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Democratic Candidates Look To Capture Diverse Base In Nevada


This Saturday, Nevada holds its Democratic caucuses. The great recession hit the state especially hard, and the economic recovery is a leading issue in the state. Nevada's caucuses will also give us the first indication of how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton perform with a racially diverse group of voters. I spoke earlier with Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston. He told me that since nearly 30 percent of the state is Latino, both campaigns are aggressively pursuing Latino voters.

JON RALSTON: There's been a pitched battle now here in Nevada for the Latino vote between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. It was thought that the Clinton campaign had it locked up. She hired a bunch of really savvy Hispanic political operatives. She came here last May and did a press availability with dreamers, talked about essentially doing more than President Obama has done with executive orders. But there is some evidence that Bernie Sanders is starting to make inroads in that Latino lock for Hillary Clinton, and that could be a real problem for her here.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post with the headline "Nevada Is No Longer A Lock For Hillary Clinton." What are you seeing?

RALSTON: Well, I'm seeing the same thing the Clinton campaign is seeing, which is, since New Hampshire and all of the Sanders momentum has come here, both campaigns will acknowledge the race is very close. And so I would say that it's the oldest cliche in the book, right? It's all about turnout. And there's one real wildcard here that you have to remember, which is that people who are not registered or registered with another party can come and register as a Democrat on the day of the caucus on Saturday and vote. New registrants made up about a quarter of the turnout in 2008, so it's very difficult not knowing what that number is going to be to predict an outcome.

SHAPIRO: You wrote that the Clinton panic is palpable. Where do you see that panic?

RALSTON: Well, the first evidence of it was right after New Hampshire and even before the results were in, the Clinton campaign started talking about how Nevada was just as white as Iowa and New Hampshire, which is patently false. They repeated it several times. Then you saw Clinton actually cancel several events in Florida on Monday and instead come here to Nevada, do several events. So it's clear that they believe that the firewall that they had built here is buckling, and the question is whether it can hold up through Saturday.

SHAPIRO: Turnout in these caucuses on Saturday is expect to be pretty low - just a fraction of the total electorate. What difference does that make in what we take away from the Nevada results?

RALSTON: Well, that's a problem, of course. In 2008, the first year that we had the early state status, they set a record for caucus turnout. It was about 120,000 voters. But still, that's only a quarter of the entire Democratic electorate...


RALSTON: ...Here. And most people are now estimating it's going to be under that - maybe only 70,000 or 80,000 voters. Again, it's going to depend on those same-day registrants and how many new voters come out.

But still, this point in the presidential campaign this early in the crazy way we cover presidential races, it's much more about the media narrative and whether Hillary Clinton can stop the Sanders surge, whether Bernie Sanders can prove that he can win outside of all-white Iowa and New Hampshire. That will destroy the whole issue, I think, of electability being Hillary Clinton's advantage if Bernie Sanders beats her in a state like Nevada.

SHAPIRO: Wow. So we're talking about a serious potential turning point in the Democratic race here.

RALSTON: I think the narrative, yes. Now, delegates - I think that Hillary Clinton still would have an advantage, but I think that if Bernie Sanders wins here, I think he makes the argument, look; she's not the most electable Democrat. I've beaten her in New Hampshire soundly. I managed to catch up and beat her in Nevada. Let's go on to South Carolina, and I'll show you I can win there. Now, again, you know, this is still - it's still very early. It's a long slog until the convention, but I think that the insurmountable challenge that Bernie Sanders once was thought to have in this race - that whole premise is erased if he wins Nevada.

SHAPIRO: That's Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston speaking with us from KNPR in Las Vegas. Jon, thanks for joining us.

RALSTON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.