I moved from Northern Virginia to Reno, Nevada almost one year ago and I was afraid that when I left the DC metro area, that I would be leaving the world of politics. Of course, the Nevada Caucus has brought politics to my new home, and I have had the luxury to see the race close up. All the Democrats have been to Reno multiple times. I have had the opportunity to see three of them: Edwards, Kucinich, and Richardson.
However, I have noticed, and definitely noticed on Caucus Day that Hillary has been running a very different campaign, and that has caused rifts between her and grassroots Democrats that is very troubling.
The activity of the campaigns in Reno
Several months ago, Richardson believed he would have a good shot in Nevada. As a Western Governor, he believed he was in a good position to represent the interests of Western State Democrats. However, after his inability to stay close in Iowa and New Hampshire, he really had no choice but to pull out.
Kucinich won’t pull out for a long time, hoping to get his message out. When Kucinich came to town last month, he was greeted by almost 300 people who came to hear him speak. Many of them left very impressed, and committed to vote for him. By Caucus day, however, they were nowhere to be found.
Edwards seemed to be strong early on in the campaign. In Reno, he had a large staff, active representation at Democratic events, and was strongly pushing his message of universal health care. He appeared to have widespread support in this community prior to the Iowa Caucus. After Iowa, Edwards seemed to disappear in Nevada. He had few, if any, TV ads, and his voter turn-out effort was pitiful.
The Hillary folks seemed to be in the shadows. I rarely saw them at Democratic events, where they seemed to keep a low profile. It seemed like they were more interested with courting unions or certain interest groups, rather than Democratic voters.
The Obama campaign consistently targeted young voters. It seemed like a lot of the Obama efforts focused on the University of Nevada-Reno (the largest university in Nevada). However, as the campaign reached its final weeks, the Obama campaign was much more active throughout the community. They held many events and they had an excellent turn-out effort. In addition, Obama was advertising heavily. In my experience, there were more Obama commercials than Hillary commercials.
On Caucus day, I headed down to the Huffaker School at 10:15am. I was there to help the Obama campaign, but my role turned out to be more generalized. I helped register voters and chatted with neighbors. I didn’t put up any Obama signs or posters.
There were multiple precincts in the building; three in the gymnasium where my Caucus took place. One of the precincts was very small, and I never caught the results. The other two were much larger. My precinct had 43 people, and 23 of us voted for Obama. Before the first alignment was over, the two Kucinich supporters rushed over to Edwards, who was barely viable. The final count was Obama 23, Hillary 12, and Edwards 8. Obama received two delegates, and Hillary and Edwards tied with one. The other large precinct in the gymnasium had 5 delegates up for grabs. Obama received 3, and Hillary got 2.
At the end of the day, Obama won 4 out of 5 counties in Northwestern Nevada (or the Reno-Carson City metro area) where 20% of the population lives. The rough numbers for these 5 Northwestern Nevada counties was Obama 49%, Clinton 40%, and Edwards 8%.
Obama won Elko, the only other populated area of the state, 58% to 28%. Obama held a now famous rally in Elko during the spring of 2007, where nearly 2,000 people showed up. Hillary killed Obama in Clark County (Las Vegas and its suburbs). The damage here was 53% to 43%. She also easily won Nye County, which is close to Las Vegas. Edwards was crushed in Clark County, receiving just over 1.5%. However, because of Obama’s strong performance in rural Nevada, he actually won 13 delegates to Hillary’s 12. In fact, Obama won 11 of Nevada’s 17 counties and 6 out of the 9 largest Nevada counties.
From my experience, Hillary clearly sought the support of interest groups, rather than Democratic voters in Nevada. She courted the Latino groups, the unions, and others who form any type of group. The Culinary Union leaders (who endorsed Obama and won a court case to allow their union members to vote at their place of business) were surprised to find that Bill and Hillary also courted this group, and had already neutralized their endorsement by Caucus day. Hillary clearly used a strategy in Nevada which for years has been taken by Democrats and Republicans alike. She focused on the group rather than the individual.
As I mentioned above, the Hillary campaign has been an outsider to the Democratic Party in Northern Nevada, and perhaps in Southern Nevada as well. This is a very dangerous tactic, because she is turning off much of the Democratic base. For all you Hillary supporters out there in Virginia, rest assured that I plan to support Hillary if she is the candidate in the General Election. However, she needs to think long and hard about what she is doing to the Democratic base. She has turned off a lot of progressive, grassroots Democrats by ignoring us, and by slamming Edwards and Obama. Bill Clinton has been ruthless in his criticism of Obama, which has clearly been turning off Democrats in my community and elsewhere. Few Democrats I know like her very much. Most of them would be happy to volunteer for Edwards or Obama in the General Election, but most of them will pack it in if she is the nominee. As for the general public out here, even people who can’t stand Bush say that they dislike Hillary. Conversely, most people seem to have a favorable opinion of Obama.
It wasn’t until the last few weeks that I understood that this race is truly about change. The American people are tired of Bush and tired of Clinton. They want to start fresh. They want to be united. Even though Hillary won the popular vote in Nevada, she clearly does not have the momentum people think she has. If she thinks the way she is currently running her campaign is working, she is wrong. She may squeak by Obama on Super Tuesday, and win the nomination, but she may be heading for a serious beating on Super Tuesday when Edwards supporters switch to Obama, just to beat Hillary. All in all, I think Hillary needs to come back to the Democrats and their volunteer base and convince us that she cares about us as individuals, and that she is one of us. If she doesn’t, she may enter the General Election with an unmotivated Democratic base, and a cadre of right-wing muckrakers ready to finish her off.
Nevada Results: http://www.nvdems08.com