Jul 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why Democrats want Nevada to vote first in 2024

Illustration of the state of Nevada as a sticker placed over the state of Iowa.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nevada Democrats are making an aggressive final push to have their state cast the first ballot in the 2024 presidential primary — arguing it's time for the Democratic National Committee to abandon tradition and refocus on voters of color.

Why it matters: The fierce competition with New Hampshire Dems, who are bidding to remain the first-in-the-nation primary, reflects a broader tug-of-war over which voters and policies the party will prioritize in an evolving political landscape.

  • The Iowa caucuses have been the first overall contest, but don't expect them to remain so, especially after the 2020 debacle.

Driving the news: The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee met over the weekend to consider any significant 2024 calendar changes before members take an official vote in early August.

  • Last month, several state Democratic parties hoping to change their primary position made their case directly to the committee with pitches outlining their states' political dynamics and demographics.
  • Mo Elleithee, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, called at the start of Friday's meeting for the DNC to break with past norms, regardless of what individual states' laws — like New Hampshire's — say about going first.
  • "We need to do what’s right for us," he argued. "I don’t like that the committee is held hostage by them and I want this committee to make a decision based on the merit."

The big picture: After decades of an unchallenged status quo, Democrats are grappling with the reality that their diverse base isn't properly represented when two small, overwhelmingly white and rural states have outsized influence in picking the party's nominee.

  • To better position the state for coming reforms, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed a law last year changing the state's caucus to a primary and moving its date up to the first Tuesday in February 2024.
  • He also expanded voting access by enshrining an opt-out, mail-in ballot system into law.

Zoom in: Nevada is a majority-minority state and the third-most diverse in the country, per the U.S. Census Bureau, with relatively large populations of Latino, Black and AAPI voters.

  • "Engaging those communities can flip districts and states, and we're flipping districts by margins that are under 150 votes," said Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, who was the first Democratic AAPI member to serve in the Nevada Legislature.
  • Iowa and New Hampshire, by comparison, are both over 80% white.
  • Nevada and South Carolina were added to the early primary window 16 years ago to add more diversity to the process.

What they're saying: Cecia Alvarado, who runs a Latino civic engagement group in Nevada called Somos Votantes, told Axios Latino that voters have been "the growing force in this country" for years.

  • While data shows larger shares of Latino voters identify as Democrats than Republicans, the GOP has made inroads with them over the last few election cycles — most recently flipping a South Texas House seat.
  • Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., who leads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told Axios' Russell Contreras last month that he believes Latinos are moving away from Democrats as more embrace conservative and evangelical beliefs.
  • "There is more momentum now than ever to understand that, especially in Nevada, you don't win elections without the Latino vote," Alvarado said.
  • María Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, the largest national Latino voting rights group, says Democrats would benefit everywhere by focusing on Latino voters from the start of the cycle. She also argues Nevada's going first would change the way the media covers voters of color.

Between the lines: Beyond racial diversity, advocates say Nevada's strong union influence offers Democrats a chance to fortify a crucial voting bloc — especially at a time when they're eager to rebrand as the party of the working class.

  • The Culinary Union, for example, is the largest Latino/Black/AAPI/immigrant organization in the state — representing tens of thousands of working-class and middle-class workers from airports, convention centers, laundries, restaurants and casinos.
  • In 2016, Donald Trump captured a huge swath of these voters by vowing to save blue-collar jobs from being shipped overseas. President Biden, who is viewed as the most vocally pro-union president in decades, brought some of those voters back into the fold in 2020.
  • "Democrats have credibility on economic issues, but they have to come out swinging about that, and that’s where I think having Nevada first moves that conversation," said Culinary Union secretary-treasurer Ted Pappageorge.

What to watch: Nevada and New Hampshire's heated competition could wind up with both hosting their primaries on the same day.

  • The DNC is also considering adding one state to the early window — like Michigan or Minnesota for regional diversity — to bring the total to five primaries before Super Tuesday.
Go deeper