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Democratic Campaigns Struggle To Mobilize Voters In Nevada


Tomorrow morning, Nevada Democrats will caucus in school gyms, firehouses and even casinos to pick their nominee for president. Hillary Clinton was supposed to have the state locked up. Now, she's in a real race with Bernie Sanders. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, both campaigns face challenges in mobilizing voters.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: We're not in Iowa anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Just calling to remind you about caucus on Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Do you know that Hillary will be in town Thursday and Friday?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

KEITH: At a strip mall field office in east Las Vegas, volunteers are making phone calls for Hillary Clinton. Former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros is there to lay out the stakes.


HENRY CISNEROS: This here - Nevada, Las Vegas - this election is the first time America votes in a state that looks like America, so let's get this right.

KEITH: Demographically, Nevada looks like the future of America. According to 2014 census estimates, the population is 28 percent Hispanic, 9 percent black and 8 percent Asian. The personal touch matters. In the backyard of a stucco-sided home, Mexican-American actor and game show host Marco Antonio Regil tells a handful of Bernie Sanders volunteers why he's feeling the Bern.

MARCO ANTONIO REGIL: I do believe that Bertie gets us. I get what he says because I think he gets us, and I think he's the best option we have this year.

KEITH: He was the main attraction at a phone banking house party. Sanders' staff and volunteers spread out on all the furniture indoors and out, making calls.

CESAR VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KEITH: Sanders' Latino outreach strategist Cesar Vargas tells a man on the other end of the line Sanders is promising free college education.

VARGAS: He was one of those, I haven't heard of Bernie, but I'm going to go for Hillary. But then after I told him about the record, he said, you know what? Now I need to think about it.

KEITH: Vargas is part of a surge of Sanders' staff that arrived in Nevada in recent weeks. Sanders' campaign got a late start in the state, with senior staff only arriving in the fall. But they're hoping to make up for it with momentum and heavy spending on television ads. Clinton had organizers on the ground in April, says Amanda Renteria, the national political director for the Clinton campaign.

AMANDA RENTERIA: A caucus requires even more of a relationship with your electorate and with your voters, right, because they've got to trust that you say this is a good use of your four hours, right? They've got to trust when you say, make sure your kids have child care while you go and caucus, right? They've got to really trust you to do something new for the very first time.

KEITH: In addition to phone calls, volunteers for both campaigns are going door to door, but the population is transient. Many people here lost their homes to foreclosure during the great recession. National Nurses United members Michelle Vo and Virginia Macalino are undeterred as they walk a Las Vegas neighborhood for Bernie Sanders.

MICHELLE VO: We have a 40, 42, 16, 78. So...

KEITH: They run into two young men.

VIRGINIA MACALINO: Do you support Bernie Sanders?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yes, actually, I do.

MACALINO: Awesome.

VO: So make sure - do you know how caucus works in Nevada?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: No, not really.

KEITH: This type of reception isn't uncommon, and it's a real challenge for both campaigns, says Jose Dante Parra, an unaffiliated Democratic political consultant.

JOSE DANTE PARRA: All those people are just getting used to this. And also, we have a caucus system that just started in 2008, so it's not like you have your grandparents telling you what to do during caucus.

KEITH: With fewer than 100,000 people expected to turn out tomorrow, every contact matters, which is why Hillary Clinton dropped in at midnight to greet workers washing sheets and towels at Caesars Palace.


HILLARY CLINTON: Hi. How are you? My goodness. Well, we're staying here, and I thought I'd come see who's working.

KEITH: And why Bernie Sanders picked up a bullhorn yesterday to show his support for union members protesting for better health benefits. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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