LAS VEGAS -- Diversity. That’s what differentiates Nevada from Iowa and New Hampshire, and why former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., believes it’s crucial for any presidential candidate hoping to reach the White House to campaign in the Silver State.
“The reason I've indicated that it is so important that people come here -- there's no diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire. None. Here we've got what’s like the most of the rest of America,” Reid told Fox News. "Candidates must realize that Nevada is a diverse state. It's different than Iowa. It's different than New Hampshire. It's a state that's very diverse."
Many say that although Iowa has long been seen as the first litmus test for presidential candidates ever since Jimmy Carter was able to use it as a springboard that ultimately led him to the presidency in 1977 – it doesn’t represent the microcosm of diversity that is the United States.
Iowa’s population is 85 percent white and New Hampshire is 90 percent, while Nevada is a minority-majority state, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Although Nevada falls in third behind Iowa and New Hampshire in the national voting pecking order, the state represents the first chance for candidates to reach a diverse voter base that could prove to be an important bellwether in determining voter trends.
But the 2020 candidates don't seem to be paying much attention to the state. Top tier Democratic candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have only spent a handful of days in Nevada, compared to dozens in the other two early voting states.
According to Fox News data, Sen. Sanders has spent 10 days in Nevada, the most among the top three polling candidates, compared to 27 days in Iowa. Warren has spent nine days in Nevada, with Biden only visiting five times.
While it's a critical state, Nevada poses a challenge for candidates.
“They've all come here. I’d like to see them more, but I mean you have to understand that it's much easier to go to Iowa, much easier go to New Hampshire,” Reid told Fox News, adding that most of the candidates are from the East which makes it more difficult to get out to Nevada.
But, he noted, “they’re doing a pretty good job.”
Other than being racially and ethnically diverse, Nevada also has a large labor union presence, a critical voting bloc for Democratic candidates. Still, the candidates seem to be overlooking the state to save money -- and because, unlike the first two voter states, politics doesn't have the same fixation in Nevada.
"It really is a question of dollars and cents,” said Patrick Murray, director, Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Turnout is low. There is not a culture around the Nevada caucus like there is in Iowa and New Hampshire in terms of these voters really turning out, really getting engaged in this process early on.”
While Nevada represents a different voter base that is more encompassing of the nation as a whole, Democratic strategist Roger Fisk said if a candidate loses Iowa and New Hampshire the third state won’t matter.
“If you come in fourth or fifth in Iowa you can maybe spin that and live for another day in New Hampshire, but if you’re coming out of New Hampshire fourth or fifth then you never had to worry about Nevada at all,” Fisk said, calling Iowa the “biggest slingshot in the world” and referencing former President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory that energized his campaign.
“They can spend all the resources saying Nevada is going be the place where they really break out, but if they tank in Iowa [and] New Hampshire, it really doesn't matter because they're done at that point,” Murray said.
On the flip side, both Murray and Fisk noted that if there is no clear frontrunner coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, Nevada’s stock gets increasingly more significant – with Fisk adding that it could even “resuscitate” a campaign.
Local politicians said Nevada has more political importance than people realize -- and could make or break a presidential candidate.
Assemblyman William McCurdy II, chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, believes Nevada is that state that will ultimately “decide who the nominee will be” and who is “going to take on Trump in the general.”
“Candidates who have a statewide presence here, who are actually coming here more and more frequently, we see them being very, very strategic and focused on making sure that they're doing the work to turn out voters,” McCurdy II told Fox News.
McCurdy also noted changes to the caucus system to encourage higher voter turnout
“Our caucus is going to be one of the most expansive, accessible and transparent caucuses yet,” he said, adding that people will have the opportunity to vote early with preference cards translated in different languages.
That's an enthusiasm echoed by Reid, who has high expectations for 2020.
“I think 2020 should be really good because there's so much attention focused now. It's not two candidates. It's 10 candidates. And, I think we've had participation here that I didn't expect has been really very, very good. Even some of the so-called minor candidates are coming here all the time hoping they'll get a strike of lightning here sometime.”
Reid said Nevada will also play a critical role in the general election.
Although a September Fox News Poll has Biden leading President Donald Trump by 14 points, followed by Sanders at 8 points and Sen. Warren right at the margin of error, topping Trump by 6 points – Reid warns against ruling out Trump.
“My career goes back to a number of presidents and there's never been anything like Donald Trump. It's created a lot of anxiety in Nevada, the country and around the world … I have always said, 'don't count him out.' Even though he's amoral, he is a person who is always able to have a discussion on his terms,” Reid told Fox News, adding that “people think he's not very smart, I think he's really smart. He may not be well-read. He may not be very academic. But I think he has a sense of how to pick a fight.”