By Darlene Superville and Gabe Stern | Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — President Joe Biden pitched for votes Sunday in Nevada, where the first-in-the-West primaries are underway with early and absentee voting. But the Democrat and his team are also using the visit to shore up support for the general election in November.
The president last visited Nevada in December, when he highlighted more than $8 billion in federal money for passenger rail projects nationwide. On Sunday, Biden planned to rally voters in the city’s majority-Black Historic Westside and attend a campaign fundraiser.
Michael Tyler, a spokesperson for Biden’s reelection campaign, said the president will encourage supporters to vote in Tuesday’s primary and help build momentum for the fall, in what is shaping up to be a rematch of the 2020 contest against Republican Donald Trump.
In Tuesday’s primary, Biden faces only token opposition from author Marianne Williamson and a few relatively unknown challengers. He won Nevada in November 2020 by fewer than 3 percentage points.
The state known largely for its casino and hospitality industries is synonymous with split-ticket, hard-to-predict results. It has a transient, working-class population and large Latino, Filipino and Chinese American and Black communities. Nevada has a stark rural-urban divide, with more than 88% of active registered voters — and much of its political power — in the two most populous counties, which include the Las Vegas and Reno metro areas.
In 2022, Democrats successfully defended their Senate seat and lost the governor’s office. The six constitutional officers elected statewide are split evenly among Democrats and Republicans.
The narrow victory of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto helped Democrats party keep control of the Senate for the remainder of Biden’s current term.
Working in Biden’s favor this year is the vast Democratic operation built by the late Sen. Harry Reid. The “Reid Machine” has for years trained operatives and retained organizers and is partially why, despite Nevada’s status as a purple state, Democrats have won every presidential election here since 2008.
But early signs show Biden could have more ground to make up than in past races. Voters are largely dissatisfied with the likely Biden-Trump rematch. A New York Times/Siena poll from November put Biden’s approval rating at 36% in Nevada.
“I know from my reelection, the issues that matter to Nevadans are still those kitchen table issues,” Cortez Masto said in an interview.
Biden has built his reelection campaign around the theme that Trump presents a dire threat to U.S. democracy and its founding values. The president also has championed the defense of abortion rights, recently holding his first big campaign rally, in Virginia, where the issue energized Democrats who won control of the state’s House of Delegates.
Biden also promotes his handling of the economy, arguing that his policies have created millions of jobs, combated climate change and improved American competitiveness overseas. But polls suggest many voters aren’t giving his administration credit.
The Democratic National Committee recently announced a six-figure ad buy in Nevada and South Carolina, where Biden won the leadoff primary Saturday. The ads are meant to boost enthusiasm among Black, Asian American and Latino voters statewide, including radio, television and digital ads in Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog, and a billboard in Las Vegas’ Chinatown.
As early voting began a week ago in Nevada, Trump asserted without evidence during a campaign rally in Las Vegas that he was the victim of the Biden administration’s weaponizing law enforcement against him. Trump has been indicted four times and faces 91 felonies.
Dan Lee, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that for Biden, “the map says he has to hold on to Nevada.”
The Republican primary is also Tuesday but the state GOP is holding caucuses on Thursday to allocate delegates. Trump is competing in the caucuses; rival Nikki Halley opted to stay on the nonbinding primary ballot.
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Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada and Tick Segerblom, chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners, greeted Biden at Harry Reid International Airport. The president has appearances in Las Vegas through Monday after spending part of the weekend in California.
Stern reported from Reno, Nevada. Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on X: @gabestern326