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Beyond the primary, Nevada Democrats have to turn policy playbook into actual votes

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in North Las Vegas, Nev., Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
Stephanie Scarbrough
President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in North Las Vegas, Nev., Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

Nevada Democrats have one job in 2024: motivate voters to turn back out for President Biden in November.

Two years after landmark infrastructure and climate bills were signed into law by Biden, dollars and projects are beginning to break ground across the Silver State. Progressive organizers are off to the races to convince voters that not only are these dollars reaching their communities, but they will personally benefit, too.

Nevada is a state with a high rate of union participation. That, coupled with its economy's dependence on tourism makes it ripe for the kinds of projects the federal government plans to invest in. The progressive group Climate Power estimates new clean energy projects have already spurred $12.19 billion in investment and created or moved forward 15,580 clean energy jobs, both among the highest in the nation.

But not every individual resident benefits from these dollars in the short term, creating a public relations challenge for Democrats trying to excite voters. Still, the Oval Office is on the line. In 2020, Biden won Nevada with just less than 3% of the vote, making it a closely watched swing state in 2024.

"I think we still have a lot to do when it comes to talking to voters, but we're just getting started," said Donna West, national mobilization director for Grassroots Women for Biden-Harris. "I'm looking forward to when we start knocking on doors, asking voters what's keeping them up at night and then telling them what Joe Biden has done."

On Tuesday, Biden won the state's Democratic primary election easily, as expected. Democrats started engaging with voters early and despite the lack of a contested primary, they plan to use all the data they can from the election to mobilize into November.

Plus, Nevada Democrats like West say Biden has given them the tools they need for this campaign.

"Oftentimes what people feel frustration for are the personal issues," explained Fabian Doñate, chair for the Nevada Latino Legislative Caucus. "It's hard to be positive when you're seeing increasing, rising rents and [issues] affording health care."

Doñate, who serves in the state legislature, is a health care administrator. He said he tries to communicate how new prescription drug caps, from the Inflation Reduction Act, can help make medications for seniors more affordable. And in recent roundtables with small Latino-owned businesses, Donate said he informed owners of potential clean energy programs for the first time.

Cinthia Moore, coordinator with the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition, has been talking to voters in Las Vegas neighborhoods hardest hit by increasingly hot temperatures. Through listening sessions, the group has spoken to more than 100 Vegas residents — almost all whom had never heard of Biden's legislative packages.

"It's not like many people have heard about this and the few that have heard about it, they don't know exactly what it is or what it does," Moore said. "They don't know the benefits or what that even means for Nevada."

And then there is a second issue: even if they do know what some benefits are, chances are they may not personally qualify, Moore said.

The Inflation Reduction Act includedtax breaks to help homeowners upgrade their home'senergy efficiency with the goal of reducing utility costs. But many of the residents in the neighborhoods most affected by rising temperatures are renters, not owners, Moore said.

'Something has to give'

These projects are by design slow to start. By the time voters cast their ballots in November, it will have been two years since Biden signed the big packages into law. Voters on the ground feel that lag.

"It's rent, for seniors. It's just ridiculous out there. Who wants to pay $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment?" said Veronica Ybarra, a Las Vegas resident who voted for Biden last time. "I've always been Democrat. But I don't know about this year right now. The primary? Didn't even. I will [wait] and see what happens. But something has to give."

She is not alone. Quinton Timmons, who has lived in Vegas for about seven years, also voted for Biden in 2020. But he is worried about a lack of job opportunities.

"This year might be like the first time I don't vote cause this is looking terrible," Timmons said, adding that he is disappointed that the student loan cancellation efforts were stalled.

"But he could be getting a lot more done," Timmons said, adding that he often doesn't hear about Biden's projects.

Still, "my dad likes him," Timmons quipped.

Jarrett Clark, Nevada communications director at For Our Future, understands this challenge.

"It's easy for us on paper to say 'look at all this investment that's coming to Nevada,' but it's hard for people to really grasp it until they start to see it," Clark said. "We have to make sure that organizations like ours, and Democrats largely, have to own it and take credit where it's due."

One area where progressive organizers are seeing success is with transportation and road projects.

Las Vegas will soon break ground on the long-anticipatedBrightline rail project that will connect Vegas to southern California due to new federal funding.

"Our union members are starting to slowly get it. I think that to get them to understand the infrastructure piece, they get it for sure," said Vince Saavedra, executive secretary treasurer at the Southern Nevada Building Trades union.

More money means more working hours for his union members, which he said will translate to votes.

"I see the support being identical as the last of the election cycle was for him," Saavedra said, referencing union support that helped Biden win in 2020. "He has the votes and probably gained a little bit more."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.