Those in attendance at Saturday’s candidate forum at UNLV were much like the 19 Democratic presidential hopefuls taking the stage: They all had their own ideas about who could best run the country and who would stand the best chance of defeating Donald Trump a year from November.
The forum sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees showcased the variety of candidates’ opinions, arming undecided voters with more information to make their decision in a race that has been marked by a progressive-moderate divide in the field.
Maria Carrillo, a caretaker, said she found things to like in two new candidates at the forum. She was interested, she said, in a few candidates coming into the forum — Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., but said she was “pleasantly surprised” by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and self-help author Marianne Williamson.
“I wanted to hear more about what the candidates are going to bring to everybody in general. I know that they were coming out here specifically talking to the service workers of Nevada, but I wanted to hear what else they were going to speak about that would help us all,” Carrillo said. Among the issues she said she was interested in were immigration, education and student debt.
Novell Thompson, with Local 741, a recreation workers union in Los Angeles, came to the forum with one main goal. “I want to see who is the best candidate. I want to hear their voices. I want to hear them speak. I want to hear what they’re going to bring to the table,” she said.
Thompson said that she was still undecided after the morning speakers, as they had all done very well.
Not every attendee was undecided, however. Cat Brewer, a College of Southern Nevada communications instructor, has had a candidate in mind since Trump was sworn into office in January 2017 — Booker.
“He leads with values, morals and ethics like I’ve never seen before,” Brewer said. “And they’re an alignment of mine, and I’ve been waiting for a candidate like that.”
As it stands, she already calls Booker “the next president of the United States.” If he doesn’t get the nomination, though, Brewer said, “It’s blue no matter who.”
Since Brewer is not affiliated with AFSCME — only union members were allowed to attend the forum — she had to settle with supporting Booker from outside the UNLV Student Union. Hours before Booker spoke at the forum, Brewer walked over to a booth his campaign had set up, picked up a tall sign and hoisted it.
Robert Siciliano was also on hand Saturday to listen to Booker, even though he hasn’t made up his mind for whom he will caucus next February. The airline hiring manager said he’d already seen Pete Buttigieg earlier in the week, and he was slated to attend Kamala Harris and Joe Biden events later Saturday.
All the Democratic candidates have similar policies, Siciliano said, but he wants to support the one with a more “genuine” personality, who also has a chance of defeating Trump.
Loretta Cooper, a retiree from the Teamsters union, said she and her daughter were also there to watch Booker speak, she said, but that she would like to get “all the information she could get” from the other candidates.
For now, Cooper said, she envisions a Booker-Warren ticket.
During the lunch break, after about half of the candidates had already spoken, Laura Leavitt — also a retiree — said she’d gotten “a lot of good information” from the speeches she’d heard but still hadn’t made up her mind on whom to support.
Peggy Black said she had an idea about whom she would support, but she wasn’t absolutely sure, so she kept it secret. The retiree and AFSCME secretary said the event might help her solidify her choice.
In this upcoming election, Black said, she’s more worried about health care and Social Security than the other issues being discussed. She said the Trump administration was chipping away at accomplishments the Democratic Party had amassed prior to Trump being elected.
As the 19 candidates continued to make their way to the stage throughout the day, Carrillo said she was excited to live in a town that gets as much attention as Las Vegas does in an election cycle.
“I love it, bring them all,” she said. “I want to see them all, the more the merrier.”