Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ margin of victory in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday not only answered questions about whether the Democratic Party is really ready to choose an aging socialist to be its standard-bearer in November, it also laid to rest questions that were being raised about the party’s ability to handle the crowded 2020 field of primary contenders.
But in the run-up to the actual event, Politico reported on Saturday, party insiders were so afraid of a repeat of the Democratic debacle in the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses that party officials were explicitly telling volunteers not to speak to the media — and apparently offering money to make sure of the silence.
According to the outlet, numerous volunteers in the state’s more rural precincts received official communications Thursday from the Nevada Democratic Party requiring that nondisclosure agreements be signed prior to caucus day, ensuring no-one might “speak to the press unless given permission by the Executive Director or Communications Director” on site.
Campaign aides tells CBS News there is a lack of volunteers to oversee Nevada caucus results in several locations. @EdOKeefe says it’s an example of “disorganization and potential chaos” that some campaigns might stoke to “question the validity” of results https://t.co/4xhlHorGDS pic.twitter.com/ceXiklm6Vw
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 22, 2020
Raising eyebrows, however, was the fact that those communications also promised a one-time payment of $50 to all precinct chairs and $90 to all site leads — which led at least one unnamed individual to tell Politico it seemed as though the party was attempting to pay for volunteer silence.
Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Molly Forgey later denied any relation between the NDA requests and available stipends.
“It is standard for the party to request staff and volunteers who have access to sensitive information to sign [an NDA],” Forgey said.
Yet, volunteers and staff working closer to the Las Vegas area apparently did not receive the same communications, Politico reported.
The national and state party had plenty at stake in ensuring Saturday’s caucus went off without a hitch and as many hiccups as possible were kept under wraps, particularly in light of Iowa caucus meltdown just three weeks ago.
The first contest of the 2020 primary cycle, Iowa’s caucus seemed doomed from the get-go, with precincts across the state reporting substantial difficulties in submitting their results to the Democratic National Committee — a widespread issue that was later chalked up to technical difficulties.
A software error within the Democratic Party’s newly unveiled vote-recording application was later revealed to have been preventing all recorded results from being tabulated, forcing affected precincts to deliver their paper records to the party instead.
The virtual results were later counted as well and the problematic code within the app was eventually fixed, but initial results were retracted on caucus day by numerous mainstream news media outlets such as The Associated Press and The New York Times to prevent confusion.
Final results from the contest were not finished until days later, with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg besting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a less than one percent margin.
“I think we’ve been saying this for a long time, our intention and priority right now is getting this right … but it’s our intention to get results out on the day of the caucus.” https://t.co/fKpr87x8ZZ pic.twitter.com/XwI1BBO3DR
— Alexander Tin (@ThisAlexTin) February 20, 2020
DNC Chair Tom Perez says he has “a lot of confidence” things will run smoothly in Nevada following the chaos in this year’s Iowa caucuses: “We have gone to school on the lessons of Iowa” https://t.co/cCiDJMgJDQ pic.twitter.com/79XaY0NPZf
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 19, 2020
The fallout was disastrous and, according to DNC Chair Tom Perez, prompted quite a bit of introspection and re-evaluation.
“We have gone to school on the lessons of Iowa,” Perez told CNN on Wednesday. “We are as low-tech as humanly possible while still preserving efficiency.”
“We have held over 1,000 trainings for over 3,000 volunteers. We continue to train them, going to school on Iowa, making sure that the story Saturday night is the candidates,” Perez added. “Not the process.”
Forgey, for her part, was not so uncertain, guaranteeing, “We plan to have results out on caucus day.”
The results were clear by early evening eastern time, with Sanders posting such a dominant performance that Fox News called the Nevada results by about 5:30 p.m.
As of Sunday, Sanders had 46 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field, according to HuffPost, with former Vice President Joe Biden coming in second with about 19 percent of the voter, Buttigieg third with about 15, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar in the rear at 10.1 and 4.8 percent respectively.
Now, Democrats have to face the bigger question of whether a nominee like Sanders — an elderly, well left-of-the-mainstream politician who’s more “independent” and “democratic socialist” than actual Democrat — is really the man their party is choosing to take on an incumbent president presiding over a country in the middle of an economic boom.
That is much bigger question than the process in Nevada — and not one the party will be able to keep anyone from talking to the media about.
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