Clinton, Sanders ready for Nevada showdown

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Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonKaine laughs off reputation as 'America's stepdad' on Colbert Trump claims ignorance on alt-right movement Trump campaign raising .5 million for transition efforts: report MORE’s supporters are expressing concern that Bernie SandersBernie SandersHispanic group sends third invitation to Trump GOP senator: Anti-fossil fuel candidates ‘not fit’ for federal office Greens push Obama to block N. Dakota pipeline MORE could run their candidate close in Nevada, where the next contest in the Democratic presidential race will be held on Feb. 20.

The question is whether their anxiety about the caucuses is real or carefully orchestrated to make sure that Clinton can claim a triumph even if she narrowly wins a state where she has enjoyed a huge polling lead for months.

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On one hand, independent observers, as well as Clinton allies, note that Sanders has built a hefty operation there that includes more than 80 staffers on the ground and more offices in the state than Clinton.

He’s pumped more than $3.5 million into ad campaigns in both English and Spanish. 

And Sanders is now also riding a wave of momentum after his crushing 22-point victory over Clinton in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

On the other hand, an effort by Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon to downplay his campaign’s strengths in Nevada on Tuesday — before the Granite State results were final — resembled classic expectation-setting.

“You have a caucus-style format, and he’ll have the momentum coming out of New Hampshire, presumably, so there’s a lot of reasons he should do well,” Fallon said, adding that the 80 percent of voters in the state are white. “There’s reason to believe the race will tighten even there.” 

Fallon’s comments were telling to some Democrats who think the state is Clinton’s to lose. While a poll on the Democratic candidates hasn’t been conducted there since late 2015, the surveys at the time showed Clinton with a lead of nearly 20 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

“For reasons I don’t understand, the Clinton campaign seems to be downplaying chances in Nevada,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who served as a spokesman for then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMcConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration MORE (D-Nev.). “As far as I’m concerned, it’s tailor-made for a Clinton victory.”

Clinton, “not only has the ground game but strong support of the Hispanic community as well,” Manley said.

Jon Ralston, a well-respected Nevada journalist, took to Twitter on Tuesday night to counter the spin from the Clinton campaign.

“For Team Clinton to make it seem now as if [Nevada] is a non-diverse state with one of those unpredictable caucuses is pathetic,” Ralston said.

The picture is complicated, however. Even some unaligned Democrats believe Sanders could, in fact, have a fighting chance in the state. They don’t regard that idea as a self-serving fiction pushed by the Clinton campaign.

“It’s not a pipe dream, not at all,” one Democrat who closely follows Nevada politics said of Sanders’s chances of victory. “He has more staff than she does, he’s on TV more than she is. He’s trying to cut into her Latino support, especially with younger Latinos,” the Democrat said.

“He’s making a play for the state. And people think he really has a chance.”

Meanwhile, if the Clinton campaign is really making a full-court press to lower expectations, it needs to get the word out to other supporters, who are saying the Democratic front-runner remains the hot favorite.

“I do think it will be a decisive win for her,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said in an interview on Wednesday, declaring that Nevada is “Clinton country.”

The congresswoman acknowledged that while Sanders had “got a presence” in the state and is spending money there, “I don’t think he will have the appeal that she will have in the minority communities.”

Titus said that the service industry in Clark County — home to Las Vegas — is dominated by women, who are “hard-working, pragmatic folks.”

“I think they’ll go with Hillary,” she said, adding, “I don’t think there’s any kind of momentum that will affect Nevada voters.”

Steven Horsford, a former Nevada congressman who co-chaired Barack ObamaBarack ObamaFULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos MORE’s campaign in the state in 2008, predicted that Clinton “has a great chance of carrying the state.”

Horsford, who also remains uncommitted to either campaign, said Clinton has a decent shot at prevailing largely because her campaign team has local, state and national campaign experience. Her campaign manager, Robby Mook, also ran the Nevada operation back in 2008. 

Still, he added that the dynamics of the race are shifting and because there’s a focus on progressive issues, it would be “tighter than expected.” 

At the same time, another Democratic strategist took it a step further. 

 

“I feel the Clinton firewall cracking,” the strategist said.