Ahead of Big Vegas Debate, What on Earth Is Happening in Nevada?

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Posted: Feb 19, 2020 10:25 AM
Ahead of Big Vegas Debate, What on Earth Is Happening in Nevada?

Yes, I'm calling tonight's clash a 'big' debate, for two reasons.  First, as we learned in New Hampshire, debates really can matter.  I don't think the 'Klobusurge' happens without her sharp performance.  Second, as we learned yesterday, Michael Bloomberg will finally face live rhetorical ammunition -- as opposed to bombarding the airwaves and holding tightly controlled, lavish events in states where none of his competitors are playing yet.  Among the huge outstanding questions I have going into the debate are: How Bloomberg will manage the barrage of incoming criticism, how he'll handle thorny questions from moderators about his record and history, and whether a Bloomberg pile-on (borne of pent-up frustration) might allow the actual (and strengthening) frontrunner to skate through relatively easily.  

Setting aside the debate, who is heading into the Nevada caucuses with the advantage?  Most signs, including the Real Clear Politics average, point to Bernie.  But caucuses are strange and a handful of surveys point in radically different directions.  Here are a few of the head-scratching outliers:


Most of the polling has shown Sanders leading comfortably among Latinos, so data showing Biden in the lead with that demographic is an eyebrow-raiser.  One veteran Nevada politico is sounding rather skeptical.  And then there's this totally bonkers, out-of-left-field result:


Tiny sample size, little-known pollster, implausible result.  I can't put much stock in this at all, but it's too chaotic not to at least mention.  The reality is that most polls (including this one from a pollster that has been quite accurate this cycle) project another Sanders win.  And it sounds like operatives and rival campaigns on the ground are very much expecting that outcome:

Bernie Sanders is becoming harder to stop. Nevada is where his opponents are starting to realize it. Advisers to three rival campaigns privately conceded over the weekend that the best anyone else could hope for here is second or third. Some of them gape at the crowd sizes at Sanders' events — like the swarm of supporters who accompanied Sanders, his fist raised, to an early caucus site in Las Vegas on Saturday, the first day of early voting in the state... While few expect that Sanders can carry more than a third of the vote in Nevada, nearly everyone believes that will be enough to win in a field where the moderate vote remains splintered. It is becoming a source of celebration for Sanders' supporters and an urgent problem for those who want to prevent him from claiming the nomination...An aide to one of Sanders' opponents described the new "default state of the race" as one featuring Sanders in his own orbit and everyone else in theirs.

What's been amazing to watch is that despite a crucial union's strong opposition to Bernie's single-payer healthcare scheme (many union members would be among the 170 million Americans who would lose their private insurance), Sanders opponents haven't been able to parlay an anti-endorsement into a coalescence around anyone else.  In fact, with two top Nevada Democrats refusing to endorse anyone, Bernie's status as the favorite may have solidified.  And if all of that plays out as expected, the Vermont Socialist would have swept the first three nominating contests, having won the most votes in each.  That's momentum that could prove challenging to reverse.  Meanwhile, is anyone confident that Nevada's Democratic Party is on track to avoid an Iowa-style caucus night fiasco?  Read this post and draw your own conclusions.  I'll leave you with a worrisome quote: "It feels like the [Nevada Democratic party is] making it up as they go along." Gulp.  No wonder party bigwigs seem to be gravitating in this direction: