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What to watch as Democrats’ Nevada competition ramps up

Six Democratic presidential candidates face off Wednesday in Las Vegas, and for the first time, Michael Bloomberg will be on the debate stage. Nevada, home to the next contest in the primary season, is also more diverse than the last two states where the Democrats competed. Judy Woodruff gets a preview of the debate and the stakes behind the upcoming caucuses from Amna Nawaz.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Six Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination are set to face off tonight in Las Vegas.

    Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will make his debate stage debut after qualifying as a result of the latest "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll.

    With just three days to go before the Nevada caucuses, Amna Nawaz joins me now from Las Vegas for a preview.

    Hello to you, Amna.

    So this is the third contest in the season. This is the most diverse group of voters yet to be weighing in. What are they saying on the ground there?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Judy, you know, the candidates so far have been disproportionally focused on Iowa and New Hampshire, which are two small, white states.

    For the first time, they have to address a state and voters in a state that looks more like the rest of America and what America is becoming. When you look at the Democratic Caucus electorate from 2016, it was 19 percent Latino, 13 percent black, 4 percent Asian. Non-whites made up 41 percent of that electorate.

    So, you're hearing from the candidates that they have to tailor their message a little bit more and to broaden the message at the same time. Gone are the days of the retail handshake, room-by-room politicking. They have to deliver a much bigger message now specific to some of these communities.

    And what we saw — my colleagues Kate Grumke and Saher Khan have been following some of the candidates on the ground. And they're having voter events that target some of these communities. For example, Mayor Buttigieg spoke specifically to a black student group yesterday. Former Vice President Biden spoke to an Asian-American Pacific Islander group as well.

    And there's early voting going on in these communities too. So you see some of these events set up next to often these early voting locations, trying to get some of those diverse voters out early.

    But, right now, Judy, what you're hearing from these candidates is a much bigger message, because they know, to show and to prove that they can compete in other places in America, they have to show that they can do it here in Nevada first.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, about the caucuses this weekend, in that national poll that we mentioned earlier, the "NewsHour"/NPR/Marist, we see 72 percent of the people who responded say they think the caucus process is going to be a fair one, it's going to be accurate.

    But there were the problems with the Iowa caucuses just days ago. What are Democrats in Nevada saying is their level of confidence about what's going to happen this Saturday?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, they say that confidence is high, Judy.

    But, again, the proof is going to be in the actual caucus tally results. Look, there are a lot of firsts that are unfolding in this caucus process. It's the first time they're trying to incorporate early voting into the process. That early voting wrapped yesterday.

    It's also the first time that they're using this one specific tool, which is a pre-loaded secure form on iPads that's handed out to all the precinct chairs. They developed that, we should say, in response to what happened in Iowa, because they were supposed to use the exact same app that the Iowa caucuses used.

    Obviously, they scrapped that plan after they saw what chaos unfolded there. But they have high confidence, they say, that they're running enough trainings, that there are more trainings available for people who feel they're not comfortable with that tool that they're using right now.

    And I actually had a chance to speak earlier with DNC chair Tom Perez. I asked him about his message to voters who might feel uneasy about the process. And he said, look, we took lessons learned from Iowa. We applied them here. We have every confidence that the process is going to go smoothly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Amna, tonight's debate, it's the ninth Democratic presidential debate. You got six candidates on the stage, including, as we mentioned, for the first time former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    What is his team saying is their expectation tonight? And what do we think the other candidates may do because he's there?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we know that an official from the Bloomberg camp has basically said they're preparing him to connect more with the audience. It's something he hasn't had to do before. Right now, he's sort of messaging through his ad buys and surrogates across the country.

    But I think he should also be prepared for a number of attacks. The presence of former Mayor Bloomberg on that stage means that he's an easy foil for Senator Sanders, who has long railed against the power, the disproportionate power that billionaires in America have.

    But he could also take some fire from moderates, people like Biden and Buttigieg and Klobuchar, because he's basically fighting for supremacy in that same moderate lane that they all currently occupy.

    So, a lot to watch for on the debate stage tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot to watch for. And, Amna, you and the team are going to be there. We will be talking to you later in the week.

    Thank you, Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

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