PHOTOS/DENNIS MYERS Bernie Sanders greeted a crowd of Nevadans at a UNR gathering of activists.

With Nevada and six Southern presidential nominating contests approaching, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shifted after Iowa and New Hampshire to targeting minorities, which were in small numbers in the first two contests. In Nevada, besides a large Latino bloc, there is also the high jobless rate of 6.5 percent and enduring foreclosures.

On the Republican side, the caucuses were down in the grass on the radar screen as a result of the state GOP’s decision to push its date back from Feb. 20 (third in the nation) to Feb. 23 (fifth in the nation).

For the second time, Clinton was scrambling to hold together a presidential campaign that she had entered as frontrunner but then had seen unravel. She kept increasing her time in Nevada. This week she canceled a trip to Florida to stay and campaign in Reno, Elko and elsewhere. She naturally spent most of her time in Clark County, where votes are packed. To keep up with Sanders, who was outspending her two to one, she started tapping a political action committee fund that was supposed to be reserved for her general election campaign.

Clinton seemed to be feeling the heat of Sanders’s dogged pursuit and attempted to preempt his issues, in part by trying to outdo him in populist rhetoric in the state which suffered the highest foreclosure rate in the nation: “I’ve taken on Wall Street before and I’ll do it again.”

Clinton’s claim to the women’s vote was undercut by National Nurses United—the nursing profession is 91 percent female, according to census figures—which backed up its endorsement of Sanders with mailings in Nevada, canvassings in several communities, and a Las Vegas rally.

In fact, Sanders’s union support came in for criticism from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, now under Sheldon Adelson management: “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is very fond of telling voters that he is the only Democratic candidate for president who doesn’t have a super PAC, and that he’s ’going to prove the experts wrong’ by winning the election without one. But Sen. Sanders is not counting contributions from labor unions. … SEIU, NEA, Communications Workers of America, National League of Postmasters, National Nurses United and many other unions among his biggest supporters.” Well, not many others—most union support still goes to Clinton.

Reporters and political volunteers poured into the state as it became clear Sanders was making a serious run at Clinton in what has been called a stronghold for her. For Sanders, there was nothing to lose by spending his entire campaign treasury in Nevada if necessary, because there was nothing ahead after Nevada but rough waters, including five Southern or border states on March 1. His best chance for a win after New Hampshire was Nevada. It was also the best place to keep his momentum going. For every six television spots Clinton ran, Sanders ran ten. Republican spots trailed by comparison.

The Democratic caucuses were an economic bonanza for the state, as the airwaves filled up with millions of dollars worth of broadcast commercials. The Republican caucuses were less so. By pushing their caucuses back three days, Nevada Republicans not only reduced the state’s influence in the presidential race, they also reduced the bump the state’s economy received. It made South Carolina the first post-New Hampshire GOP contest, giving that state 11 days of media buys. The original date would have made Nevada a higher priority. The full force of Republican advertising will come only after South Carolina, giving Nevada the full benefit of only two days of buys.

There was one journalism benefit in Nevada. There were no polls during most of the final surge, freeing reporters to cover more productive topics. That lack seemed to confound some national reporters.

Huffington Post: “Nevada’s Democratic caucuses are only a week away, but it’s really unclear who has an advantage … given how little polling has been done in the state.”

Business Insider: “But with about a week to go before the crucial Nevada caucuses—seen by some Clinton allies as the first of her ’firewall’ states that could stop Sanders’ surge—there’s almost no recent public information gauging how the last four months of the race have affected Nevada voters.”

One poll came out, but it was commissioned by Washington Free Beacon and done by TargetPoint. Both entities are far right and so were deemphasized by most news coverage. The Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill reported, “The Free Beacon is a conservative publication seen as antagonistic toward Clinton. And TargetPoint is ’a conservative firm stocked with Republican operatives,’ according to Slate.” The poll showed a virtual tie. (After the print edition of this story went to press, CNN released a survey showing the race in Nevada at Clinton 48/Sanders 47.)

There was another reporting option—to concentrate on telling Nevadans about the candidates’ positions on Western issues, such as climate change and the drought across the West or the high foreclosure rate and the candidates’ economic programs. But few reporters took advantage of it, preferring to stay with political chit-chat. (Reuters was one of the few news entities that devoted one entire article to the Nevada foreclosure rate.)

PHOTO BY DENNIS MYERS Sen. Cory Booker, a Hillary Clinton surrogate, poses with Nevada union leader Todd Koch at the UNR gathering. An interview with Koch can be read on page 35.

Still, getting to see the candidates at close range let some everyday Nevadans talk issues with them. At a Feb. 13 conference at the University of Nevada, Reno sponsored by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and other groups that attracted hundreds of people, Sanders and Clinton surrogate Cory Booker answered direct queries from pre-selected questioners such as union leaders and tribal members on topics that ran the gamut.

Sanders spoke emotionally when asked about Native American problems, including suicide. For some Democrats who recalled Robert Kennedy making an issue in a presidential campaign 48 years ago of the high rate of suicide among young tribal members, it may not only have caused a pang but may have fostered anger that the matter is still an issue.

Sanders said, “There is no excuse for not only copper companies coming in trying to take over Native American lands and poison that land, but there is no excuse that we have rates of unemployment, of suicide, of alcoholism which is unparalleled in America. … So, yes, I will stand with you and do everything that I can to bring dignity and economic opportunity to those people who do not have it today.”

Booker made barn-burning comments that got the crowd rocking and at one point touched on the issue of alternative energy that has been brought to the fore by Nevada’s net metering dispute.

“This idea that the private market will take care of everything is one of the perversions [of the political process],” he said. “We need to start doing what our [foreign] competitors are doing and investing in industries like those new energy industries. Right now more people are employed by solar than are employed by coal. But yet, where are all the tax breaks going? They’re going to old energy.”

Sanders: “I believe we need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. And in that regard I have introduced legislation which would end the extraction of fossil fuels from publicly owned lands.”

But even as her surrogate was arguing that she would lead the nation away from old fashioned energy practices, Clinton said in a debate with Sanders on Feb. 11 that she would keep the nation in the kind of health care system developed in the World War II era while Sanders argued for the more common single-payer system used in most of the world.

“The last thing we need is to throw our country into a contentious debate about health care again,” Clinton said. “And we are not England. We are not France. We inherited a system that was set up during World War II—170 million Americans get health insurance right now through their employers.”

Las Vegas columnist Steve Sebelius wrote, “She’s right: Health insurance benefits were created to get around wartime wage caps, a way of competing for workers without raising pay. But we won the war. We defeated the Axis powers. Wage caps are no longer the law. And the president who was in office for most of that conflict—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—believed strongly that Americans should have health care as a matter of right. … For Clinton, the answer isn’t to replicate the system found in Canada, Great Britain or France, but seemingly to build on the shaky foundation of American for-profit, insurance company-run health care.”

But while a few hundred people may have heard the Sanders/Booker discussions of issues and other direct exchanges around the state, some Nevadans who depend on over-the-air television did not get to see that Clinton/Sanders debate. Its broadcast was suppressed in northern Nevada by KNPB seven days before the caucuses. About a fifth of households lack cable.

When the debate failed to appear on KNPB, Sparks Tribune columnist Andrew Barbano queried president Kurt Mische, who replied: “Unfortunately, PBS was not able to secure a debate between the Republican presidential candidates. We cannot, in good conscience, provide coverage of a debate for one party without a debate being scheduled for the other.”

The notion of equal time is usually applied to a single race at a time. The Republican and Democratic candidates are not yet running for president, and are in separate races. They are running for their parties’ nominations for president. Thus, the Republican race is a different race than the Democratic race. Equal time is satisfied by including all the Democratic candidates in the Democratic debate. Mische’s stance is equivalent to withholding a debate in a Republican primary for governor if no debate in the Democratic primary for governor will be held. The notion that Republicans should be given equal time in a Democratic race, or vice-versa, is a novel one. There is nothing in broadcast law that requires it, and no television station in the nation could be found that has ever blacked out a debate for such a reason before.

Barbano queried Public Broadcasting System ombudsman Michael Getler about the Reno situation but no response had been posted at press time.

The caucuses are plagued by rumors that Nevada will be stripped of the influential early berth it now enjoys, particularly on the Republican side. The state GOP tried in the 2015 Nevada Legislature to kill the caucuses and shift to a presidential primary, which also would have lost the early berth for Nevada. But U.S. Sen. Harry Reid outmaneuvered the Republicans and got their primary legislation killed. They responded by moving the date of their caucuses so they were not held the same day as the Democrats.

Barbano wrote in his column this week, “This month may bring the last Nevada caucuses. If you want to have an outsized impact nationally, this is your chance, perhaps for the last time in your life.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...