Nevada Democrats’ bid to hold first primary underscores diversifying US

FILE – In this Oct. 22, 2016, file photo, a volunteer hands out stickers during early voting in Las Vegas. Voters in a handful of presidential battleground states could find themselves on the defensive if someone decides to challenge their right to vote at a polling place on Election Day. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Nevada Democrats are pushing for the state to hold the first-in-the-nation primary in the next presidential cycle, a move that would not only shake up the primary process but also shine a spotlight on the growing importance of Latino and Asian American voters.

Democratic activists have pointed to a number of factors, including Nevada’s strong union presence, as arguments for why the state should go first in the party’s primary.

But it’s the state’s growing Latino and Asian American populations that are increasingly being cited in arguments for the state to go first, with activists saying Democrats should work to win over the two groups amid growing concerns over their popularity with those voters.

“There is a growing number of Democrats across the country that are supporting this effort to have a more diverse first state that is more reflective and representative of the entire American population and that is what Nevada is,” said Artie Blanco, a Nevada Democratic National Committee member as well as a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. “Nevada is America in a sense.”

The state’s two most populous counties, Clark County and Washoe County, have seen major surges in population growth over the last decade. According to data from the 2020 Census, the Latino population increased by 23 percent in Clark County and 30 percent in Washoe County. Latinos make up a total of 29.2 percent of Nevada’s population, making it the fifth-highest share of Latinos of any state. Meanwhile, the state’s Asian American Pacific Islander population increased by 39.5 percent, making up over 8 percent of the state’s population. Nevada’s Black population grew by 39.4 percent, making up 9.8 percent of the population.

“I think our country looks more like Nevada than they look like Ohio or New Hampshire,” said Cecia Alvarado, Nevada executive director of Somos Votantes, a group aimed at engaging Latino voters.

Latino voters in particular have become a highly sought-after voting bloc, with Republicans and Democrats vying for their support. While Biden won the state’s Latino population in 2020, former President Trump, like in other states, appeared to make gains with Nevada Latino voters. According to data from Latino Decisions, 81 percent of Latinos in the state reported voting for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 16 percent voted for Trump. Four years later, 70 percent of the state’s Latino population voted for Biden and 25 percent supported Trump.

While the U.S. Latino vote is by no means a monolith, the trend in Nevada among Latino voters appeared to reflect a trend in other states where Republicans made gains with Latino voters. And polling shows that the trend could be an issue for Democrats going into the midterms.

A March survey from the Democratic firm Blueprint Polling showed that Latino voters favored Trump over Biden in the state by 19 percent in a hypothetical presidential rematch. In the governor’s race, 36 percent of Latinos said they supported incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak (D), while 34 percent said they supported Republican gubernatorial primary frontrunner, Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Another 29 percent said they were undecided about the governor’s race.

The same poll showed incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (Nev.) tied with former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt in a hypothetical matchup among Latino voters. Twenty-three percent of Latino voters said they were undecided about the matchup.

Nevada Democrats said that making Nevada the first primary state will allow them to test their message with critical voting blocs, like the Latino vote, in an effort to further understand the issues and messages the group cares about.

“It’s really also a way to show that you can engage voters early on,” Alvarado said, adding that the geographic makeup of the state allows campaigns to “test what it looks like running early campaigns reaching Latino voters or reaching other communities.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Hill.

“We are in every single community hearing what everybody’s worried about,” Rosen said. “And so in our Latino community as well as our other communities, we know what people are worried about, education for their kids, health care prescription drug prices. They may have other specific issues but overall, families worry about the same things.”

Rosen noted that making Nevada a first-in-the-nation primary would also be beneficial going into what are often nail-biter elections in the state. Biden won the state by less than three points in 2020 and the non-partisan Cook Political Report has rated the state’s upcoming Senate and gubernatorial races toss-ups.

“Nevada’s electorate reflects the entire country and the Democratic primary process needs to really understand that Nevada, of course, our state motto is ‘battle born,’ but that we’re battleground,” the senator said.

New Hampshire and Iowa have long lauded their states’ rich traditions of retail politics, with political candidates making appearances at state fairs and local diners and coming face to face with individual voters. However, Nevada Democrats say the same case can be made in their state as well.

The Culinary Union is a massive political force in the state when it comes to campaigning. The union is made up of 60,000 members in Las Vegas and Reno. Additionally, the union is the state’s largest immigrant, Latino, and Asian American Pacific Islander organization.

“The candidates come and there’s opportunities,” said Ted Pappageorge, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “But what really drives our members’ voting tendencies is door to door, workers talking to workers.”

“That worker-to-worker discussion is what moves folks because the truth of the matter is working people don’t necessarily like politicians,” he said. “We have to really bring folks to the door they trust and that’s their own coworkers.

Unlike in past years, Nevada will hold a primary instead of a caucus, a move that many say will expand the voting pool.

“The truth is, if you’re much more skilled at caucusing, you can win,” Pappageorge said. “In Nevada, we think the election process makes more sense and is more inclusive.”

Nevada’s Democratic Party submitted its application to be the first presidential primary to the Democratic National Committee last week, citing its diversity.

“As one of the single most diverse and fastest-growing states in the country, presidential candidates will be hearing voices that truly represent the changing needs, values, and vision of Americans,” the party said in a statement.

If Nevada does become a first in the nation primary state, it would not be the first time it jumped the calendar. In 2008, Democrats bumped South Carolina and Nevada up to the third and fourth spots, respectively.

But the party is facing competition from other state Democratic parties looking to move up in the calendar and others, like New Hampshire, which is trying to defend its coveted first-in-the-nation spot. Other states vying for the top spot include Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Iowa, which experienced a botched Democratic caucus in 2020 and lacks racial diversity among its voters, has been forced to reapply. Iowa Democrats have said they are seeking to simplify the caucus process in the state.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will start hearing pitches from states this month and a new early-state lineup is set to be recommended by July.

“Iowa and New Hampshire those states are great and wonderful,” Rosen said. “But they don’t reflect the face of the rest of the nation in the same way that Nevada does. And so to build that winning coalition that you’re going to need across the entire nation you need to hear the voices, you can hear them in Nevada, and I think the earlier people hear them, the better it is for everyone.”

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