Nevada’s importance on display at Democratic presidential event in Las Vegas

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John Locher / Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidates South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., businessman Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney stand onstage during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Sun, Nov 17, 2019 (11:38 p.m.)

The mood in the hallway outside of the Nevada Democratic Party’s First in the West event was something like a homecoming rally.

Ahead of the event at the Bellagio, in which Democratic presidential candidates and multiple Nevada politicians spoke, attendees set the tone. Supporters of California Sen. Kamala Harris arrived with large, cut-out letters and a drumline. A cardboard robot, painted silver, sang the praises of businessman Andrew Yang.

The event, put on by the state Democratic Party, was a chance for candidates to make rapid-fire pitches to voters in the months before the February caucuses. Nevada is the third state to weigh in on presidential preferences, after Iowa and New Hampshire and before South Carolina.

The event also served as a celebration of the gains the state Democratic Party made in the 2018 midterm elections, where Jacky Rosen defeated Republican Dean Heller in the U.S. Senate, Steve Sisolak won the governor's office and a Democratic majority of state lawmakers were elected.

“We know just how important it is for candidates to make their case to Nevada Democrats. So, since becoming an early (nominating) state, the candidate to win our caucus has gone on to become the nominee,” said Assemblyman William McCurdy, the Nevada Democratic Party chairman. “And it’s no surprise that we then carried our nominee to victory in Nevada on Election Day. Our caucus couldn’t be more crucial to this presidential primary. In the Silver State, we are the voice of diversity. We are the voice of union brothers and sisters.”

Sisolak touted the state's work on climate change, voter rights and collective bargaining, among other issues.

“If anyone wants to tell you that elections don’t matter, that elections don’t have consequences, tell them what we accomplished in one legislative session,” he said. “And we’re just getting started, folks.”

The event served as a reminder of Nevada’s political clout in national elections, including all of the candidates greeting former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on stage for an award presentation. Reid was a Nevada senator from 1987 to 2017, and continues to be one of the party’s most respected figures.

Many of the candidates stuck to previous talking points — Joe Biden’s experience and character, Yang’s universal basic income, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker positioned his campaign as return to political reunification in the country, and he said the election and the future of the country was about “having a more courageous empathy for one another” and “remembering that patriotism is love of country” and citizens. He linked his position to Reid.

“Love is what you see in how Harry Reid led his life, standing for people, being there in the clutch,” Booker said.

Reid spent most of his career building the Nevada Democratic machine and was integral in setting Nevada up to be the third state to vote in the presidential nominating calendar. Before he held court on stage with 2020 contenders, Reid said it was necessary for voters to rally behind the ultimate nominee.

“When we get that nominee, we’re all going to chip in together … because that person, whoever is the nominee, is going to be elected president of the United States,” Reid said.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said the people in attendance were the “backbone of the Democratic Party” and more representative of the country’s population that other early states. There’s a significant minority population in Nevada, especially with Latino voters.

“I might be a little biased, but I say that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, well, they’re nice places, but if you want to talk to America, you come to Nevada,” she said.

Cortez Masto, responding to rumblings that she may be considered as a possible vice presidential pick, said she was happy as a Nevada senator.

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