The fears presented by Magnus and other progressives are not without merit. Although Nevada has favored Democrats since Trump took office, in general, it has been a competitive battleground where neither party has been able to forge a lasting electoral majority. Apart from Obama’s impressive victories in 2008 and 2012, no presidential candidate has carried Nevada by more than five percentage points since 1988.
Nevada’s competitive environment was on display even in 2018 when Democrats rode a “blue wave” to victories up and down the ballot. That year the party’s candidates for
governor and the United States Senate won their seats by less than 50,000 votes despite heavily outspending Republicans.
Complicating matters for Democrats this year in Nevada are a few significant outside factors.
First, the coronavirus pandemic has not only impacted the party’s efforts to register voters, but also its ability to mobilize. For years unions like Culinary have spent the summer ahead of a general election conducting in-person outreach door-to-door to shore up its base. The pandemic, however, made such campaigning nearly impossible until late-July, even then at a greatly scaled-down format.
Similarly, it is unclear exactly how potent the power of unions like Culinary will be this cycle. In mid-March, with coronavirus reaching its height, Nevada’s Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a statewide economic lockdown. Given that nearly one-third of all jobs rely on tourism, the lockdown had a disproportionate effect in Nevada compared to other states.
In March, nearly 98 percent of Culinary’s more than 60,000 members, many of them employed in casinos and hotels throughout Clark County, were laid off. As of September, only half have returned back to work as the state’s economy struggles to adjust to social distancing requirements and business capacity limits. Nevada’s unemployment, which hit a high of 28 percent in March, is now down to 14 percent–still one of the highest in the country.
Although unions like Culinary have attempted to adjust to the layoffs by organizing food drives and help with utilities for their membership, there are concerns that the economic situation could depress turnout for Democrats.
Further adding to the situation is Trump’s better-than-expected polling among Latino voters, who make up nearly
20 percent of Nevada’s eligible voters. A series of polls indicate that if the general election were held today, Trump would likely get 30 percent or higher among the Latino demographic.
If accurate, the results do not bode well for the Democrat nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. In 2016, Clinton
received 66 percent support among Latino voters, compared to Trump’s 28 percent, according to exit polls from the race. Although the figure seems high, it is lower than the 71 percent that Obama received in 2012.
Exit polls from 2016
indicate that Trump received 29 percent of the Latino vote in Nevada, compared to Clinton’s 60 percent. Even a minor shift in support to Trump among Latino voters in 2020 compared to four years prior could make a big difference in as competitive and diverse of a state like Nevada.
For many political observers, all of those extenuating circumstances appear to imply the presidential race in Nevada might be closer than initially thought. Biden, himself, seems to be realizing the potential threat. Last week, the Democrat nominee dispatched his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), to rally
supporters in the Silver State.