Nevada may sway 2020 race, unfortunately

return to normalcy
Biden campaigning in Henderson May 7. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

Beneath Nevada’s noble veneer of a working class immigrant population — the heart of both the economy and the state’s Democratic electorate — lies a soft underbelly of timid business-worshiping blue dogs.

And if that politically and culturally powerful Extreme Caution Wing of the Democratic Party holds sway in next February’s presidential caucus, it won’t be a surprise.

Ever since the 2008 presidential cycle, when Harry Reid got Nevada the third spot after Iowa and New Hampshire in order to build the state party and help salvage what then looked like his super-duper-doomed career, Nevadans have been promised an out-sized influence in picking the Democratic nominee.

Nevada’s purported impact is usually couched in terms of making candidates confront Nevada and, to a lesser degree, Western issues (every Nevada journalist who has never asked a presidential candidate about Yucca Mountain, raise your hand; seeing no hands, let’s move on…), and forcing candidates to address concerns that union members and people of color in Nevada might have that the snowbound farmers of Iowa and New Hampshire might not.

What Democrats typically have not been promised, by Democratic Party stalwarts, caucus boosters, the press, or anyone else, is Nevada deserves an early say in the presidential selection process to help assure the nominee is “safe” — in other words, white, moderate, and male.

But that might be how this thing shapes up.

Just look at last year.

The electable one

November’s “blue wave,” which now seems a world away, was preceded by a primary in which Democratic voters chose a self-described moderate and fiscal conservative as their nominee for governor. After advancing to the general election campaign, Steve Sisolak embraced the economic policies, ideology, and — in ads — pictures of Republican Brian Sandoval, running a campaign that more or less promised a vote for Sisolak was a vote to give Sandoval a virtual third term.

Nevada is a state that refuses to have a personal or corporate income tax, would rather make education a rhetorical priority than a funded one, and thinks giving subsidies the public can’t afford to corporations (and/or football teams) that don’t need subsidies is cutting-edge economic policy. So it may be that a moderate protector of business as usual and business in general was just what Democratic primary voters were longing for last November.

But there’s another reason an electorate that sometimes seems poised for progressive change opted for Sisolak over his more progressive Democratic primary opponent, Chris Giunchigliani, an explanation that you could hear from voters last summer. Many Democratic primary voters feared Nevada would not or could not elect a woman governor.

On primary day, they made their fear a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I will go to my grave believing the 2018 general election in Nevada was about three things: Trump, Trump, and Trump. If Adam Laxalt was going to lose he was going to lose, no matter who the Democrats nominated.

But as they were voting in the primary in June, Democratic voters didn’t know turnout would be uncharacteristically high for a midterm. They hoped so, but they couldn’t be sure.

So they played it safe, and voted for “the electable one,” aka the candidate with a penis.

The other electable one

When Joe Biden brought his presidential campaign to Las Vegas last week, he promised to stand with workers. He unloaded on CEOs and hedge fund investors for chasing quick shareholder returns at the expense of middle class incomes. He even said the Nevada Legislature’s minimum wage proposal is too small. It was a stump speech crafted to demonstrate Uncle Joe grasps the dangers and injustices of a society deliberately designed to be increasingly unequal.

Then Biden went to a fundraiser hosted by Jim Murren, the MGM CEO who is currently in the process of laying off workers to impress hedge fund managers.

Lavishly praised by Reid, endorsed by a popular state senator who was the Culinary union’s political director, feted at a fundraiser hosted by the state’s largest private sector employer … Biden may have been one of the last to enter the 2020 field, but that hasn’t stopped Nevada — like the rest of the nation, if polling is to be believed — from embracing him as the frontrunner.

Why? Besides the fact that people have heard of him?

It’s probably not Biden’s vote for the Iraq War. Nor his refusal as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow testimony from women backing up Anita Hill’s story during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Nor his age (if Biden were to win the presidency he would be 78 when inaugurated).

And if Nevadans go for Biden, it certainly won’t be because there is a dearth of sharp, accomplished alternative candidates with clear visions and thoughtful, well-researched policies — ambitious visions and policies that stand in stark contrast to Biden’s dreary Warren Harding-style return-to-normalcy pitch.

Biden’s name recognition advantage will fade as the contest advances. His staying power, if he has any, in Nevada and the nation may be based more than anything on fear — stoked by countless media pieces on the proposition — that the U.S. isn’t ready to elect a woman president.

Nevada Democrats are one of only four groups of voters setting the table for a Super Tuesday, only ten days after Nevada’s caucus, that may well determine the nomination.

If Nevada Democratic voters back Biden, they will be doing their part to confine America’s choice to two old white guys, and once again make their fear that voters won’t elect a woman a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.

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