Hillary Clinton's crucial advantage over Bernie Sanders in Nevada may be evaporating
Hillary Clinton wants to mobilize the most diverse percentage of caucus-goers in the history of Nevada presidential campaigns.
But she's starting small.
"There's really no clean way to even translate the word caucus," Clinton's Nevada Organizing Director Jorge Neri said in an interview in December.
Neri was on the phone with Business Insider to discuss the launch of a new program in Nevada, "Caucus Conmigo" — or "Caucus With Me" — a program aimed at helping Spanish-speaking caucus-goers turn out to vote for Clinton.
"Branding it 'Caucus Conmigo' is kind of informing people what [caucusing] even means," Neri said.
While it may have once seemed like a precaution, the campaign's months-long effort to ensure Latino supporters caucus for Clinton on February 20 may prove one of its greatest advantages against Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vermont) surging populist campaign, which almost beat Clinton in Iowa's caucuses and swamped her in New Hampshire last Tuesday.
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Clinton's Nevada team, which numbered around two dozen paid staffers during the fall, was already on the ground when she formally announced her run earlier this year. The goal was to win a diverse swath of the electorate and avoid a repeat of 2008, in which Clinton won the popular vote but did not win the delegate count.
The initial "Caucus Conmigo" training sessions, conducted in Spanish, aimed to educate and train volunteers on what a caucus is, and how to participate. The campaign also used the sessions to identify potential bilingual precinct captains, who conduct the individual caucuses on caucus day and also serve as canvassers for the campaign. The training sessions also educate volunteers on how to go out into the community and encourage Hispanic voters to caucus.
Clinton's campaign began with meetings once a month at locations around the state where there are higher concentrations of Spanish speakers, but has ramped up frequency in recent weeks.
Nevada political observers told Business Insider that though the state party itself has previously engaged in targeted efforts in Spanish and English to engage Latinos, Clinton's early strategy was pretty unparalleled in state politics.
"We have not previously seen such a concerted effort by a specific candidate, so the Clinton campaign efforts towards Latino voters is impressive," top Nevada Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez told Business Insider in an email late last year.
The state-specific caucus program is one of many initiatives that the Clinton campaign has launched across the country with the larger goal of mobilizing record support from Latino voters early on, with hopes that it could also for help in the general election.
The campaign has launched Spanish-language canvassers and phone-bankers in several states. In October, Clinton's campaign summoned key Latina volunteers and supporters to her headquarters in Brooklyn for a weekend strategy and training session aimed at laying the groundwork for projects to increase turnout among Latina voters.
But whatever head start the Clinton campaign had in Nevada appears to be evaporating.
Despite getting off to a bumpy start in October, with a high-profile local staff resignation, Sanders has since ramped up appearances in the state, booking swings through earlier which yielded larger crowds than the campaign said it was expecting. The New York Times noted that the campaign deployed dormant Iowa staffers to beef up its 90-person-strong staff already in state, and has reportedly outspent Clinton on television ads.
A Democratic operative unaffiliated with the presidential campaign told Business Insider in January that many volunteers from nearby Southern California were coming into the state to bolster Sanders' get-out-the-vote campaign.
And Sanders is far from conceding the Latino vote to Clinton.
The campaign has conducted Hispanic phone-banking in early states, and has spent heavily on Spanish-language radio ads.
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"Latinos are really gravitating towards our campaign, and the numbers are changing every day, especially in states like Nevada," Sanders' Hispanic Media Director Arturo Carmona said during a call with reporters in December.
Carmona said that even if the numbers weren't totally reflected in the polls, the campaign was seeing an uptick in interest from Hispanic volunteers.
"We had thousands of Latino and Spanish-speaking volunteers doing a call a couple weeks back with one of our celebrity endorsers, George Lopez," Carmona said. "We got nearly 1,000 volunteers in one hour."
In an interview with KNPR, Sanders said that his campaign was looking to win Latino voters, and hinted that he'd particularly try to woo union workers, who make up a sizeable bloc of voters primarily in the Las Vegas service industry.
"I think we're going to put together a very strong coalition of workers in that that state," Sanders said. "I think we're making in roads into the Latino community and I think we got a real shot to win it."
Though it's far from the only issue important to Latino voters in state, Clinton has wooed support from prominent members of the Latino community by touting her record on immigration reform.
While immigration activists acknowledge that Sanders is offering a comprehensive reform agenda, behind the scenes, some advocates have reservations. Sanders' campaign has repeatedly touted the senator's vote in support of the 2013 comprehensive immigration bill, but some on the left still have doubts that he's sincere.
Several prominent national immigrant advocates told Business Insider that they are wary that Sanders still isn't fully committed to pushing immigration reform. The senator's record on immigration reform is mixed — he notably opposed a 2007 immigration reform effort on the grounds that it would drive down wages for American workers.
Though he says that it is important for the US to start down the path to naturalizing the estimated 11 million people who immigrated to the US illegally, Sanders also still cautions that business interests who support immigration reform are looking for a way to depress wages.
"There is a reason why Wall Street and all of corporate America likes immigration reform, and it is not, in my view, that they're staying up nights worrying about undocumented workers in this country," Sanders said in an interview last year. "What I think they are interested in is seeing a process by which we can bring low-wage labor of all levels into this country to depress wages for Americans, and I strongly disagree with that."
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