Nevada looks to shake up presidential primary calendar ahead of 2024

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Nevada Democrats are looking to knock off Iowa and New Hampshire to become the party’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary following a surprisingly strong showing in this year’s midterm elections.

The effort comes as the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) rules and bylaws panel convenes this week to discuss their early state calendar and follows years of haggling as party officials seek to change up the order of state primaries.

This time, however, Nevada Democrats are optimistic about their chances, citing not just a successful midterm but also the demographics of their state, which they say more accurately reflects the makeup of the party.

“If a presidential candidate wants to win nationwide, they have to know how to build coalitions and how to communicate early with different voting communities,” said Artie Blanco, a DNC member supporting Nevada’s bid.

Last month, Rebecca Lambe, former top political strategist to the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), published a memo touting Nevada’s case, pointing to its diversity across the board.

“If we disproportionately focus on a state with more highly educated, more affluent, and less representative voters, then we are setting our party up for long-term failure,” Lambe wrote. “If we take a gamble on a state that is too big and too risky in the first spot, then we could skew the entire early window and undermine the primary calendar.

The effort has received support from major Democratic figures and groups including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD PAC and the Indigenous People’s Initiative.

Reid originally advocated for Nevada to be the first Western state in the presidential primary calendar in 2008. Currently, the Iowa caucuses are the first presidential primary contest for the Democratic Party, followed by the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada primary and the South Carolina primary. In 2021, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed legislation changing the state’s candidate selection process from a caucus to a primary.

The DNC’s rules and bylaws committee is slated to meet Thursday through Sunday in Washington. The committee will come up with a proposal for the 2024 presidential year calendar, which will then go before the DNC for a full vote early next year.

Many Democrats point to Nevada’s racial and cultural diversity, particularly in the state’s growing Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander populations.

“Choosing a Democratic presidential nominee should begin in a state that looks like the rest of our country and a state that helps create real momentum around key groups like Latinos and [Asian American and Pacific Islanders] and it sets the tone for the contests that follow,” said Cecia Alvarado, Nevada executive director of Somos Votantes, a group aimed at engaging Latino voters.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D) reelection win last month notably delivered the Senate majority to Democrats. Cortez Masto, who is the first Latina elected to the Senate, has been one of the more prominent voices calling for Nevada to be first on the presidential primary calendar.

“If you’re a presidential candidate and you can win in Nevada, you have a message that resonates across the country,” Cortez Masto said in an interview last month. “And you can’t parachute in and think that you get a sense of what’s happening there because it is so diverse.”

Nevada’s labor movement has also served as another key part of the argument for why it should be the first presidential primary state. The Culinary Union, in particular, serves as a critical campaign apparatus in the state; in the lead-up to the midterms, the Culinary Union knocked on more than 1 million doors. Additionally, 450 canvassers contacted more than half of Black and Latino voters and more than a third of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters across the state.

“In Nevada what we did was make sure there was a strong economic message that we thought working-class voters reacted to — about housing, cost of living,” said Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union.

“I think Nevada should be first in the nation because they have the best opportunity to be able to develop and deliver that message, and that’s the winning message across the country, not just in the bluer states,” he said.

Advocates for Nevada to be a first-in-the-nation state also tout the state’s voting rights protections and access, citing vote by mail, early voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voting.

“States that have had Republican legislatures have been trending in a direction of making it harder to vote and really trying to set up roadblocks for people trying to cast their ballots,” one Democratic strategist said. “Nevada has trended the opposite way. Nevada has made it easier for voters to be able to exercise their rights.”

Ultimately, Nevada advocates argue that the state will make potential presidential nominees better candidates because of the diverse array of voters they will be exposed to.

“The earlier we talk to these communities, the better our presidential candidates become in communicating with these voters,” Blanco said. “We do reflect the population and the voting population of our country.”

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