In Nevada, presidential campaigns seek second-choice voters

Early caucus turnout is high, with Nevada Democrats learning on the fly

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign bus was parked outside of an early voting location for the Nevada Caucus at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign bus was parked outside of an early voting location for the Nevada Caucus at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 18, 2020 at 7:23am

LAS VEGAS — Outside campaign rallies and early voting sites, you get the sense many Nevada Democrats have made up their minds about their first choice for president.

Second choice? Some voters have strategies for that. Third choice? Fewer voters know which candidate to write on that line, and by the time it comes for picking fourth and fifth choices? Who knows.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spent part of the President's Day weekend canvassing in Nevada on behalf of former Vice President Joe Biden. Garcetti, a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign, had a message ready for voters who had a favorite candidate not named Biden, but didn't yet have a second choice.

“It’s a hybrid between a caucus and a primary, maybe it’s like a plug-in hybrid. It’s so complicated. You can do early voting, you can do caucus, you can do whatever,” Garcetti said. “The nice thing about Nevada? You don’t have to pick one person and hate the rest.”

In an effort to protect the rights of voters who choose their candidates during the early process, they are asked to provide backup options in case their first choice of a 2020 Democratic nominee has not met viability at their home caucus site on Saturday.

Many local political leaders and involved citizens seemed to be registering their preferences early in part because they have responsibilities the day of the actual caucus. That’s true of Donna West, the chairwoman of the Clark County Democratic Party.

“When you have this early vote now that, you know trying to figure out the math is like impossible. People can vote for up to five people,” West said shortly after casting her early vote Saturday at a recently constructed public library in East Las Vegas.

“And you want to do that because you’re not going to be in your precinct. You’re not going to know how your neighbors are voting. I’ve tried to talk to my neighbors.I can’t figure out how my neighbors are going to vote next Saturday,” West told reporters. “I’ve marked five people so that I make sure that I have a good vote, that I have a viable candidate that’s in that pool.”

The Nevada State Democratic Party has been aggressive in training volunteers and trying to educate Democratic voters about the early caucus, and there’s been significant turnout, but an early caucus is still an experiment.

More than 26,000 early vote ballots were cast by Monday morning in the most recent numbers released by the state party, with significant turnout expected through the end of the early voting window Tuesday evening.

Supporters of multiple campaigns who have been out in the field knocking on doors in southern Nevada said they were doing a lot of voter education about the process itself, especially for folks deciding to vote early.

Carol Chidsey, a first-time volunteer supporting Sen. Amy Klobuchar who has traveled from her home in Wyoming to both Iowa and Nevada to campaign for the Minnesota Democrat, has encountered that very question.

“But really, have you considered Amy? Could Amy be your second choice? I think that Amy is really worth it. She can, she can bridge the divide,” Chidsey said.

Many early voters had not realized that an early ballot can be considered spoiled if it doesn’t identify at least a top three. A woman supporting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who declined to give her name said during one of the senator’s trademark “selfie lines” Monday that she had been canvassing in the western part of Clark County said she repeatedly encountered voters unfamiliar with the new process.

“I think a lot of the people that I talked to said they were leaning toward early voting because they just don’t have the time to caucus,” the Warren canvasser said following an event with the senator at the Cardenas Market in East Las Vegas. “I was told by the Warren campaign that folks need to select three options otherwise their ballot gets voided, and a lot of people don’t know that. And so I shared whenever people did open the door.”

You can, however, list the same person three times and cast a valid ballot.

“I heard people on the phone yesterday saying that ... you can vote Amy, Amy, Amy,” Chidsey said Monday outside a Klobuchar campaign bus parked near the early voting site at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

It’s also possible that voters could actually cast valid ballots that are completely committed to voting uncommitted.

At least one prominent Nevada Democrat said that is exactly what he did.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast his vote in the early voting for the Nevada Caucus at the East Las Vegas Library on Saturday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

“I have so many friends, and I have such admiration for the work they’re doing,” former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid told reporters after he completed his early vote Saturday.

West, who voted early at the same site as Reid, declined to disclose the names on her own ballot given her role leading county Democrats, but she did offer insight into the views of friends on what is functionally a ranked-choice system.

“There are a lot of Democratic women who still very much want a woman president,” West said, suggesting that Klobuchar’s performance coming out of the New Hampshire primary might come into play in determining the top-two order on some preference cards between the Minnesota senator and Warren, her colleague from Massachusetts.

“Most of my friends are like, ‘I’m not sure which one’s first and which one’s second, but I’m voting for those two first and then somebody else.’”