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Nevada Caucuses Bring Focus To A More Diverse Electorate

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Democrats in Nevada are heading to caucus sites across the state to pick the candidate they want to run against President Trump in November. This year, there is early caucus voting in the state. And the Democrats already claim the turnout is on a track to surpass the numbers of the 2016 contests. Roughly 75,000 people have already cast ballots. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us. Mara, what an unexpected pleasure.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes, what an unexpected pleasure. Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

SIMON: Any indications that the number of voters who already caucused are signaling enthusiasm for any candidate in particular?

LIASSON: Well, that is hard to tell. The polls have shown that Bernie Sanders has a pretty clear lead in Nevada. But what's always tricky about drawing any conclusions from early voting is that, are these people voters who would already - would have caucused anyway? Or are these additional new people who are coming out over and above the number that would come out on Saturday? We don't know. Sometimes, early voting just banks your vote early, doesn't increase the total overall. there's certainly been a lot of effort to get voters to turn out. There are indications that a lot of the people who are casting their ballots early are new voters, but we really won't know the answer to that until after the votes are counted.

SIMON: So many people have noted Nevada has a much more diverse population than Iowa and New Hampshire. What issues do voters there care about, according to surveys?

LIASSON: Well, the No. 1, 2, and 3 issue is beating Donald Trump. That's true of Democrats all over the country. But health care coverage has been the other big issue here because the Culinary Workers Union, one of the most powerful political organizations in the state, has health care that they got after they went on strike and negotiated and gave up wage hikes and bargained for. And what they're worried about, some of them, are that Bernie Sanders' plan, which is mandatory "Medicare for All" - in other words, no more private health insurance - everyone automatically, whether they want it or not, goes on Medicare. And they're concerned that that would do away with their what they call culinary health care.

The other candidates also want Medicare for All, but it's Medicare for all who want it. It's voluntary. If you want to sign up for Medicare under their plans, you choose the public option, and you get it. So that's been the big debate here. And, of course, Bernie Sanders traditionally has enjoyed very high support among union members, but his supporters have been extremely aggressive. Some of the union officials say they have been - gone over the line. They've gotten death threats from Sanders supporters around this issue of health care. But I would say that's - beyond beating Donald Trump, health care coverage is the big one.

SIMON: In the half minute we have left, Nevada's a caucus state, like Iowa. Any concerns about the technology they're using to register the results of the caucus?

LIASSON: Absolutely, there are concerns. But they are not using the same app that was used in Iowa. They say they have backup systems. And they say they have staffers on hand to field calls if precincts choose to phone in. Remember in Iowa, people tried to call in the results, and nobody was answering the phone.

SIMON: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, always a pleasure. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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