Nevada Democrats Express Confidence That Caucus Will Run Smoothly : The NPR Politics Podcast As Nevada prepares for tomorrow's caucus, state party officials express confidence that it will run more smoothly than Iowa's caucus.

Also, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has prioritized engaging Latino voters in the state and that effort appears to be paying off with younger voters there.

This episode: congressional correspondent Scott Detrow and political reporters Claudia Grisales and Miles Parks.

Nevada Democrats Express Confidence That Caucus Will Run Smoothly

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BRANDY: Hi. This is Brandy (ph) at All Together Skatepark in Seattle, Wash. I picked up a skateboard for the first time a few months ago, and tonight at 43 years old, I successfully dropped in on a 4-foot-high quarter pipe. This podcast was brought to you at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Its 10:41 here in Nevada on Friday, February 21.

BRANDY: Things may have changed since this podcast was recorded. But one thing that has not changed is that you're never too old to follow your passions.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DETROW: Wow.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: That's fancy.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the presidential campaign.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales, and I cover Congress.

DETROW: And welcome to my hotel room, guys.

GRISALES: Fancy.

PARKS: It's very nice.

DETROW: We're looking over a beautiful mountain range and an equally beautiful sign for In-N-Out.

GRISALES: Yes, I have my plans for some animal-style fries.

DETROW: And, like, what more could you want from Nevada?

GRISALES: Everything you need in life.

PARKS: Oasis in the desert, really.

DETROW: So tomorrow, the Nevada caucuses - a lot at stake politically. But before we get into all of that, given how the Iowa caucuses went, we're going to take some time and talk about just the nuts and bolts of how Nevada Democrats will be counting their votes, reporting their results, election security. Luckily for us, an expert on all of those matters right here, Miles Parks, our election security reporter.

PARKS: It's all I've been focused on for weeks now.

DETROW: So, Miles, let's start with something you just reported, the fact that Nevada Democrats are beefing up the amount of people who will just be physically answering the phones tomorrow. The party seems really focused on not repeating what went wrong in Iowa.

PARKS: Right. There are so many examples at this point of Nevada Democrats just trying to do things differently than what happened in Iowa. Specifically, point No. 1, is that they will not be using an app. This is the first thing that they want to tell you about the technology that they're using. They will not be using an app the way Iowa Democrats used an app to try and transmit results.

They will, however, be using some technology. They're giving the 2,100 precinct leaders across the state iPads to basically help with the caucus math. And those iPads will also help integrate the early vote totals from the people who voted earlier this week.

DETROW: So Google Forms on an iPad. What are the election security concerns of that?

PARKS: Well, you'd be surprised to know security folks are actually pretty happy about this development. They feel a lot more confident going into tomorrow's caucuses than they did a couple weeks ago heading into Iowa. There are still big usability concerns. Anytime you integrate new technology into an election days, weeks before that election is supposed to take place, that would give election officials who do this for a living a heart attack. But that's basically what we're looking at at this point.

DETROW: Yeah. And, Claudia, you've been talking to a lot of voters, caucusgoers here in Nevada. Have you heard anyone express any worries about how this could go down, given how Iowa played out?

GRISALES: They seem very confident in terms of what they expect to see Saturday. They know about the Iowa story. But at the same time, these are residents here. They trust what their party is doing. And they were just excited to get out and vote. I did run into Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And he was also very confident. He's aware of Iowa. He said, we learned a lot of lessons there. We're taking those lessons here. And he's very bullish that Saturday will go off without a hitch.

DETROW: And he and the DNC, of course, have come under a ton of fire for a lot of reasons of the Iowa caucuses. All of this has raised a lot of questions about the future of caucusing in general.

But let's shift to something else that is being tried for the first time. Of course, the biggest concern about caucusing - up until Iowa's inability to figure out for a while who actually won its caucuses - was the accessibility issue. If you can't come to a certain place at a certain time, you can't participate.

Nevada is a state with a long history of early voting. Something like two-thirds of Nevadans typically vote early. And, Miles, they tried a hybrid of caucusing and early voting. Early caucusing - can you run us through what exactly that was?

PARKS: Nearly 75,000 Nevada Democrats went out and cast their ballots early from Saturday through Tuesday earlier this week. Basically, it honestly mimicked more of a primary process. People showed up to these early voting sites and were given what looked like paper ballots. They filled in their first preference, their second preference, their third preference.

The tough part is then on the back end, the party has to take all of those preference cards, sort them, make sure they end up at the right precinct for those people and then integrate them on Election Day into that caucus day math.

DETROW: So that was Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. And they've had several days to take all of those results and get them ready to go for people at these specific precincts?

PARKS: Right. Exactly. What's interesting here is that the Nevada Democrats seem really thrilled about how this early caucusing worked. But it's really kind of mimicked a primary process, which has led a lot of people who are calling for the end of caucuses to say, well, if you like this so much, then why don't you just do a primary? And it's kind of hard to argue with that.

DETROW: And something like 70,000 people seem to have participated already, which is great news for Democrats on a lot of fronts. There was a lot of anxiety about turnout levels in the first two states. Something like 80,000 people participated in the 2016 caucuses. Claudia, it seems like a lot of people are taking part for the first time, maybe because of the fact that they had this four-day window to caucus or vote or whatever we're actually calling this hybrid.

GRISALES: Yes, I talked to one first time voter, Rosa Marez (ph). She was more comfortable speaking to us in Spanish. Let's take a listen.

ROSA MAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GRISALES: And she has lived in the United States for 30 years. She's a housekeeper along the Las Vegas Strip. And she didn't become a U.S. citizen until just very recently, only a few months ago. And she said she was encouraged by her children - four adult children - and her husband. They're all citizens. But she had never gained her citizenship. She did, in part, because she wanted to vote for the first time.

She's really struck by President Trump and the concerns about anti-immigration issues. And she wanted to make sure her voice was heard. It seemed like she was among many people out there who've been targeted in Nevada to come out and vote for the first time.

DETROW: And one of the things we're going to talk about later on in the podcast is if we do see a real surge in first-time participants in the caucus, especially Latino voters, that is the type of thing that the Bernie Sanders campaign has really been promising that they would be able to deliver. And we didn't quite see it in New Hampshire. We saw it a little bit in Iowa. That's one of the key questions that we have going forward in Nevada.

PARKS: I think one of the things I'm going to be watching tomorrow is how much of that 70,000 early vote total was people who would have participated on Saturday anyway. Are we going to see another 70,000 people show up on caucus day and see the Nevada - break records - break the 2008 record that was set, or were these people who were already going to participate and we have really sparse turnout at these caucus day locations?

DETROW: So speaking of things you're looking for tomorrow, what else are you going to be paying attention to tomorrow afternoon? The caucuses begin at noon. They're supposed to last a couple hours. What will the indications be of whether this is going smoothly or whether we might be having tabulation and caucusing problems on our hands?

PARKS: I think the biggest thing is how many of these precinct leaders are actually using the iPads. It's really clear that the iPad system is fairly simple. I got a look at it a couple of days ago. You basically input data into these Google Forms, and then it spits out numbers. But the precinct leaders who either have trouble getting the iPads open or just decide it's too much trouble and want to do it all on paper the old-fashioned way, it is going to be tough and a lot more laborious to integrate those early vote totals. They basically have these spreadsheets that they have to count one, two, three, four for Biden, you know, 16 for Warren, whatever, and integrate that manually. Those precincts that do it manually are probably going to take a lot longer.

DETROW: And last thing - how open has the Nevada Democratic Party been about all of this?

PARKS: I'd say they've been very open, specifically because everything that they're doing is being compared to what happened in Iowa. You'll remember I did a story a couple of weeks before the Iowa caucuses about the app they were going to use, had an interview with Troy Price, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party who basically said, trust us. We're not going to give you any information. He promised us a media briefing that never happened. Nevada had a media briefing. We've seen the iPad tool. They're trying to be as communicative as possible, telling us today that 200 people are going to be staffing this phone line, that they're ready for a lot of calls on caucus day. It seems like they're making an effort to message and try to be more transparent.

DETROW: All right, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, what is at stake for all the candidates tomorrow and how much the shift to Nevada has changed up the way that they're campaigning.

OK. We are back. And, Claudia, so much of the conversation leading up to Nevada and then South Carolina a week from Nevada has been about the fact that minority voters begin to weigh in on the primary process in a real way for the first time. But you and Asma Khalid has also been doing a lot of this reporting...

GRISALES: Right.

DETROW: ...You've been talking to a lot of people, and one of, like, of the overwhelming responses is - that's so notable that we talked about it a lot last night when we were all catching up was that the feeling that that framing really does kind of oversimplify things. What is the general sense of the people that you talked to the last few days have of what it means to shift to Nevada and how they're interacting with these campaigns?

GRISALES: Yes, that definitely sounds like it's an old idea in terms of how we look at these minority voters. For example, the Latinos I talked to, they very much emphasized they're not just about immigration. When I did talk to them, they were very passionate about pointing out their concerns with President Trump and his anti-immigration policies. But at the same time, they said they were just as worried about jobs and the economy and their union health care. I spoke to several members of the Culinary Workers Union, very powerful union here in Nevada, and their focus is, we're very happy with our union health care and concerns about candidate Bernie Sanders' plans to offer a new kind of health care that would eliminate that option for them. So they are very worried.

I talked to one expert who's watching this very closely. Her name is Janet Murguia. She's president and CEO of Unidos. This is a Latino nonprofit advocacy group. And she really framed this in terms of when we're looking at Latino voters specifically, she said that basically that Latinos go to the polls with immigration on their hearts but with jobs and the economy, health care, housing on their minds. That's a big concern for them. So that was the running theme that I heard when I spoke to them.

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JANET MURGUIA: They really want to hear from those candidates where they stand on those issues that affect their families. So I think oftentimes, people - and candidates included - paint a broad brush with our community assuming that all we care about is immigration.

DETROW: Have you gotten a sense of which campaigns are doing this outreach well, having these conversations well and really making inroads?

GRISALES: Yes. I was very interested in hearing from these voters who they were looking at. For example, Biden very much stood out for them because they were worried about this union health care. At one of these polling locations I went to, which was for the Culinary Workers Union, there was a mariachi band. There was a taco truck. And there was Tom Steyer with a booth there talking to voters. And so it was interesting that I spoke to some Latinos. They couldn't quite remember his name. One was saying Tom - Tom Taylor - oh, Tom Steyer. That's the guy.

DETROW: And I think the Bernie Sanders campaign has been putting a lot of effort into Nevada in particular, also other states with a heavy Latino voter population, including California and Texas, which just so happen to be voting, you know, a week and some change from the Nevada caucuses.

GRISALES: Yes, so that's interesting. What I did hear from one expert is they're seeing a little bit of a split between younger Latinos and older Latinos. The younger Latinos are gravitating towards Bernie, while some of the older Latinos are gravitating towards Biden.

PARKS: I do think it's interesting how much the campaigns and the media - everyone is focused on Nevada. It's kind of a similar Iowa, New Hampshire thing. It's important to remember that you need almost 2,000 delegates to clinch this nomination. In Nevada, there are 36 delegates at stake. So again, we're talking about a momentum thing, as opposed to the actual amount of delegates that are going to make a huge difference in terms of who wins the nomination. But I am curious, Scott, in terms of thinking about these candidates and who has the most to gain or lose in tomorrow's caucuses, can you just kind of talk through that?

DETROW: Sure. I think that on one hand, the most to gain and also kind of the least pressure at the moment, I would say, is Bernie Sanders, who finished in a virtual tie in Iowa, won New Hampshire and everybody thinks is the favorite to win in Nevada tomorrow. And going forward - again, I feel like I'm grabbing everyone and shaking them that I see to make this point - March 3, you have about a third of the overall delegates at stake. And if one candidate, Bernie Sanders, seems the most likely at the moment, given what we're seeing - if one candidate has an outsized delegate lead after March 3, it would be incredibly tough for anybody else to catch them at that point. That could be a real change in this race going forward.

So I think that you have his campaign hoping for a win in Nevada that is a bigger win than they saw with the 26% or so in Iowa and New Hampshire, trying to expand their base and show that they can grow beyond a quarter of the votes. And then there is an incredible amount of pressure, which we saw play out in that really raucous debate earlier this week, among all of the non-Sanders in the race, right? Joe Biden looking to recover from very poor performances.

PARKS: Well, and Biden has - how much emphasis has Biden put on the fact that both Nevada and South Carolina - he's been saying for weeks that this is the first primary or caucus that actually includes minority voters. How is that going to go for him tomorrow?

DETROW: Right. He has said - been saying that over and over again, but also emphasizing South Carolina way more than Nevada. So he thinks that he can maybe go another week with another lower showing, and I think a lot of experts and people from other campaigns really dispute that in terms of momentum. Then you have Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. We have talked at length about the fact that they have just had a hard time making connections, getting meaningful support from minority voters.

We will see the raw results tomorrow. We won't see polls or anything like that. And both of them are trying to fight with Biden in a way that I think was really clarified by the campaign finance reports that campaigns put out yesterday. The Buttigieg campaign, the Biden campaign, the Warren campaign to an extent, all based on the last reporting period that we saw, are really low on cash right now compared to Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg, who, again, isn't on the ballot till March 3 but has a half-billion dollars or so already spent on this race.

PARKS: I know Warren was touting her fundraising after the debate on Wednesday, but I think it's interesting to note as well, that debate happened after 70,000 people had already voted. So it's unclear how much - despite how many people watched that debate, you know, I'm really curious to see how that's actually going to affect the total vote number considering how many votes had already been cast.

DETROW: And Claudia, you are spending some time covering the Warren campaign here in Nevada. I feel like a lot of her supporters feel like her performance Wednesday night could be the boost that she needs to jump back into this race.

GRISALES: Exactly. She did get a bit of a boost here. And people were impressed. I went to one event where she visited a soul food restaurant in North Las Vegas, and one shouted out to her, great job last night. They were really proud of her, how she went after Bloomberg. And so it's given her some life for this campaign in the state.

DETROW: Yeah, so I'd say the main things that I'm looking for tomorrow is can Bernie Sanders get to 30% or more of support. If he does, in fact, come out in first, does anybody else separate themselves from the pack? And again, after that, it's a week and some change before it's a national race. There's not much time for somebody else to jump out and kind of frame the conversation the way that mostly Sanders has been able to so far.

PARKS: The thing I'm going to also be watching, even more than the nitty-gritty of the results, is when those results come in. Democrats in the state have been really cagey about when they're expecting those results. They say they're hoping to have them on caucus day. But I tried to nail them down on - is that 5:00 p.m. Pacific on caucus day? Is that 11:00 p.m. Pacific? You know, when is that going to be? They wouldn't give me an exact time. I'm really curious to see how smoothly this caucus process goes.

DETROW: Though, Miles, I feel like one of your mantras as the elections reporter is that taking your time to count the votes is not necessarily a bad thing or a sign that things have gone horribly wrong.

PARKS: Right. We want it to be accurate, more importantly, than fast. But we're in this weird time where because of Iowa - and you saw all this misinformation come out in the days after the Iowa caucuses about the delays - it makes the Nevada caucuses really vulnerable from a misinformation or disinformation standpoint because you know these trolls online are going to be ready to jump in if there is a delay. And that's motivation for the party to get this out quick.

GRISALES: I also found it interesting how you saw in Iowa, they seemed to be raising expectations, and it seems like it's a different situation here.

PARKS: Right. It's an expectation game from them here. If they say it could be late at night and then they, you know, give the result at 4:00 p.m. Pacific, everyone cheers, whereas Iowa was like, we're going to have results by 9 p.m., 10 p.m. Eastern time, and then when it got to be 11 p.m., people were freaking out.

DETROW: Yeah. All right, we're going to take one more quick break. It is allegedly Friday. This is something I was reminded of...

GRISALES: Really? (Laughter).

DETROW: ...By our producers in the morning, which means that it'll - which means that we will end the show like we do every Friday, with Can't Let it Go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DETROW: All right, we are back. And it is time to end the show like we do every Friday, with Can't Let It Go, one thing we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. Claudia, you are ready to go.

GRISALES: I am raring to go.

DETROW: This is something that - we often joke that, like, there are the things we really can't let go and the things that we say we can't let go.

GRISALES: Yes.

DETROW: But it seems like you are in that first camp.

GRISALES: Yes. I will never let this go. My husband is from Nevada. And so we've had a 20-plus year debate on how you pronounce Nevada. First 20 years, I said it's Nevada because it's a Spanish word - snow-covered mountains. And so after 20 years, though, I seem to be losing that battle with the visits to his family here. It's just, they don't like it. The locals don't like it, I was always told. However, when I was speaking to Latino voters here, they agreed with me.

DETROW: Oh.

GRISALES: They say when they speak to each other in Spanish, they say Nevada. However, if they're in public, they're speaking to groups that also speak English, they will say Nevada because if they say Nevada, it's a clue, it's the alarm - out-of-towner. This is not a local. Look how they're saying it - wrong, wrong, wrong. But if you're speaking Spanish and you're in a group with Latinos, you know, just casually talking, they say it's Nevada. So there. I win. After 20 years, I win the argument.

PARKS: That is my favorite reporting nugget from this trip so far, Claudia. That's amazing.

DETROW: Miles, what about you?

PARKS: So my Can't Let It Go, I want to shoutout my guy Ty (ph) who texted me yesterday when I was (laughter)...

DETROW: (Laughter) I saw this.

PARKS: When I was going through my tape after a long day of reporting, and I get this random text from a Tampa number. I'm from the St. Petersburg area. So I didn't think too much of that. But I read the text, and it just says, hey, it's Ty from Champs. And I was like, hey, I think you've got the wrong number. And he responds, so we didn't just meet in Champs?

DETROW: Oh, Ty.

PARKS: And it became very clear at that point that Ty tried to make a move, I think, in a Champs shoe store and was given my phone number, a fake number. And I responded, no, unfortunately, we did not. I'm in Nevada.

DETROW: Claudia, your face just went, oh, no.

GRISALES: I am horrified for you. You have to watch for yourself - security, whatever you got to do. Be safe.

PARKS: I'm going back and forth on that move. I think - in my first moment was, Ty, what are you doing making a move in a shoe store? And now I'm actually - to transition to, like, admiring the boldness. And I'm kind of curious on what the opening line was. I just want to tell Ty, you know, it's going to get better. If you're listening, things are going to go your way at some point.

DETROW: All right, have either of you ever given a fake number or been given the fake number?

GRISALES: I've done the fake number giveaway a lot. It works. It works. It gets you out of there real quick.

PARKS: I have received one fake number in my previous career as a single man, and I'm not proud of it. It was my early 20s. I'm ashamed to say it, but like I said, things get better.

DETROW: I have not been given the fake number, but I've gotten a variation of that, so - and I still remember the moment of being like, oh, that just happened. Not good. Not good.

PARKS: Oh, I'll never forget it. Yeah. Scott, what's your Can't Let It Go?

DETROW: Well, now I'm reliving that really embarrassing...

PARKS: And that's really what you will never let go, right?

DETROW: Yeah, yeah, sorry.

PARKS: Trauma.

DETROW: Oh, man. What I can't let go of besides being stood up this one time in high school that I'm now vividly remembering every single moment of is - so this was flagged for me. A lot of people covered this. NPR did as well. And it is both fascinating and incredibly horrifying and, like, taps into, like, things that I'm, like, phobic about. A violinist in London was undergoing brain surgery. She had a tumor that they were removing. And in order to make sure that they were not impeding her future ability to play the violin, they woke her up mid-surgery to play the violin. And there is video of it - horrifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN PLAYING)

PARKS: That is one - did you watch the video?

DETROW: Yes. And this is - it is explained - there is a story about this on npr.org and many other places as well. It is explained that this is something that is occasionally done. It was obviously done in a very controlled way and not just like, hey, welcome to brain surgery.

GRISALES: Wow.

DETROW: But she's just calmly sitting there playing the violin. It was mind-blowing.

GRISALES: Wow.

PARKS: I once got stitches in my forehand, and I was awake for that and almost passed out. I cannot imagine somebody touching my brain.

GRISALES: I know.

PARKS: It's just - it kind of makes me queasy.

DETROW: I need to, like, aggressively look the other way during the flu shot, so, like, that...

GRISALES: Exactly. I can't even look at the flu shot. How did this lady do this? And she seemed calmed, I guess, and was able to pull this off.

DETROW: I mean, I think she was calmed based on a whole bunch of things in her system.

PARKS: How was her playing? Was it good?

DETROW: Yeah. Yeah.

PARKS: Nice.

GRISALES: Impressive.

PARKS: Yeah, shoutout to her.

GRISALES: I know. She's probably going to get several job offers now. Can you do that again?

PARKS: Maybe we can have her play the theme song for our podcast.

GRISALES: (Laughter) I think so.

DETROW: All right, we've got a lot to do. We've got a lot of rallies to cover. We've got caucus sites to go to. Miles and I have to lose some money at a craps table at some point this evening. So we are going to end this podcast here, but we will, of course, be back in your feeds tomorrow with results of the Nevada caucuses. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the campaign.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

PARKS: I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.

DETROW: And just to say, there is a huge team of producers and editors in Washington, D.C., in Nevada, in the other states helping us to make this work, including Carl Craft, who's sitting right here watching us, making sure our levels are working, taking pictures of us telling (ph) this podcast right now. Thank you to everybody at NPR who helps make this podcast come together every single day, sometimes many times a day lately. And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

PARKS: That was one of my favorite...

DETROW: Can I tell you what it was?

PARKS: Like, that was the - yes.

DETROW: I called her. She definitely picked up the phone. I asked for her, and she goes, oh, she's not here.

PARKS: No.

DETROW: And I was like, oh, no. This is so clearly you on the phone.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKS: Wait, so you went - you guys went to the movie.

DETROW: We went to the movie. I was like...

PARKS: And then she gave you...

DETROW: ...That went well. Let's follow up.

PARKS: Oh, my God.

GRISALES: Wow.

DETROW: Nope. She's not home right now.

PARKS: (Laughter).

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