Run-Up To Caucus Highlighted By Democratic Debate


Patrick Semansky/AP

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (center) speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer (from left), Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, listen on Jan. 14, during a Democratic presidential debate. Former Mayor New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will join this group Wednesday.

Democratic presidential hopefuls have already descended upon the state ahead of the February 22 caucus. 

They’re doing town halls, presidential forums, tours of the Culinary Union facilities -- but for the top-polling candidates, the must-attend event will be the Democratic presidential debate at the Paris casino-hotel on Wednesday, February 19. 

The debate will be the highest-profile airing of Nevada-specific issues. Thanks to the Culinary Union’s public disapproval of Medicare For All, health care has become a particularly hot issue. 

Ensuring that Nevada’s interests are addressed during the two-hour showdown is Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent and a co-moderator for the debate. 

“We have a much different makeup of the electorate then the two very white states that vote first and we’ve often been, if not a tie-breaker, a momentum changer, or we add to the momentum of a candidate,” Ralston said.

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He said both Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders are bringing momentum to Nevada, which will have an impact. In addition, he said those candidates arguably have the best field operations in the state.

The big question for Nevada is will the fiasco that happened in Iowa happen in Nevada.

“If any state party can carry it off without a major problem, it’s the state Democratic Party, which is one of the best in the country. And their organizational abilities are phenomenal,” Ralston said.

Although they have a stellar track record, Ralston said factors like early voting and realigning the votes from that part of the process with caucus day voting will be difficult.

“To think that’s going to go off without any hitches, no matter how well they’ve thought it out, is crazy," he said, adding that he suspects the Democrats are concerned. 

Before we find out if the party's organizational skills paid off, the voters will hear from the candidates Wednesday night.

Sondra Cosgrove is the president of League of Women Voters of Nevada. Although the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain has long been seen as a litmus test in Nevada, she said the topic doesn't top the list of important issues for most Nevada voters. 

The big topic she thinks people care about here and around the country is health care.

However, Cosgrove wants the candidates to talk beyond health insurance.

“You can talk about insurance until the day is long. If you don’t also have workforce development for the providers, it doesn’t make any difference if you have insurance,” she said.

Cosgrove said her group is prioritizing behavioral and mental health workforce shortfalls because that gap impacts everything from homelessness to children's mental health.

A lot has been made about Nevada's diversity compared to Iowa and New Hampshire, and Ralston believes the candidates will try to connect with communities of color during the debate, but he said those communities have the same top issues as white voters.

Ralston and Cosgrove agree that the debate format limits what voters can really hear from the candidates about those top issues.

“These are complicated issues that need to have a conversation,” Ralston said but because of the quick response limits, "A premium is put on sound bites and a-ha! moments."

He's hoping to get beyond that at Wednesday debate.

Cosgrove will be watching, but she'll not rely just on what she sees.

“I think there are moments when you see somebody thinking on their feet and being really spontaneous," she said. "But, for the most part, I watch and then I go online and I look at their platforms and ... what they’ve said in speeches when they’re not under pressure.”


Jon Ralston, editor, Nevada IndependentSondra Cosgrove, president, League of Women Voters of Nevada.

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