Gotham Gazette

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Lessons for the New York Primary from Sanders’ Nevada Blowout


Bernie Sanders & Make the Road Action in Nevada (photo: Make The Road)

People across the country were stunned by Bernie Sanders’ 28-point victory in the Nevada caucuses. Not our members. Why? From Make the Road Action’s on-the-ground work mobilizing Latino voters and other voters of color in East Las Vegas, it was clear that the Sanders campaign had overwhelming support in our communities. The Latino vote was his secret weapon.

And looking forward, Sanders’ performance in Nevada, where 30% of the population is Latino, and people of color are the majority of the population, has important implications for future primaries closer to home -- like in New York, where 18% of the state’s population is Latino and people of color make up more than 40% of the population.

Over the past two months, our members in Las Vegas had a front-row seat to observe the Sanders campaign’s dominant ground game in Latino communities and other communities of color. The campaign prioritized hiring a diverse staff with deep community connections, and investing real resources—dollars and staff time, not lip service—into organizing these communities. While other campaigns relied primarily on the airwaves, the Sanders campaign, through a robust precinct-by-precinct outreach strategy and culturally-relevant event series like “Tamales con Tio Bernie,” showed a clear focus on in-person organizing.

The campaign also showed a deep commitment to grassroots partnerships and the synergies they bring. Since early last year, the Sanders campaign engaged community organizations like Make the Road Action and our members, asking for input on policy platforms and organizing strategy.

When our members ultimately chose to endorse Sanders, the campaign also worked to make us an integral part of the campaign. When Senator Sanders held a rally in Las Vegas on the first day of early voting, four of our members spoke first—sharing their experiences of fighting for affordable housing and against unjust immigration policies in Las Vegas. When we marched to an early caucus site right after, Sanders marched with us.

The campaign’s commitment to community partnership yielded concrete results. Our Nevada members were so energized that our team ultimately knocked on 10,000 doors and made more than 30,000 phone calls to engage Latino voters and other voters of color across East Las Vegas. We also reached millions of people nationwide via social media with original, bilingual content highlighting our support for Sanders.

On caucus day, we saw the fruits of that labor. Statewide, entrance polls showed Sanders winning a clear majority of Latino votes—a remarkable feat given that there were 11 names on the ballot. At the dozens of precincts across East Las Vegas that we covered, Sanders won overwhelmingly, with community members reporting to us that they had received visits at their doors from the campaign and from Make the Road Action. When one of our poll-site interpreters asked an older Latina voter for whom she was voting, she went into her purse, pulled out a Make the Road Action flyer, pointed to Sanders' face, and said: "I'm voting for him."

The Nevada results have clear implications for states like New York, with large Latino populations and many voters of color. Here, too, we can already see the strength of the Sanders ground game, with an all-volunteer statewide infrastructure collecting 65,000 petition signatures to get him on the New York ballot.

And, as in Nevada, our black and Latino members in New York, alongside progressive elected officials—like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jumaane Williams, Jessica Ramos, Julia Salazar, Ron Kim, Mike Gianaris, and others—and partner organizations like Democratic Socialists of America and New York Progressive Action are already energized and organizing for the April primary.

Those efforts have begun to bear fruit, with a new Siena poll this week showing Sanders in the lead in the Empire State for the first time in this contest, and with a solid lead among Latino voters.

With the strongest organizing infrastructure in the primary field and robust community partnerships, the Sanders campaign can count on trusted messengers to deliver votes across diverse communities. As we look to Super Tuesday and then on to New York’s primary in late April, expect that infrastructure to pay off.

Lalo Montoya and Deborah Axt are, respectively, the Nevada Political Director and the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road Action. On Twitter: @LaLoMontoya5, @DebAxt & @MaketheRoadAct.

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