Dems Look To Rural Nevadans For Votes

Dec 20, 2019

As many as 15 Democrats could be up for consideration during Nevada's Democratic Caucus in February. With such a crowded presidential field, campaigns are working to drum up every vote by spending more time in rural counties. KUNR's Paul Boger reports.

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in Elko. The sun is out and the streets are busy with people grabbing brunch or heading home after church.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to voters at a town hall in Elko, Nev.
Credit Paul Boger / KUNR Public Radio

Outside the Western Folklife Center, though, a line has started to form to see one man: former Vice President Joe Biden.

He’s one of a handful of Democratic Presidential contenders who have stopped in rural Nevada this fall.

“Thanks for having me,” said Biden. "I've heard a lot about Elko. My sister Valerie was up here and loved it and told me that I had to come. I know we usually do this remotely, all the other candidates, but I wanted to come up and see you and see the territory.” 

For Wendy Charlebois, these stops are a big deal.

“Nevada is kind of a swing state and I think that they understand that there's a huge pocket of people out here that are obviously not Democrats, and I think they want to encourage them to think about something different,” Charlebois said. “That's what I would hope.”

Currently, there are more than a dozen Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for president. So, it’s fair to say that with such a crowded field, candidates are doing everything they can to reach as many voters as possible. That means more Democrats heading out to spots many would consider Republican territory.

“It means so much when a candidate or a campaign makes a personal appearance in some of these areas,” said Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus Chair Kimi Cole. “That goes a long way to say, yeah, there is somebody that cares about us. Like, our voices matter too. And you know, it's okay to be a Democrat out in rural, rural Nevada.”

But many of the rural hubs are pretty far apart and it’s expensive for some candidates to visit remote areas away from major airports. So, Cole and her rural caucus have started live streaming candidate visits to other rural towns. Biden’s visit to Elko was also broadcast to places like Tonopah and Minden. She says the 2016 election taught Democrats some hard lessons.

“A lot of the campaigns realized that they just can't take it for granted and only go to the urban areas,” said Cole. “So they realize that, and there's a lot of votes. There's a lot of people with real concerns that want to make a good choice when they go to the voting booth and they want to know who they're voting for.“

Nevada Assemblywoman Sara Peters and Yerington Paiute Tribal Chairwoman Laurie Thom give former HUD Secretary Julian Castro given a tour of the Anaconda Copper Mine in Yerington. Thom has since endorsed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for president.
Credit Paul Boger / KUNR Public Radio

That’s a particular message that Julian Castro seems to have taken to heart. The former Housing and Urban Development Secretary has visited Nevada more than any other candidate. He’s also ventured farther into rural areas than anyone else. Recently, he took a tour of the old Anaconda Copper Mine with tribal leaders in Yerington to talk about groundwater contamination caused by mining. He says Nevada is a microcosm for the country as a whole.

“When I think about Nevada, I think about the future,” Castro said. “It's a growing state with a diverse population, but also a lot of the challenges that so many communities face in our country: a lack of housing opportunity for a lot of people, rising healthcare costs.”

But are these candidates actually addressing the concerns of rural voters? It depends on who you ask. But it’s clear access to healthcare seems to resonate with rural voters more than any other.

“It's very difficult for rural areas to attract doctors, pharmacists, any kind of medical professional,” said Charlebois.

“We have to go so far,” Anna Fluellen said. “We've known people who have had cancer and who've had other conditions where they have to travel an awfully long way. And if they lose any of their income it makes it very difficult, because we also don't have a lot of connection to the other rural communities yet that helped them get from this area to where they need to go.”

“We're lacking severely in mental health, so we don't have a lot of facilities to go to, and we don't have a lot of licensed psychologists that people can see for mental health,” said Maria Ruiz.

Other voters I chatted with brought up the need to curb gun violence or greater educational opportunities.

But Gary Butler of Minden says he just doesn’t want to be overlooked by the candidates.

“Those that refuse to come out or don't take the time or don't bother, uh, we don't have to bother with them either,” he said.