Another Dispatch from Nevada

Jesse Cornett

Being a political junkie and as often as possible participant of presidential politics, I jumped at the chance to visit Nevada for the first in the West selection process.

This past week I went to Las Vegas to help John Edwards campaign for President. I met at least 5 other Portlanders also there helping Edwards. Though he’d had an organization in Nevada for months and many, many local and out of state volunteers, he lost. The media portrayed it as a distant third. Coming in at 4%, that was a kind portrayal. It was a great adventure none the less.

The days before the caucus I spent all my time contacting voters. It is the best and most important part of a campaign. Having worked on many campaigns now, I know volunteers often look forward to the other aspects and actively seek them out. I did no such thing. I thought nothing else mattered in my time there. Nevada voters seemed both at times appalled and in love with their new found attention.

Caucus day itself was spent at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in one of the contested “at-large caucuses,” and it was quite the experience. Though not unexpectedly, my candidate didn’t make “viability” at the Flamingo meaning he earned no delegates and his supporters were required to support their second choice.

Being from Oregon, I’ve never been actively involved in an actual nomination process before, much less a caucus. Seeing the Clinton and Obama campaigns try to move voters from one side to the other at the last minute was impressive. Clinton’s volunteers making sure that everyone knew they’d paid the bill for lunch felt a bit like a high school class president election tactic but a good move anyhow.

The after party was notable as well. Instead of a small room of people mourning a loss, there was a large room (okay, bar) full of energized staffers and volunteers, ready to move on to South Carolina or the February 5th states. To all of his staffers and those of the other two campaigns, I wish you the best in the coming weeks. As for me, it’s happily back to business as usual.

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    Thanks for posting this, Jesse. I'm jealous you got to go down there. Coming in a distant third is an obvious disappointment for Edwards supporters, but for the folks who went down there, working hard to give voters a choice sometimes is its own reward.

    Putting aside my support of Obama, I continue to impressed by many aspects of Edwards's campaign. And as someone who's managed campaigns, I am frankly a little unnerved by Edwards's lack of support, given his message and this year's electoral landscape. Edwards is running a much more innovative campaign than his four-percent showing would suggest.

    Anyway, welcome back and good for you guys for going down there.

  • Daniel Spiro (unverified)

    Charlie, you took the words right out of my mouth. Edwards deserved better than 4% -- especially if Hillary is getting 51.

    Politics can drive you bonkers trying to figure out what the voters are thinking. Or if they're thinking.

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    Thanks Charlie. It was disappointing, rewarding, and perplexing all at the same time. I wouldn't have changed my plans knowing the outcome in advance. Sometimes you have to stand up and fight. I know what John Edwards believes in and that's why I'll continue to support him.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    I just shake my head. On two couns, 4% and HRC - in that state. On the basis of her voting record and campaign contribution sources, I'm ...

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    Edwards' 4% is what he ended up with after going to 0% in all the precincts where he was "non-viable" isn't it?

    My understanding is that the polls had him somewhere in the 12-15% range prior to the caucuses. With a viability threshold of 15%, that would suggest that in some places he'd make the threshold but in more he'd miss it. If he were "non-viable" in 2/3 of precincts, so that his final numbers reflected in effect about 1/3 of his support, you'd end up around 4%.

    Or am I misunderstanding where the 4% comes from? If it were exit polls about first choice preferences that would mean he had a dramatic last-minute collapse.

    Jesse, some descriptions of anti-Obama shenanigans by some Clinton people, written by Obama people, describe situations where pro-Edwards people walked out after being declared non-viable, rather than making a second choice (to the frustration of the pro-Obama writers). In one case it was said to be some union people who wouldn't go against their union's endorsement of Edwards.

    Anyway, under the rules, were people allowed to just sit out the second round?

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I was in Reno for three days, saw all three candidates and volunteered for both Edwards and Obama ( I was interviewed by Channel 8 in Reno at the Obama rally at the U of Reno). There was a ton of out of state folks, especially for Obama, who reportedly benefited from several hundred Californians in Reno/Carson City the last few days. Obama carried the Reno and Elko areas by big margins.

    I'm thinking of writing about my views of the caucus process for Blue OR and/or local papers. For now, I'll use Jesse's article as an opportunity to say that, like him, I was interested in the caucus process and enjoyed watching one. Having said that, I don't like them and am glad that Oregon has a primary.

    As we know, but now I really know first hand, a caucus is a non secret ballot process that can take up to two hours, with the potential of long lines to sign in, and with no opportunity to vote absentee for those who are working or otherwise unable to attend. After all the howling and squawking by our party after Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, I can't believe that we tolerate the caucus process to be used by so many states.

  • LT (unverified)

    On the one hand, no one can say there were voting machine errors in the caucuses.

    On the other hand, after that wonderful satirist on an ABC news program sang, "Pack up all your care and woe, ethics vote 6-0, bye bye Packwood" to the tune of Bye Bye Blackbird, it seems to me there was a short period of conversation about whether the nominees would be chosen by primary or caucus. As I recall, it had something to do with when the Gov. set the special election date--set it too early and there are caucuses as there is no time for a primary.

    In 1984, in the Missouri caucuses as I recall, there were reports that the Mondale union supporters were blocking entrances so that all caucus goers would have to come through a central door and they could see if any of their membership went to the Hart or Jackson caucuses.

    As I understand it, outside of the fact there is no secret ballot, the main thing about caucuses is that success goes to organized candidates whose people understand the rules and the process.

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    Hi Chris, I haven't taken the time to think through the logic of getting down to 4% but you are probably right. As for the shenanigans... let's just say I thought the HRC folks were unpleasant but I can't say there I witnessed any suppression attempts and will say they did not happen at my caucus. I don't know why people would have been required to stay for a second round but perhaps someone who knows better can chime in.

    Grant, I am glad you were there and am also glad we have a Primary. The Caucus may have an upside of actually saving people time (hard to explain, but true) but that's the only upside I can see.

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    I thought the caucus I participated in 2004 was a very interesting experience. Then again, I was in Iowa not Nevada no casinos for me to caucus in, which I still don't get.

    I went to the basement of a library in Alden, Iowa and set up my caucus corner and spent the first 20 minutes before people got there wondering if my precinct captain would show up, her house had burned down the odds of her having time to caucus were slim...but she showed up five minutes before the doors closed.

    I was made very well aware that I was an "observer" to the process. The caucus chair even went so far as to introduce me as a member of the Kerry campaign who was here to observe the caucus. I could talk, but I wasn't to go out and stump for Kerry. 60-80 people I think packed themselves into that little basement. Every campaign was represented in the pool of caucusgoers we had in Alden.

    It was amazing to see average everyday people get up in front of their peers and explain why they were supporting so and so. Something, I don't have to do. I just sit at my desk and fill out a ballot.

    I think like any system there is room for corruption, no system is perfect.

    Grant, Jesse, I'm glad you got to experience a caucus.

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    Excellent post as usual. Here's a piece from Open Left that sheds some light on the HRC win in Nevada.

    Although I am clearly in the Blue Oregon minority, I was mighty happy with the outcome there, though I know it's tough to lose (and not just at blackjack).

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    Excellent post as usual. Here's a piece from Open Left that sheds some light on the HRC win in Nevada.

    Although I am clearly in the Blue Oregon minority, I was mighty happy with the outcome there, though I know it's tough to lose (and not just at blackjack).

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    It sounds to me like a caucus is true democracy at work.

    I watched the NV caucuses live on CNN. It was neat to watch the same process we used at Re-booting Democracy last weekend used to pick a Presidential nominee.

    I thought it was hands-on, fun, innovative, & productive.

    Like someone said earlier, it certainly eclipses the problems associated w/malfuctoning voting machines or bad ballots.

    After watching, I now wish EVERY state voted via caucus...w/some measure provided to protect those @ work (like the casino set-up), out of town, or otherwise unable to attend.

  • Jonathan Manton (unverified)

    Hey Everybody,

    I was on the ground in an Obama field office in Winnemucca, a small town in rural Northern Nevada. I'll probably have more to say at another time but here are a few observations everyone should know about:

    Throughout the week prior to the caucus, nasty e-mails were circulated accusing Barack of being a Muslim, of taking his oath of office on the Koran, of attending a Madrassa as a boy, and of being unpatriotic due to a snap shot photo during the Harken steak fry where he didn't have his hand over his heart. It was the same e-mail that's been circulating for weeks, maybe months. Our canvassers, me included, got many doors slammed in our face by folks saying the likes of "I'd never vote for a Muslim", ect. Several precinct captains came back from the caucus reporting caucus goers voicing these falsehoods during the actual caucuses.

    On the night before the caucus, supporters told us of push poll calls they received saying, "Would it change your support of Obama if you knew he supported Yucca Mountain." Barack is opposed to the project, which obviously is a pretty important issue for folks who'd be living in the vicinity of a pretty huge nuclear waste storage site. He stated his opposition to it clearly in a rally that same week.

    Were these bullshit tactics coordinated and/or organized? I certainly don't know of any proof, but I've been at this long enough to be pretty damn skeptical of coincidences.

    Barack still won overwhelmingly, both in popular vote and delegates, in rural North Nevada. (A feat worthy of its own conversation because that's a very conservative area.)

    He lost to Hilary significantly in the heavily populated areas around Yucca Mountain.

    Wanted y'all to know that kind of crap is happening and IMO that it had an impact on the ground in Navada.

    It's on to Super Tuesday states now.

    -Jonathan Manton

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    Jonathan -

    I think the statement "he supported Yucca mountain" is past tense; granted it might be clearer to say "he had supported Yucca Mountain in the past", but the statement isn't categorically false. The vagaries of language in politics are nothing new, and Hillary's campaign certainly doesn't have a monopoly on such.

    Here is an excellent recap of the issue at MyDD.

    The point the rival campaign was making was that Obama's positions have shifted for political reasons, and it's valid even though he vehemently denies it. See for example his clear personal revisionism on single-payer health care. There's really no argument here; Obama is misleading people.

    I'm not expecting Obama to be a saint, there's nothing that scandalous about adopting a better or more politically palatable position on issues. The issue is that he has touted himself as more pure and consistent than he actually is, while attacking fellow Democrats on things that apply equally to himself; it's the self-righteous hypocrisy, not the actual positions, that are beginning to bother people about Obama.

    A sure sign that he's seeing cracks in his defenses is the line he unveiled on Sunday and reiterated in last night's debate - "No one's hands are entirely clean." Apparently he thinks it's wise to now lower expectations not for his victory, but for his own consistency and integrity. It's too bad that he set them so high to begin with.

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    Hi Chris,

    Please don't further ruin the post with your unhelpful rhetoric.

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    The point the rival campaign was making was that Obama's positions have shifted for political reasons, and it's valid even though he vehemently denies it.

    Is it possible in your tiny universe, for a politician to change his mind because of:

    new information on the issue

    hearing and internalizing arguments previously not considered

    extensive review of a topic previously of a lower priority


    If not, your beliefs are in fact dogma and hence religious in nature.

    I personally never want to see another president who never changes his/her/its mind when presented with overwhelming and countervailing intel.

    If we do get another one, odds are he'll be a Republican.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Elizabeth- You would seriously want a caucus process where there is no secret ballot and often a low turnout??!! The NV D turnout was something like 30% which was astounding for a caucus turnout. Outside of Iowa, they are typically so low that someone like Pat RObertson can win (as he did in the WA GOP caucus in '88).

    Don't think there aren't voting challenges at caucuses beyond the lines and time committment. At the caucus I attended, many people left after they had been counted, and the CLinton captains had a hard time finding enough delegates for the next step- county conventions. The precintct caucus is only the first step, followed by county, then CD, and finally, state delegate selection conventions in the late spring.

    At the airport, some CLinton staffers were complaining that at their site, the caucus chairman had suspended the rules and changed the deleagte allotment rules. (there is some formula they use which I can't explain.)

    Remember, there is no state certification or monitoring of caucuses- it is party controlled- which can be good, but also very sketchy.

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