Trump to Campaign in Battleground Nevada, Site of Narrow Loss in 2016

By Eliza Collins and Catherine Lucey

President Trump planned to campaign this weekend in Nevada, as he makes a play for a state he narrowly lost four years ago and which some Democrats worry could be within his reach.

Mr. Trump is set to appear at an airport rally south of Reno and public events in Las Vegas. The campaign sees Nevada as a pickup opportunity, stressing his narrow loss in 2016 and internal polls that aides say show his approval rating improving there.

Allies of former Vice President Joe Biden say they are taking nothing for granted and have a robust organizing effort in the state, but liberal activists are sounding alarms about the Democratic nominee’s support among Latino voters.

There has been little public polling in Nevada, but most political analysts say it narrowly favors Democrats. On Thursday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report raised its assessment of Republicans’ chances in Nevada, saying the state leans Democratic rather than calling it a likely Democratic win.

The western clash comes as both presidential candidates campaign in competitive states after a summer in which the coronavirus pandemic prevented much travel. Mr. Biden leads in national and many state polls, but his advantage is slim in some of the battlegrounds. Nevada, which offers six electoral votes, could play a crucial role if there is a close finish.

“This is a state that the president only lost by 27,000 votes,” Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said on a conference call with reporters earlier in the week. “The president’s got a real opportunity in Nevada.”

Democratic State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who represents Las Vegas and is a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, said Democrats saw the state as a battleground but that they had an edge in organizing.

“The benefit the Democratic Party has here that Republicans have never been able to catch up with is that every election cycle our infrastructure becomes stronger and more developed,” she said.

Hillary Clinton won the state by less than 3 percentage points in 2016. Before that, Nevada swung between the two parties, backing President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Republican President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

The first public poll in months, conducted by an online aggregator, gave Mr. Biden a 5-point lead but showed troubling signs for him with Latino voters, according to analysis by the Nevada Independent earlier this month. According to Pew Research, Latinos make up one-fifth of the state’s electorate.

“I believe there is a feeling of Latinos are going to vote for anybody but Trump, and I’m not necessarily sure that’s the case,” said Astrid Silva, the executive director of Dream Big Nevada, an immigrant-advocacy organization. She said she was concerned about Democrats’ outreach, saying none of the new citizens she was working with have heard from either political campaign.

The Trump campaign hopes to maximize support among non-college-educated white voters—an important part of his base—and limit Mr. Biden’s performance among Latinos. The campaign said it had been on the ground since 2016, done hundreds of events and restarted door-knocking efforts over the summer where permitted. It also has opened several offices focused on Latinos and conducted faith-based outreach to Roman Catholics and evangelicals, as it has in other states, said a campaign official. One of Mr. Trump’s weekend events will be a roundtable with Latinos in Las Vegas.

Both sides have invested millions in TV advertising, though the Trump campaign said it wasn’t on the air there this week.

An aide to the Biden campaign said Latino outreach was a priority, and the team has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Spanish-language TV and radio ads and Latino-targeted digital ads and literature sent through the mail. The campaign has more than 20 organizers who speak Spanish and hosts two Spanish-language phone-banking sessions a week, in addition to holding more than three dozen Latino-focused digital events.

Mr. Biden hired Susana Cervantes to lead his operation in Nevada, after she ran Sen. Bernie Sanders’s winning bid in the Democratic caucuses earlier this year. The Vermont senator won the caucuses by 27 percentage points, and entrance polls showed he carried half of Hispanic voters, compared with 17% who voted for Mr. Biden.

But Chuck Rocha, who ran Mr. Sanders’s Latino-outreach program, said some Democrats weren’t taking the state seriously enough. Mr. Rocha now runs Nuestro PAC, a group focused on Latino voters. He made an ad, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that features former Sanders staffers talking about why they are supporting Mr. Biden, but he doesn’t have the money to put it on the air in Nevada. Mr. Rocha said all the donors he has spoken to so far want their money to go toward reaching Latinos in what they view as more competitive battleground states such Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

Democrats have had success in Nevada at the state level recently. Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won the race to replace former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2016. In 2018, Jacky Rosen beat Republican incumbent Dean Heller for the state’s other Senate seat, and the governor’s mansion went to Democrat Steve Sisolak, the first time a Democrat has held the position since the 1990s.

Mr. Reid, who represented the state for three decades and credits his 2010 re-election to Latino turnout, said he was optimistic about Mr. Biden’s chances, though he was glad the campaign was spending in the state. “I’ve learned in politics you never say never, but I think right now Donald Trump has an uphill battle here,” Mr. Reid said.

The Trump campaign is seeking to drive up turnout in rural and exurban parts of Nevada, as it did in other states in 2016, while holding down Mr. Biden’s expected margin of victory in the Las Vegas and Reno areas. They also noted that Republicans saw a bigger jump in new voter registrations in August than Democrats, although Democrats still have an advantage in the total number of registered voters.

Mr. Trump initially intended to hold rallies at airports in Reno and Las Vegas, but he had to retool those plans after getting pushback because the events would have violated the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. The Saturday gathering was moved to the Minden-Tahoe airport. When asked about the rules, an airport official directed questions to the campaign.

His campaign also has fought Nevada’s expansion of vote by mail in response to the pandemic. Nevada plans to automatically mail ballots to all active registered voters, which it expects to total roughly 1.7 million. The state will also offer in-person voting options.

The Trump campaign and other Republican groups sued in August to block the plan, saying it would invite fraud and create logistical chaos. The lawsuit is ongoing. Studies haven’t found widespread voter fraud in past elections. Research isn’t definitive on whether voting by mail benefits either political party.

Kimi Cole, the chair of the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, said Democrats were enthusiastic. “I have never seen this much energy and activity around rural Nevada counties,” said Ms. Cole.

Sam Kumar, the former chair of the Republican Party in Washoe County, which includes Reno, said he thought the Trump campaign was running a national strategy, not one tailored to different parts of the state, and overlooking certain groups of Nevada voters beyond Latinos and non-college-educated white people.

“There are several levers which need to be pulled for us to get the result we need to get,” he said. “It hasn’t been executed to the extent needed.”


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