassroots coalition for Bernie. We are demonstrating that there is no firewall.”
Clinton tried to shore up support in Las Vegas’s minority community at a rally on Saturday.
“Not everything is about an economic theory,” she said, echoing a new attack ad portraying Sanders as a one-issue candidate. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow … will that end racism? Will that end sexism? Will that end discrimination against the LGBT community?
“Will that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”
(From The Guardian)