According to political strategists here, it can be difficult for candidates to assemble volunteers in Nevada, particularly in Las Vegas, because so many residents work shift jobs with irregular hours. But volunteers are especially critical in a caucus state because “it’s important because those are the folks who go in and encourage others to realign on second alignment,” said Jones, a former senior adviser to Kamala Harris’ campaign in the state.
Sanders’ devoted following has enabled him to draw from outside of the state. One such supporter is a pro athlete: Justin Jackson, the Los Angeles Chargers running back, said he traveled to Nevada to knock on doors for Sanders because “of a mixture of rage and drive” over “all the smearing,” including opponents’ attacks on Sanders’ online supporters. “It just really motivated me to come out here and make more of a difference.”
Sanders’ team has utilized “distributed organizing,” which gives power to volunteers to set up their own door-knocking and phone-banking efforts, a strategy that is also being used by other candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. A canvass launch Thursday at what is known as the “leftist garage” in Las Vegas demonstrated the efforts: It was organized not by the campaign, but by the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.
In a space belonging to Sanders’ state political director, Keenan Korth, and decorated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Medicare-for-All signs, the event attracted dozens of people and some star-studded power. In addition to Jackson, hosts of the popular left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House attended and rallied volunteers before they hit the doors.
“One of the big things about Bernie 2020 is it’s empowering people to organize themselves,” said Shaun Navarro, a Las Vegas Democratic Socialists of America co-chair. “It’s real do-it-yourself, punk-rock aesthetic.”
Sanders’ state director, Sarah Michelsen, said the team’s volunteers have also recently kicked off an effort to turn out taxi drivers to caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip and the campaign is paying for them to park during them. It’s critical for Sanders to show strength there: Culinary Workers Union workers will caucus there Saturday, and the union has forcefully criticized his Medicare-for-All plan as taking away their negotiated health care coverage.
“We found in our efforts to organize voters that are eligible for the Strip caucus that lots and lots of cab drivers are our supporters and they are eligible for the Strip caucus because of where they drive,” said Michelsen. “It’s finding one that knows the rest of them and they have their own communication networks.”
Sanders’ aides said the campaign has offered free child care on a weekly basis to volunteers. Some of Sanders’ volunteers have attracted cable news coverage for a striking traveling method: Cynthia Rifi and others rode horses to canvass for him in rural Nevada. Other notable efforts include Muslim volunteers in Nevada organizing “souls to the polls” car-rides to early-caucus sites located at mosques.
As he does regularly, Sanders cited the importance of his volunteers at a rally in Las Vegas Friday night: “Here in Nevada, we’ve had volunteers knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors. I just came back from California two hours ago. They had a million doors that they have knocked on. We’re going to be knocking on doors in Texas and Massachusetts and all across this country.”
Warren’s ground game in the early states has been praised by Democratic officials, but it failed to deliver her wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Buttigieg, who insiders said had volunteer muscle in Iowa that paralleled Sanders’ operation, got off to a later start than other candidates in Nevada. However, his team said that “in the last four days alone, the campaign had over 200 first-time volunteers in Nevada.”
Biden, meanwhile, has the endorsement of elected officials who have rallied volunteers. “They’re not just names on a piece of paper. They work hard and they’re organizers at heart,” said Jones of the former vice president’s prominent backers in the state.
In East Las Vegas Friday, more than 100 volunteers attended a canvass launch for Sanders, including several members of National Nurses United, who wore their trademark red T-shirts promoting Medicare for All. One of them, union president Jean Ross, has traveled to several early states to rally volunteers and personally knock on doors herself.
En route to canvass in a diverse working-class neighborhood, she touted the fact that Sanders has attracted volunteers from outside the country. “Does anyone else have that?” she asked. “It shows the passion.”
On the first house on Ross’ and other nurses’ list Friday, they hit a lucky streak. Resident Dan Wolfe told them he liked Sanders, Warren and Biden. But he said he had problems attempting to caucus early and said he would “allow the caucus” to work its will. After the nurses argued that Sanders fights for them and that Wolfe would get “leftovers” in the general election if he didn’t participate in the primary, he agreed to caucus for Sanders and discussed a plan to get to his caucus site Saturday.