But while those states have long traditions of primary participation, Nevada is a state with a somewhat transient, politically disengaged population. As a result, Clinton’s organizers spend much of their time just trying to put the caucuses on voters’ radar. To do this, they’ve gotten creative. They’ve held house parties for gays and Latinos, sought “faith captains” in African American congregations, and hosted a Filipino Kamayan-style dinner—in which guests ate with their hands from dishes served on banana leaves—for the Asian community. There was a Hillary-themed poetry slam at an independent bookstore in Las Vegas and Team Hillary hiking trips in Reno. There is a running club, of which Neri is a member, something he says has helped him avoid the usual weight gain associated with campaign work.
Clinton’s rivals acknowledge she will be difficult to beat here. “Hillary, to her credit, came here early, and she obviously sees Nevada as a kind of firewall,” says Tick Segerblom, a liberal state senator who is the only elected official in Nevada to support Sanders. Compared to Iowa and New Hampshire, he says, “it is certainly a much better state for her, and she’s much better organized.” Sanders drew 4,500 people to a rally in Reno in August, but until recently, his Nevada campaign consisted of a bunch of volunteers and a Facebook page, Segerblom tells me.
Segerblom has introduced Sanders when he comes to Las Vegas, but has not been offered a formal role in the campaign. “I think they’re hoping to have a more diverse face for the campaign, not just angry old white men—but they’re an important constituency too!” he jokes. He hopes Sanders puts more resources into the state in the next four months before the caucuses.
As a still-new addition to the early-state lineup, Nevada receives less attention than Iowa and New Hampshire, and the state has a bit of an inferiority complex as a result. (The dean of the Nevada press corps, Jon Ralston, has called it “the Rodney Dangerfield of early states.”) But there are signs the candidates’ bid for Nevada votes is having an effect. Clinton came to Las Vegas to announce her immigration platform in May, pleasing advocates by staking out a position more aggressive than many had expected—she said she would expand on President Obama’s executive actions to halt deportations. And both Clinton and Sanders have declared themselves against the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health-insurance plans in Obamacare, a provision the Culinary Union strongly opposes. Sanders, in last week’s debate in Las Vegas, also came out in favor of Nevada’s ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana; Clinton did not.
The day before the debate, Clinton appeared on the picket line at a Culinary protest of the Trump International Hotel, a gleaming, 24-karat-gold-plated 64-story tower a block off the Strip. (In 2012, Mitt Romney appeared at the hotel to accept Donald Trump’s endorsement.) Her appearance cleverly combined expressing solidarity with the union and ripping the GOP frontrunner. And the day after the debate, she headed to a suburban union hall to accept the painters union’s endorsement.