Trump can easily win in Nevada. And if he does, he’ll likely win the election

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 09: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump dances upon arrival at his campaign rally at Sunset Park on June 09, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 09: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump dances upon arrival at his campaign rally at Sunset Park on June 09, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

On Sunday, former president Donald Trump brought his campaign to Las Vegas in his first rally since a jury in Manhattan found him guilty on 34 charges.

The event fell off track as six attendees in the Las Vegas heat went to the hospital as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, Trump cracked that he did not want anyone dying because “we need every voter. I don’t care about you. I just want your vote.” He then called President Joe Biden’s recent executive order on immigration “bulls***,” saying that it is “pro-invasion, pro-child trafficking, pro-woman trafficking, pro-human trafficking and pro-drug dealers.”

The rally was rightfully referred to by many as absurd. But one part isn’t absurd at all: Trump was not entirely wrong to hold his first rally since the verdict in the Nevada, since he has a legitimate shot at winning the Silver State. Indeed, despite the fact that it only has six electoral votes, Nevada might hold the key to Trump winning a tight presidential election.

On the surface, Democrats should have little reason to worry about Nevada. It has not voted for a Republican for president since George W Bush won re-election in 2004 and it has two Democratic Senators: Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina Senator in US history; and Jacky Rosen, the state’s first Jewish woman Senator, who is up for re-election in 2024.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid famously built the state’s Democratic Party apparatus into an well-oiled organization. That organization includes the powerful Culinary Workers Union, who service the state’s sprawling hotel and service industry and who engage in vigorous door-knocking and voter turnout operations.

Given the large Latino population in the state, the union has worked tirelessly to naturalize thousands of immigrants. Doing so convinced the once rabidly anti-immigrant Reid to see Latino voters as a potential base for Democratic support — and he ended up aggressively courting them in his later career.

Republicans and Democrats alike have dubbed that Democratic infrastructure the “Reid Machine.” And When Democrats across the country suffered huge losses in 2016, Nevada was a firewall. Cortez Masto, Reid’s hand-picked successor, won, Democrats flipped the legislature and Hillary Clinton won in the state, too. Things looked even better in 2018 when Democrats flipped the governorship and Rosen beat Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

But undernreath the surface, there signs of creaks and cracks in the machine. Indeed, Nevada is for Republicans what North Carolina is for Democrats: a state that can go their way if all of the circumstances go right.

For one, Nevada has always had more non-partisan voters than voters of either party affiliation, meaning Democrats still need to actively persuade voters.

For another, Reid died at the end of 2021, meaning his namesake campaign structure has had to operate without its wise man. The Covid-19 pandemic slammed the state’s casinos and hotels that serve as the engine of the state’s economy. That played a role in Steve Sisolak becoming the only incumbent Democratic governor to lose re-election in 2022 to Republican Joe Lombardo.

Had it not been for the Dobbs v Jackson decision that overturned Roe v Wade, Cortez Masto, who campaigned heavily on abortion rights, likely would have lost her race. In the end, she only won by 7,928 votes.

Similarly, while Democrats have won Nevada in every presidential election since 2008, they have done so by diminishing margins. In 2008, Barack Obama won Nevada by 12.5 percent. In 2012, he beat Mitt Romney by less than half of that. In 2016, Clinton beat Trump by 2.4 percent and Biden won by about the same margin in 2020.

The first signs of danger for Biden should have come in 2020 when he lost the Nevada caucus to Senator Bernie Sanders. That can be attributed to Sanders courting the Latino population.

Now, Latino voters continue to move rightward and Trump is the one courting them successfully. Democrats see warning signs in the state as a result. Trump’s channeling of populism has resonated with some and during his rally this past weekend, he called for an end on taxation for workers’ tips, something that could be enormously popular among service industry workers.

In response, the culinary union seemed a caught a bit flat-footed, saying in a statement: “Relief is definitely needed for tip earners, but Nevada workers are smart enough to know the difference between real solutions and wild campaign promises from a convicted felon.”

Polling in Nevada is notoriously unreliable, hence why most Nevada watchers — including Inside Washington — prefer to keep an eye on early vote returns, come election season. If early voting turnout is down in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, Democrats should begin to panic — whereas if Election Day votes are lower, it should cause concern for Trump.

Trump holding a rally in the dead of summer in Las Vegas may have been a horrible idea. But he has given Democrats plenty of reasons to sweat in the Battle Born State.