Biden Looks to Bounce Back in Nevada After Rough Start

Jennifer Epstein

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden has emerged in Nevada displaying a new passion on the stump, with crisper speeches and a new humility he seemed to lack going into the 2020 Democratic nominating process.

But with four days before the Nevada caucuses, keeping his promise to Nevadans that he would win or come in second on Saturday means a lot of work ahead, and could shape whether his campaign has the ability to go on deep into the primary calendar.

At a town hall in Reno on Monday, a voter was direct. “What the hell is the matter with your campaign?” the man asked.

“Well, that’s a good question,” Biden responded, before blaming the largely white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire and saying he was more hopeful about the contests ahead with their racially diverse voters.

“We’re now just getting into the deal, we’re now just getting into the thick of it,” he said, pointing to Bill Clinton’s defeat in 12 primaries before his first win and eventual nomination. “I think that we’re just getting there and we’ve had less than 2% of the vote taken so far and now we’re here in Nevada and it’s going to be up to you to decide how many of us move on,” he said before a few hundred people in a school gymnasium.

To have a chance to not just move along but survive what could be a long nominating fight, he needs to raise money fast and restore confidence among labor unions and other key interest groups in Nevada that what he told voters when he entered the race last April was true -- that he has the experience and electability to defeat President Donald Trump.

Still In It

After nearly a year of campaigning with the expectation of victory, he told supporters last week getting back into contention for the Democratic nomination after his fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the first two states on the calendar would be “the fight of my life.”

“He’s in this fight. He is not giving up. I don’t think people should give up on him,” said U.S. Representative Steven Horsford of Nevada, who endorsed Biden last week. Horsford, whose district includes Las Vegas’s predominantly black neighborhoods as well as white, rural counties, said he backed Biden in part because he’d seen support from some of the same people who volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaigns.

“People in my district, in Nevada, they know Joe Biden,” he said. “Some of these other candidates who are running -- I’m not going to say anything negative about them -- but we don’t know them. They’ve just now started to engage, some of them for the very first time, even in this process. You know, they, they’ve literally just started showing up and placing ads and getting their message out.”

Helping Biden are the demographics of Nevada. Half of its population is non-white -- 30% Latino, 10% black and 10% Asian-Pacific Islander. He has shaped his candidacy around the idea that he would fare better with non-white voters, given his last job as Obama’s vice president.

Nevada Poll

In the only Nevada poll released ahead of the caucus, conducted Feb. 11-13 for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and AARP, Bernie Sanders led with 25% of likely caucus attendees. Biden was in second place at 18% and Elizabeth Warren was in third at 13%. A candidate must hit at least 15% of the vote in a precinct to be able to earn delegates.

In Nevada, his days are packed with more voter interactions and he’s no longer publicly wallowing in the Iowa and New Hampshire results. Supporters on Twitter have started using the “#BidenBounceback” hashtag.

Instead, he’s promising a first- or second-place finish in Nevada, a win in South Carolina and a strong showing three days later on Super Tuesday.

“Nevada, it’s your turn now to decide who you want to be the leader of your party and the next president of the United States and I’m here to audition,” he said at the Clark County Democratic Party dinner in Las Vegas on Saturday.

That drew chants of “Joe! Joe!” and the warmest reception any candidate received that night. Contrast that to a Democratic dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire, a week earlier where the cheering sections for candidates who have since dropped out of the race dwarfed his tiny corner of the arena.

But he still has to show whether new attitude and the different demographics will be enough to change his campaign’s trajectory at the polls.

Labor Support

Biden took a blow last week when the powerhouse Culinary Workers Union declined to endorse a presidential candidate. The 60,000-member union, which is a majority Latino, also declined to endorse in the 2016 primary and backed Obama in 2008, though he lost most of the caucus sites that were set up along the Las Vegas Strip for the union’s members. The union has launched a campaign out against Sanders’ Medicare for All plan because it would eliminate its prized health insurance system, but chose not to back any of the candidates opposed to Medicare for All, including Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.The non-endorsement was a sign that a powerful potential ally wasn’t willing to take a risk on him at a moment when he needed it most. Even so, the union’s secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Arguello-Kline, singled out Biden for support almost apologetically.

“We respect every single political candidate right now. We know they are great people. We’ve known Vice President Biden for many years. We know he’s been our friend,” she said.

Diverse States Up Next

Biden’s support among black voters appears to have slipped in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, and a strong showing among Nevada’s relatively small black population will give him bounce going into South Carolina, where African-Americans make up the majority of the Democratic electorate.

Some of Biden’s support among blacks seems to have been absorbed by Michael Bloomberg, who rose to 22% with black voters, up 15 percentage points from a previous Quinnipiac poll.

Bloomberg is not on the ballot in Nevada or South Carolina, which holds its primary on Feb. 29, giving Biden a chance to rebuild some of that goodwill before Super Tuesday on March 3, when Bloomberg appears on 14 state and territorial ballots.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Money remains a challenge, even if he’s able to push his way back to the top of the field. Sanders has a nearly endless stream of grassroots support and Bloomberg has said he’s willing to self-fund past $1 billion. He started the year with less cash on hand than Sanders, Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Warren. He says he’s raising between as much as $400,000 a day online, compared to the $1 million a day that Sanders averaged in January.

Reassuring Donors

“Things look good,” he said Thursday at a fund-raiser in New York, one of the first stops after New Hampshire to collect much-needed campaign cash and reassure donors they weren’t throwing good money after bad. Donors generally say they’re standing by Biden, at least for now, though some have quietly acknowledged taking a second look at raising money for Buttigieg or Klobuchar or to consider finding ways to help Bloomberg’s campaign if Biden’s operation implodes.

For now, though, some influential Democrats want to show that Biden’s campaign still has signs of life.

Biden secured the endorsements of Horsford, a key black leader in the Nevada, and Lieutenant Governor Katie Marshall, in just the past few days. And he also snared the endorsement Monday of Anthony Foxx, who was Obama’s second-term transportation secretary and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, a Super Tuesday state.

And even officials who are not endorsing are trying to put in a good word for their longtime colleague.“With all the respect in the world for Iowa and New Hampshire, I’m not counting Joe Biden out,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday on CNN.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Las Vegas, Nevada at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Vince Golle

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