Column: Just suck it up and caucus, Nevada

Sure, it might be a fiasco. But it might not.

February 13, 2020 5:24 am

Las Vegas | Susan J. Demas

It looks grim.

As of Monday night, the state Democratic Party was moving closer to hobbling together some sort of a plan for how the Feb. 22 Nevada caucuses will work. Complicated, fussy, and featuring PDF(!) files, it looks like a menu of frustration and confusion with a side of mayhem. Like caucuses generally. And it’s incomplete. But! More details are forthcoming. Maybe today! Or not.

Early voting starts Saturday.

Iowa had a caucus. It failed in almost every respect, except the part where it’s supposed to make a headline that shapes the race. Iowa put Joe Biden on the ropes, looking endangered.

Will Nevada save Biden?

Don’t know, don’t care. That’s not what this is about.

Fewer snowbound Iowans caucused this year than in 2016. New Hampshirites (New Hampshirians?) voted Tuesday. Turnout was better than 2016 and (unofficially) better than 2008.

But turnout in New Hampshire might not predict anything about Nevada. New Hampshire has a primary. Nevada has caucuses. And when the final results of Nevada’s caucuses are tabulated it will hopefully mark the last time ever that presidential candidates spent money trying to win a caucus anywhere in the U.S.

In 2008, 118,000 Nevada Democrats caucused. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the headliners. Would Democrats nominate a woman or a black man for president? Either was going to be historic. Plus it was the first year Nevada was an early state.

It was fun.

The next time Nevada held a competitive caucus, between Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, perhaps the novelty had worn off. Participation plummeted to 84,000. By contrast, the Democratic primary election two years later, which included no presidential candidates but did feature a couple folks who thought they were gubernatorial material, an assortment of Democratic congressional candidates, a smattering of not uninteresting contests further down the ballot, and, above all, the hovering malevolence of whatshisface in the White House, attracted nearly 147,000 voters.

There is a palpable sense in the 2020 air of Democratic ennui. People are exhausted by Trump and Trumpism, and some people suspect Trump fatigue is hampering turnout now, and will curb Democratic enthusiasm in the general election. 

That seems wrong. At least the general election part. 

You’ve likely encountered a sentiment that goes something like this: Unsure which candidate is strongest against Trump, a lot of Democrats are just waiting for the primary dust to clear and then they’ll rally behind whoever wins the nomination.

Nevadans shouldn’t do that.

However ticky-tacky and flawed and squirrelly and buried on a Saturday Nevada’s caucus process may be — and again, let us all hope Nevada’s are the last caucuses anyone anywhere pays any attention to — the third position in the nation’s lineup should be taken advantage of.

That is not to assert that Nevada will, sigh, “matter.” It might, or it might not.

Nevadans don’t — can’t — know if it will or won’t. Maybe the caucuses will be a fiasco and the rest of the country will point and laugh and then shrug and utter a collective “yeah whatever,” and Nevada will have no influence on the process at all. Nevada’s influence on the nomination has always been negligible at best.

But we can’t be sure that will be the case this year. However slim the chance that Nevada will nudge a candidate one way or the other in a way that resonates in later contests, Nevadans should participate in the process and, you know, see what happens.

Democrats have not reached anything approaching a consensus on which candidate is most “electable.” It’s a tough choice, especially when a preponderance of polling consistently shows a half-dozen Democrats beating Trump, at least in national polls.

Yes, national polls are meaningless because they presume a democracy, and all the U.S. has is a dumb Electoral College. But still, half a dozen are consistently beating Trump in polls. Who has the best shot? How can we know?

Whatever the turnout in Iowa, or New Hampshire, or Nevada, Democrats, and oodles of independents, are eager for a president who is neither criminal nor certifiable.

Why should Nevadans defer to voters of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, or more likely, the Super Tuesday states, to select that candidate? What makes those voters more qualified than voters in Nevada to know who is the best candidate to beat Trump?

Nothing. That’s what.

There’s a not unreasonable school of thought that says anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen this election year doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

So maybe all the indicators are dead wrong, and participation in this month’s Nevada caucuses will be grand and the counting and reporting of the results will be smooth and efficient.

Or maybe the signals are spot on, and the caucuses will be a humiliating omnishambles of chaos, misery and despair.

Since we can’t know, Nevadans should suck it up and participate in the process anyway. C’mon, there’s even early voting. (Nevadans can find an early voting site near you right here).

This column originally ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Nevada Current.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson is editor of the Nevada Current, a sister publication of the Michigan Advance. He has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.