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Democrats Head To Nevada, The First Truly Diverse State To Weigh In


In the race for the Democratic nomination, Nevada is the next state up. Democrats caucus there on Saturday. For the first time, there is also early caucusing, and thousands of people have already done it. Nevada is the first truly diverse state to weigh in. That makes it a big test of candidates' ability to earn the support of black and brown voters who are a key part of the Democratic base nationally.

NPR's Tamara Keith joins us from an early caucus site in Henderson, Nev. And Tam, what are you seeing there? How does this all start out?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well - so Nevada is a caucus state. That is a traditionally very involved in-person event that happens on a Saturday. But this year, the state Democratic Party added, for the first time, early caucusing, where people can go and register their preference on paper. They mark down their first, second, and third choices - up to five choices, actually.

So I'm here at Sun City Anthem in Henderson, and the line to go in and do this thing wraps around, down a long hallway into a large ballroom, where then it snakes around the room. And this is a retirement community, so there are a lot of older people. So they've set up chairs along the line for people to sit in as they wait. And that wait is long.

Leslie (ph) and Dale Doughman (ph) came about 10 minutes before the doors opened this morning.

LESLIE DOUGHMAN: It was about a two-hour wait. But you know, I brought a book. I was ready. So it was all right, you know?



D DOUGHMAN: It's too important not to. So you just wait.

KEITH: And yesterday, I went to a caucus site in Las Vegas. There was a line there, too, but it was only taking about 20 minutes there. At both sites, talking to people as they came out, they said that it was a positive experience and that the actual process of registering their preference, once they finally got to, was easy.

CORNISH: You know, we're focused on who's showing up because people have been talking about turnout. Can you tell us - kind of put this in perspective for us what's going on in Nevada?

KEITH: The Democratic Party of Nevada says that more than 26,000 people participated in the first two early days of the caucusing process. To put that in perspective, in 2016, 84,000 people came out on caucus day itself, but there was no early caucusing. What we don't know - we're about halfway through early caucusing - we can't really draw any conclusions about turnout, though, because we don't know if these people would otherwise have shown up on caucus day.

And then the other big question is, how is this new process going to integrate into what happens on caucus day? Certainly, people here are hoping not to have the problems that Iowa had, but we may not know until Saturday.

CORNISH: We've been hearing that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is leading in the polls. Is that the impression you get on the ground?

KEITH: Yeah, that it's his state to lose. Now, we don't want to make any predictions here, but Sanders is certainly riding high off of his performance in Iowa and again in New Hampshire. He has a massive field operation here that has been working particularly hard in Latino communities. They started last spring, opened their first office in East Las Vegas. And there's certainly an excitement among his volunteers that you don't always hear from some of the other campaigns in the same way.

CORNISH: So what are the other campaigns saying?

KEITH: You know, we used to talk about the progressive lane and the moderate lane in this primary, and that was always a little simplistic. But it's now becoming clear that there is a Bernie Sanders lane and an everyone else lane. I talked to a surrogate for Vice President Joe Biden who said that the field absolutely needs to narrow. He is making a pitch for Biden that he needs a strong performance in Nevada and a great performance in South Carolina. What is a strong performance? They're saying, well, anything better than fifth place. So talk about setting expectations low.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith in Henderson, Nev.

Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.