Nevada Could Be The Michigan of 2020, Democrats Warn

No Republican presidential candidate has carried Nevada since George W. Bush did in 2004. But Democrats are concerned that could change this year, Democratic state officials told Newsweek.

"Nevada absolutely could be the Michigan of 2020," Las Vegas veteran Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez said. "I am certainly not convinced that Nevada is a slam dunk for the Biden team. I am certainly not convinced that we know where this is going to go at this moment."

The state's recovery has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic's gutting of the tourism industry, which led Nevada to have the worst unemployment figures in the nation after casinos and hotel lobbies went dark for months. In Las Vegas, the number of people working fell by nearly 20 percent.

It was just last summer when The New Republic triumphantly declared Nevada "The State That Liberal Dreams Are Made Of," touting progressive achievements by Democrats who controlled the state assembly, state legislature and the governor's office after the 2018 blue wave.

But the economic effects of the pandemic may have halted that wave.

Clinton won Nevada by only 2.4 percent in 2016, a margin 10 points less than Barack Obama's in 2008, and 4 points less than his margin in 2012. In an analysis published Wednesday, the election site FiveThirtyEight included Nevada among just a handful of states where "there has been a slow yet noticeable move to the right" over the last several elections.

Ramirez cited sky-high unemployment numbers, voter anger over not receiving unemployment checks in a timely way, and the way the state's economy is inextricably tied to its slowed Las Vegas gaming heartbeat as reasons why Nevada is hard to forecast in November.

"This is not an exaggeration, or a hoax that Democrats are doing," said Kenia Morales, national campaign director for the $30 million Win Justice super PAC comprised of labor and progressive organizations like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "This is actually true."

At the outset of the crisis, the 60,000 person-strong Culinary Union— a majority of whose members are Latinos, women and immigrants—was faced with a devastating 98 percent unemployment rate, Morales told Newsweek. It now sits at around half of the workers they represent.

The union has suffered the deaths of 39 members and/or members of their immediate family due to COVID-19, with 367 being hospitalized, the union told Newsweek. It also sued MGM Resorts over unsafe working conditions for its members before coming to a settlement this month.

These factors, shaped by the human toll of the outbreak, have resulted in a sharp drop in income for the union from membership dues, while it has had to direct its funds on hand toward food and rent assistance for its members, who include housekeepers, bartenders, and cooks. That has sent this powerful union scrambling over the last month to raise money from donors to support critical Get Out The Vote efforts, Democratic Party officials said.

Which is why in the last month the powerful union turned to fundraising to try to meet its budget goals for its critical GOTV efforts, tapping donors in mid-July, with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid making calls on its behalf.

"Part of the machine that has been able to deliver wins for Democrats is labor, but with [the] Culinary [Union] so devastated that means the progressive apparatus that we built and exists around them is also decimated," Morales told Newsweek. "For the people thinking 'Nevada is going to be fine because they're going to do what they've always done,' well we f*****g wish."

For its part, the Culinary Union said their general election program is up and running as of August 1, 2020 and is the largest in the state. The effort includes hospitality workers canvassing and making phone calls to get out the vote.

The voting drive includes a universal vote by mail campaign initiated by Democrats that seeks to have a ballot mailed to every voter in the state, something Trump's campaign has fiercely opposed and sued to block.

A poll this month by UnidosUS conducted by Latino Decisions found that nearly two-thirds of Latino voters have not been contacted by either party or candidates for president. In Nevada, where 20 percent of eligible voters are Hispanics, Latinos also have the highest rate of COVID-19 infections, at double the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

"In Nevada, we are seeing firsthand how difficult it is going to be for Latinos to vote this cycle," said Cecia Alvarado, Nevada state director for grassroots group Mi Familia Vota, which is active in eight battleground states. "People are facing evictions, food anxiety and unemployment. We need to meet these voters where they live. That is why we are going to be launching a digital education campaign around vote by mail in the fall to ensure that Latino voters are heard this election."

As is the case in many states across the country, Trump doesn't expect to win the Latino vote in Nevada, but eroding margins for Democrats is seen as a win by Republicans. In addition to conducting voter education campaigns explaining how to vote by mail, Democrats said the Biden campaign and its allies like the Culinary Union must persuade voters that the president has mismanaged the pandemic and helped tank the economy.

"There's a huge challenge and opportunity with unemployment in the state to be communicating about the economy," Stephanie Valencia, a former Obama official, told Newsweek, "because the entire gaming industry came to a halt, thousands of people lost union jobs, and it's the fault of Donald Trump."

Valencia was one of the Democrats sounding the alarm about Nevada in a recent thread on Twitter.

The Trump campaign told Newsweek it has made over 1.8 million voter contacts, held more than 700 Trump Victory Leadership Initiative trainings with over 3,300 attendees, and held over 600 MAGA Meetups with more than 5,000 attendees.

The Biden campaign said it's running an aggressive field campaign in the state with special attention and care to Latino voters, including weekly Spanish bilingual phonebanks every Wednesday and a small business program called Mercados y Bodegas launching on Saturday to reach Latino small businesses.

The Biden campaign has been featured on the cover of El Sol de Nevada, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Northern Nevada, for the last three weeks; in El Tiempo, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in Nevada last week; and in regular weekly hits on 87.7 Radio FM, Radio La Voz de Nevada, and the local Telemundo affiliate.

Asked about how the Biden campaign is breaking through in the time of coronavirus, Yvanna Cancela, a former Culinary Union Leader and a senior advisor to the campaign in Nevada who spoke in primetime during the DNC, told Newsweek she's feeling upbeat about the election.

Cancela said she was heartened by a Nevada con Biden Facebook group she recently spoke to which has been talking COVID-19, as well as voting issues. She also pointed to a first of its kind phonebank event the campaign held on Tuesday aimed at AAPI voters by 70 AAPI volunteers.

"We are taking no vote for granted," Cancela said. "We know we win in Nevada and we win close races."

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 22: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Nevada caucus day event at IBEW Local 357 on February 22, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada held its first-in-the-West caucuses today following four days of in-person early voting, becoming the third state in the nation to vote in the Democratic presidential nominating process. Ethan Miller/Getty