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Race For Nevada Too Close To Call

Illustration/Natalie Cullen

It might just come down to Nevada.

The Democratic presidential caucus here February 20 appears to be tightening between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Nevada was supposed to be a “firewall state” for Clinton. She got her campaign team in here early and reached out early and often to the state’s growing Latino population. But Sanders massive win in New Hampshire, by double digits over Clinton, appears to have made Nevada a toss-up.

On the Republican side, billionaire Donald Trump is fighting for the state against U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Cruz won in Iowa and Trump won in New Hampshire. But Rubio spent part of his life in Las Vegas.

Political analysts Jon Ralston, host of PBS Vegas’ “Ralston Live” and a columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal, and Steve Sebelius, host of KLAS-TV’s “Politics NOW” and a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, join us for an in-depth analysis of the caucus.

And, of course, Cliven Bundy’s arrest.


On Cliven Bundy and why his arrest took two years to happen:

Steve Sebelius: Cliven Bundy didn’t make himself available to be arrested until making the supremely stupid move of flying to Oregon to apparently, I don’t know, join the protesters or what not. I’m glad it finally happen. It has needed to happen for a long time.

He’s clearly engaged in illegal acts. He invited these militia members in 2014. He created an incredibly dangerous situation that but for the grace of God didn’t result in bloodshed.

Jon Ralston: There is absolutely no sign that this is going to tamp down the kind of rhetoric, especially from elected officials like Michele Fiore and others, about this, which is incendiary. Right after his arrest I believe one member of the Bundy family said now they’re rounding up patriots instead of how the Nazis rounded up Jews. I mean my God! This kind of rhetoric is insane. And I don’t think it’s going to abate now that Cliven Bundy is finally in jail and under federal indictment.

On Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore:

Sebelius: There are certain people in the base who do want somebody who is going to mouth off to the federal government. But I think the majority of people look at what she did very recently in Oregon with this same jaundiced eye. Michele Fiore is laboring under the same false idea about what the law says about federal land ownership that all of the ranchers and self-style patriot militia types are, which is that the federal government shouldn’t own this land and the states and counties should control it. And they’re simple wrong.

I say to the Michele Fiores of the world and to everybody else who is a responsible elected official that they need to calm down this rhetoric and not blow it up and exacerbate the problem.

Ralston: I think she could get re-elected. I’m not sure she could win any other race, especially Congress. I’ve been saying that I didn’t think she would actually file for Congress when push comes to shove next month. We’ll find out. If she does, she will almost surely lose.

If she runs for re-election, she is great at retail politics. She would have a chance to win. People ignore all the crazy stuff she’s done and said in her district because you know she’s attentive to them. She makes them spaghetti dinners all that kind of stuff. That can work in a very small political sub-division.

On Jeb Bush and the Nevada Caucus:

Ralston: He has a very good organization here, maybe the best organization. His campaign here is being run by Ryan Erwin, who has already won two caucuses for Mitt Romney. He understands the process. The process is very goofy this year and goofier than usual for the Republicans: on a Tuesday night with different start times for voting in different counties.

But he’s finished 6 th in one primary and 4 th in another, if he doesn’t do well in South Carolina it would be very difficult for him to get a bump of any kind coming here.  

I believe if Donald Trump wins by a large margin in South Carolina he will win by a large margin in Nevada as well.

Sebelius: He does have a great organization, but I think it’s going to be very difficult for him. His campaign has just not caught on as much as Donald Trump and until very recently Marco Rubio.

On Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in Nevada:

Ralston: Cruz has a pretty good organization here. They started late, but he has Robert Uithoven, who ran Adam Laxalt’s successful campaign for Attorney General, running his campaign. They have organizations in all the counties now and more importantly he recently got Adam Laxalt’s endorse, see how the circle closes.

If Ted Cruz is still looking good after South Carolina, I think Cruz could do very, very well here.

Sebelius: There is a large number of people in the Nevada GOP that are moderate people that look at Trump and are repulsed by him. And worry about what he might do to the party. But remember Trump himself is certainly not a libertarian conservative. He would find himself very uncomfortable at a meeting of, for example, supporters of Ron Paul. He has changed his position on a number of different issues. Look at the attack on him in the last debate about eminent domain. Trump is all for it. To conservatives, that is an anathema. I mean that is something they are shocked by and outraged by. And so, he is not necessarily a conservative.

On Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton:

Ralston: Her campaign team is very, very worried about what could happen in Nevada, which they essentially thought they had locked down when they got here early and reached out to the Hispanic vote. And had DREAMers endorse them and hired all the right people. They have a great organization here.

Sanders came in October started putting offices together. He doesn’t have the same kind of infrastructure or the savvy campaign people. But he’s got enthusiasm at rallies that Clinton does not have.

They’re going to bring all kind of forces to bear, meaning the Clinton campaign, to try to tip the scales in her favor between now and Feb. 20.

Sebelius: This was supposed to be the Clinton ‘firewall’ right? Because this was the state that had minorities and the conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton does better among minorities than does Bernie Sanders. But since then, he is absolutely killing her with younger people. He is off the charts. In some cases, 80 percent or more of younger people who are supporting him. Organization is key whoever is better at getting their people to those caucus sites at that particular time on that particular day is going to emerge as the victor.

I don’t think they’ve given up Nevada by any means and the candidate’s campaign schedule betrays that. She’s going to be here. She’s going to be fighting for every vote and so. They still see Nevada as a viable Clinton state.

Jon Ralston, Reno Gazette-Journal, "Ralston Live";  Steve Sebelius, Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Politics NOW"

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.