In this edition: The race for nonwhite voters begins, the knives come out for Bloomberg, and a pro-Israel PAC chief explains how he became the leader of an anti-Sanders resistance.
My solemn vow this week is to have as little fun in Las Vegas as possible, and this is The Trailer.
NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Joe Biden was running late. Two hundred voters had gathered in the Culinary Training Academy to see him, and they waited patiently, a live band vamping for time, until an army of local endorsers — none of them white — introduced the former vice president.
“I got raised in the black church,” Biden said. “You think I'm joking? Not a joke. That's where I got started in the Civil Rights movement. I used to go to 7 o'clock Mass and then I'd head down to Rev. [Moses] Herring's church on the east side, and that's where we'd get ready to go out and desegregate movie theaters.”
For the next 12 minutes, every line landed, and every joke killed. Rhetoric that had left Biden's Iowa audiences drifting — "this is literally about restoring the soul of this country” — earned shouts of “yes!” and “that's right!” After placing fourth and fifth in the first two Democratic contests, Biden was asking Nevada to start the real primary, one dominated by nonwhite voters, one in which most other Democrats could not get a crowd that looked like his.
“There can be no Democratic nominee, none, without the voice of Latinos and African Americans being heard,” Biden told Clark County Democrats at a Saturday evening reception.
The needle-scratch shift in the Democrats' primary map, from two of the country's whitest states to one of its most diverse, has tested candidates who arrived with different expectations for Nevada. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ran strong with Latino voters in 2016 and never stopped campaigning for them, has turned that into a narrow lead here in the latest poll. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who focused early on Nevada, has steady Asian American support here and drew diverse crowds at her first post-New Hampshire stops.
Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the white Midwesterners who demolished Biden in the first two contests, do not have the same broad appeal. Their first stops in Nevada have been dominated by white voters, who represent around 60 percent of the expected caucus turnout. Echoing Biden, Democratic leaders have minimized the results from Iowa and New Hampshire, predicting no clarity in the primary until nonwhite voters weigh in.
“I think it's way too early to count Joe Biden out,” former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters after he cast an early vote on Saturday. (Reid voted “uncommitted” on all three lines of his ranked-choice ballot.) "Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country. He's gonna do well in Nevada. He's going to do extremely well in South Carolina. So, people should not be counting Joe Biden out of the race.”
Klobuchar and Buttigieg face two problems, difficult to erase in just six days: They are less well known outside the party's white liberal electorate, and nonwhite voters have been hearing the worst about them before they hear the best. Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, has had the rockiest introduction, starting with a widely watched interview with Telemundo in which she repeatedly failed to name the current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist elected on his third try for the office.
“I guess what it says is that there is more to being prepared than how many years you’ve spent in Washington,” Buttigieg said Sunday, when a town hall questioner asked about Klobuchar's stumble.
More questions, the kind Democrats were not getting in Iowa or New Hampshire, led to more trouble. Asked about her vote for a conservative amendment to the 2007 immigration reform bill that would have required English as the national language, she said it was “not a position I take” but that she “did vote that way.” In a Sunday interview with “Face the Nation,” Klobuchar argued that she had not gotten credit for renouncing that vote last year, and that “actually nearly all Democrats eventually voted for it” because it had been added to the bill they supported.
But Klobuchar is competing here against Democrats who were not around to vote on the legislation (Warren, Buttigieg and Tom Steyer), and a Democrat who opposed it (Sanders). At a Saturday morning town hall in the Las Vegas suburbs, Klobuchar spoke for 45 minutes and talked about immigration in the context of her family's European roots and how much immigrants add to the economy.
“Something like 37 percent of your small businesses are owned by Hispanics,” she said, referring to Nevada. “That's an amazing figure. It shows what we're seeing in terms of immigrants contributing so greatly to our economy, while 70 of our Fortune 500 companies are headed by people from other countries, and 25 percent of our U.S. Nobel laureates are born in other countries.”
Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor who took heat earlier than Klobuchar on his mostly white support, has not broken through, either. As in other states, he has raced to catch up, squeezing in appearances and interviews at events organized for nonwhite voters and inviting them to join the coalition, though sometimes in clinical terms.
“I think Nevada's unique since it's a state that's looking to the future demographically,” Buttigieg said at a Saturday night forum organized by the Latino Chamber of Commerce. “It is what the future of America looks like. And I think this is a fantastic opportunity for our message about moving the country forward and doing it in a way that can actually unify a dangerously divided American people.”
Warren and Sanders have faced fewer questions here about nonwhite support, but on the ground, the Sanders advantage is impossible to miss. The senator from Vermont led a march to an early-voting site Saturday, the same one where Reid had been refusing to count out Biden, that was dominated by young Latino voters.
“Half of my family is undocumented and Bernie has consistently talked about that issue,” said Roxana Lopez, 19, as she wheeled a baby carriage to the polling site. “After Trump won, I got pulled over a lot, because of my skin. I never got asked for proof that I was a citizen before Trump. Bernie's going to end that.”
Worries (and maybe some wishful thinking) about a Sanders vote ceiling.
“Deep cracks emerge in Biden’s firewall,” by Maya King
Mounting concerns in South Carolina.
The booklet that the candidate would probably prefer to forget.
Why the third-voting state looks better for a fading candidate.
“How the Iowa caucuses came ‘crashing down,’ under the watchful eye of the DNC,” by Isaac Stanley-Becker
The inside story of the national party's role in a mess.
“A struggling Warren spends 30 minutes on the press bus,” by Daniella Diaz
A candidate unplugged.
Dems in disarray
LAS VEGAS — For the first time since he declared his candidacy three months ago, Mike Bloomberg is taking fire from the Democrats running more traditional campaigns for the party's presidential nomination.
On Saturday night, the task fell to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who used a party gathering at the Tropicana to attack Bloomberg by name and warn that the multibillionaire's political record would drag Democrats down in a general election.
“Mayor Bloomberg, with all his money, will not create the kind of excitement and energy we need to have the voter turnout we must have to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders said at the end of his remarks to Clark County Democrats. “We will not create the energy and excitement we need to defeat Donald Trump if that candidate pursued, advocated for and enacted racist policies like stop-and-frisk, which caused communities of color in his city to live in fear.”
By the time Sanders had said that, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren had also thrown jabs at Bloomberg. In a long conversation with reporters on her campaign bus, Warren said that “putting up a billionaire” would not help Democrats win in 2020 and that Bloomberg had basically disqualified himself when he blamed housing desegregation for sparking the 2008 financial crisis.
“The notion that Michael Bloomberg claims the financial 2008 crisis on restrictions on banks so they couldn't discriminate more against black and brown communities is truly outrageous,” Warren told reporters on her campaign bus. “And anyone who thinks that should not be a candidate for president.”
Warren is the only Democrat running for president who Bloomberg opposed in a previous election; he'd backed Scott Brown, the Republican she defeated to win her Senate seat, in 2012. But in an interview for NBC's “Meet the Press” that was taped Saturday afternoon, Biden made it more personal. Bloomberg was running ads that emphasized Barack Obama's praise for him; Bloomberg had not even endorsed the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008.
“There's a lot to talk about with Michael Bloomberg,” Biden said. “You all are going to start focusing on him like you have on me, which, I'm not complaining, like you have on me the last six months. You're going to focus on him, his position on issues relating to the African American community, from stop-and-frisk to the way he talked about Obama.”
The former mayor is not really being attacked for his heavy spending; that is baked in. Democrats are focusing instead on what they see as his greatest weakness, the defense of unconstitutional policing tactics during his three terms in New York. It happens to cut against his greatest, sudden strength: support from black voters that has spiked as Biden's tumbled in state and national polls.
Activists were several steps ahead of the Democratic candidates, and Bloomberg faced protests or pranks at three separate events this week. At one rally, a heckler accused him of trying to buy the election; after a campaign stop, a critic tricked him into saying “stop and frisk” (instead of “cheese!”) as they took a photo; and at a Saturday night party dinner in Virginia, Bloomberg plowed ahead with a speech as an activist placed a banner on his lectern, reading “He protects racist systems. Do you?”
“It's always nice to be welcomed,” Bloomberg joked.
Bloomberg had already tried to short-circuit the attacks on his record with an apology, a tactic that had worked intermittently for Biden, who had started this primary with far more Democratic goodwill. During this week's campaign swings, Bloomberg called the old “stop-and-frisk” policy his worst mistake as mayor, making no attempt to rationalize it.
“We weren't on top of things and we didn't understand just how impactful it was on men of color who got stopped,” Bloomberg said in Tennessee. “We did bring the murder rate down, but it got out of hand and I didn't stop it fast enough, and I apologize for it.”
Democratic voters have been unpredictable when it comes to candidate forgiveness. Biden repeatedly got the benefit of the doubt from black voters; Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California was ground down by attacks on her record as a “top cop.” And unless one more poll comes out by the end of Tuesday, qualifying Bloomberg for the debate, he may not face questions alongside his fellow candidates until the final debate of the month, in South Carolina. On Sunday's “Face the Nation,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar bristled at questions about her record as a prosecutor by mentioning that Bloomberg (who had been cited in the question) had not been subjected to the same scrutiny.
“I am on your show right now, Margaret, answering these tough questions,” Klobuchar said. “Where is he? He just keeps running a bunch of ads. He'll probably have more ads during your show in certain states than I'm on answering your questions. I think he cannot hide behind the airwaves and the money. I think he has to come on the shows.”
LAS VEGAS — The first day of early voting in the history of the Nevada caucuses was a mess — and a success. Despite long lines that snarled even the state's governor, and despite jangled nerves about the Iowa Democratic Party's foul-up two weeks earlier, turnout hit 11,800 after an experimental day of voting at a few dozen sites across the state.
“The line was not bad, it really wasn't,” a cheerful Gov. Steve Sisolak said after arriving at the Clark County Democrats' pre-caucus dinner. “It gives you an opportunity to meet your neighbors, make new friends. We had nice conversations in line. The spirit was really terrific. It didn't feel like 45 minutes.”
Saturday's number was exactly 10 percent of the total votes cast in 2008, the first year that Nevada was pushed into the first month of primary voting. It was about 14 percent of the total turnout in 2016. That was a good omen, but Democrats have had those before. They were thrilled by the success of Iowa's “satellite caucuses,” which allowed voters to pick candidates even if they were too busy to attend the evening caucuses in person. A few hours later, the count for Iowa's caucuses fell apart.
Mike Bloomberg, “Get It Done!” The latest in the Bloomberg ad barrage is the first that assumes the viewer has already seen some Bloomberg ads: It begins with the former mayor asking a crowd whether they've heard his “Mike will get it done” slogan. “I've got a record of doing things,” Bloomberg says. “I've got the resources to take on this fight.”
Joe Biden, “For Them.” Over images of the former vice president talking to children, a narrator explains that no one else running for president has done so much to fight the gun industry. “They probably don't know Joe Biden's record. That's okay. They just need to know, protecting them from gun violence is what Joe Biden cares about most.”
Elizabeth Warren, “Proud to Fight.” Warren has cut ad buys in South Carolina to focus on Nevada, and this ad demonstrates why: She has a more powerful story to tell here, starting with her warnings about the 2008 financial crisis and continuing with the praise former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (and Nevadan) piled on her as she ran for Senate.
Amy Klobuchar, “Compassion.” The senator's first South Carolina spot, like her current stump speech, repurposes her closing remarks from the New Hampshire debate: her call for a president with “empathy” who “knows” the voters going through tough economic times.
Nevada caucuses (WPA Intelligence, 413 likely voters)
Bernie Sanders: 25%
Joe Biden: 18%
Elizabeth Warren: 13%
Tom Steyer: 11%
Pete Buttigieg: 10%
Amy Klobuchar: 10%
The only poll of this state since January, which was mostly conducted after the vote in New Hampshire, finds that every Democrat actually competing in Nevada remains popular, but Biden has the most skepticism: Twenty-eight percent of caucus-goers view him unfavorably, while no other Democrat cracks 25 percent. But that's a nearly negligible difference, and Biden's stronger support from black voters here gives him a broader base than the four candidates trailing him, all viewed more warmly by Nevadans.
With the now-usual exceptions of Mike Bloomberg and Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic campaigning this week will be focused on Nevada and the West.
Joe Biden. He's campaigning entirely in Nevada, with public stops in Reno on Monday and Las Vegas on Tuesday, and fundraising in between.
Bernie Sanders. On the way back from stops in northern Nevada, he'll hold Monday rallies in Richmond, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash. — both states where early voting is underway for March primaries. He'll return to Nevada for get-out-the-vote events Tuesday.
Elizabeth Warren. She'll be in the Las Vegas area Monday, with stops in the city and in Henderson.
Pete Buttigieg. He'll swing through Nevada's 2nd Congressional District on Monday, with stops in Reno, Carson City and Elko, and end Monday with a rally in the Super Tuesday state of Utah, then he'll return to Nevada for rallies in Las Vegas.
Tom Steyer. He's focused on Nevada, with personal stops around Las Vegas and a get-out-the-vote program that has been making food truck stops at early vote sites.
Amy Klobuchar. She's also campaigning in Nevada. Her campaign announced that it has raised $12 million since the Feb. 7 debate in New Hampshire.
Tulsi Gabbard. She'll hold town halls in the Super Tuesday state of Virginia on Monday and Tuesday, in Fairfax and Richmond. Like other states the Hawaii congresswoman has focused on, there is no party registration in Virginia, allowing Gabbard-curious conservatives to cross over and vote.
Meet a PAC
THE PAC: Democratic Majority for Israel
PARTY: Democratic (seriously, read the name)
FOCUS: At the moment, running ads in early-voting states against Bernie Sanders, warning that he would lose a general election to President Trump. Its latest ad, like a previous spot in Iowa, features local Democratic voters sharing their worries about a Sanders nomination. The ads do not mention Israel, though DMFI's president, Mark Mellman, said in an interview that Sanders's desire to put policy conditions on aid to Israel is central to its opposition. “You can only say so much in 30 seconds,” he explained.
BUDGET: It spent around $800,000 in Iowa, while the size of the buy in Nevada is not known yet.
PLAN: To warn Democratic voters against Sanders, while not making any particular argument for an opponent. Both spots have flashed headlines on-screen to demonstrate worries that Sanders would lose a general election, and handed the microphone to voters (real Nevada and Iowa Democrats, Mellman points out) to share their worries about Sanders. “Why won't they release his medical records?” asks one voter. (Sanders has released medical information from a physician.)
EFFECTIVENESS: Mellman argued that the last-minute ads in Iowa helped drag Sanders down, writing in a post-caucus memo that exit polling found that late deciders went heavily for other candidates. It's not clear that the ad was the proximate cause for that, but the experience left Mellman confident that there could be a campaign making an electability case against Sanders, without a real backlash.
“They claimed to have raised a million dollars or something,” Mellman said of the Sanders campaign. “But they raised $1 million a day in January. They spent $15 million in Iowa, and we spent $800,000, so it's hard to call us ‘big money.’ ”
... three days until the ninth Democratic debate
... six days until the Nevada caucuses
... nine days until the 10th Democratic debate
... 13 days until the South Carolina primary
... 16 days until Super Tuesday