LAS VEGAS — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders head into Thursday's town hall here as polls show a tightening and tense race among Nevada's Democrats.
The town hall's setting is the architecturally wild Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a swirly, curvy building whose lines resemble the state of a race that few initially expected to be close. A CNN/ORC poll of likely Nevada caucus-goers shows a dead heat, with Clinton polling at 48 percent and Sanders at 47 percent. The poll's 6-point error margin means it's anyone's guess how voters will cast their preferences when they head to caucuses throughout the Silver State on Saturday. Republicans will caucus on Tuesday. The poll, conducted from Feb. 10-15, lands as the race has gotten a bit testy. A Clinton aide irritated some Nevada Democratic leaders by suggesting that the state was not that diverse. And Sanders staffers ran afoul of the state's largest labor union by donning union pins to gain access to members in their workplaces.
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told NBC's Chuck Todd last week that while "There’s an important Hispanic element to the Democratic caucus goer universe in Nevada ... it’s still a state that is 80 percent white voters."
That rubbed many Nevada Democrats wrong, in particular Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has made the state's diversity a key part of his argument that this state, not Iowa or New Hampshire, should take the lead in sorting out the presidential race. After a caucus outreach event here on Tuesday, Reid called out Fallon specifically and said he made sure he knew the particulars of Nevada's demographics.
"Of course, the Clinton campaign didn't say this. One person said -- Brian Fallon, which he changed real quickly after I called him."
Asked if he called him personally, Reid replied, "Well, I had somebody call him."
Reid's irritation is all the more notable because of his familiarity with Fallon. The campaign spokesman was the top message man for one of Reid's top lieutenants, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., before decamping for Clintonland.
The state is roughly 28 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact-checking Fallon's statement, PolitiFact stated that it was difficult to ascertain the exact Democratic voter makeup, but estimated that white voters comprised about 65 percent of the vote according to 2008 caucus exit polls , with black and Hispanic voters each accounting for about 15 percent of the vote.
By contrast, 87 percent of Iowa's population is white and 6 percent is Latino. In New Hampshire, 94 percent of residents are white, and 3 percent are Latino.
Meanwhile, the Culinary Union, which has declined to endorse in the race, dinged the Sanders campaign for some of its tactics, including wearing union pins to gain access to workers to make the case for their candidate at union members' workplaces. Union leaders worried this would jeopardize their own access to their members.
“We would ask campaigns to respect the long history of workers fighting to make Vegas a true union town but also the organizing that happens everyday and the work it takes to ensure that workers are able to not only keep their union but also keep their opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and their families,” the union's political director, Yvanna Cancela, told BuzzFeed News .
The town hall, sponsored by MSNBC and Telemundo, is a bit off the beaten path, bordering downtown's municipal and Clark County public buildings, such as the Clark County Detention Center and the Office of Civil Marriages, as well as the Las Vegas Premium Outlets - North. Basically, this is the part of town tourists rarely tread, where all those quickie marriages and divorces are processed, and where one may pick up a discounted Burberry coat.
And it will be here on Thursday, Clinton and Sanders will make their latest case, to the voters and to the cameras. Both Democrats will follow up with rallies: Clinton is hosting a Thursday event with labor unions, while Sanders will head to the Tropicana for one of his one. He follows that up Friday with rallies in Reno, Elko and Henderson. Bill and Chelsea Clinton will help their candidate bring out the vote through Saturday.
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