LAS VEGAS — An exodus of Californians has accelerated
Nevada’s move to the left, helping Democrats take control of
state government for the first time in a generation and paving the
way for a slate of progressive policies, according to political
strategists and observers here.
Now, the hundreds of thousands of former Californians who’ve
moved across state lines could be a boon for Kamala Harris, the
senator representing their former home state, in the crucial Nevada
Democratic caucuses next year.
Between 2008 and 2017, more than 450,000 people moved from
California to Nevada, according to
estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, while less than 300,000
went the opposite direction — making the Golden State the top
source of new residents to the Silver State. Many may have since
moved elsewhere, and those who went back and forth in that time
period would be double-counted. But it’s likely that many of the
Democrats who’ve arrived here in recent years have voted for
Harris in her campaigns for attorney general or U.S. senator — or
at least are more likely to recognize her name.
“There’s no doubt it’s changing the state,” said Andres
Ramirez, a Democratic strategist in Las Vegas who moved from
California himself decades ago. “We have a very dynamic and
aggressive outreach machine to try to get as many of those
newcomers as possible to register to vote and participate.”
Californians are far from the only explanation for Democratic
success here, observers note. The party has benefited from strong
labor groups like the influential Culinary Union — which
represents 60,000 workers at the hotels and casinos of the Vegas
strip and elsewhere around the state — as well as a slate of
candidates more moderate than their right-leaning GOP
But the net flow from the Golden State has swelled in recent
years, as sky-high housing prices in the Bay Area and Southern
California sent residents searching for drastically cheaper deals a
few hours drive away in the expanding Reno or Las Vegas
metropolitan areas. Nevada’s Latino, African-American and
Asian-American populations have
grown, while the white, non-Hispanic population has stayed
mostly flat since 2010, helping it become one of just a handful of
majority-minority states and the
fastest-growing state in the country by percentage.
Deborah Chang, an entrepreneur from South San Francisco, bought
a house in rural Douglas County after falling in love with the area
while volunteering there for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
She and her wife have lived back and forth the past few years and
are moving there full-time this week, excited to spend more time
skiing and letting their dog run around in a bigger yard.
Chang, her wife C.R. and their five-month-old puppy Serena at the
Reno Pride Parade last month. (Courtesy Deborah Chang)
“We immediately joined our local Democratic group — it’s
small but very active,” Chang said. Now she plans to get more
involved for 2020, including supporting Harris, who she credits for
early support of same-s*x marriage.
Thanks in part to voters like Chang, Democrats swept all of the
most crucial races in last year’s midterm elections, winning the
governor’s office, both houses of the legislature, and their
second U.S. Senate seat. They’re in control of all the levers of
state government for the first time since
Already, the results have been palpable. In recent months,
lawmakers raised the minimum wage, put in place higher green energy
standards, guaranteed collective bargaining rights for state
employees and enacted new gun control measures (some of which
don’t go into effect until next year) — making the state a
little more like its neighbor to the west.
In-migration from California is “definitely a factor” in the
state’s blue turn, said Donna West, the chair of the Las
Vegas-based Clark County Democratic Party, who used to oversee
motorists exchanging their California licenses for Nevada ones as
an administrator in the state DMV.
“People who move here from California often have different
politics from your old-timer Nevadans,” added Marty McGarry, the
first vice chair of the state Democratic party. A San Jose State
University graduate, she moved from the Bay Area to Carson City in
The blue wins are part of a broader political realignment in the
Trump era, with diverse Sun Belt states like Nevada, Arizona and
even Texas seeing Democratic gains, while whiter Midwestern
states like Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin are turning more
Of course, plenty of the California transplants to Nevada are
Republicans, some fleeing a state they think has lurched too far to
“Most of our new members are people who moved from California,
and a lot of them say, ‘it’s nice to be able to say I’m a
Republican without being made fun of,’” said Paul Strasser, the
chair of the Carson City Republican Party.
Statewide, party voter registration switched from a Republican
advantage of about 1,000 registered voters
in July 2004 to a Democratic advantage of more than 70,000
July 2019, according to Secretary of State data — although
the fastest-growing group, like in California, is voters registered
without party preference.
The state’s changing demographics will have an impact in next
year’s key Democratic caucuses, the third contest of the
presidential primary campaign.
To make it to California’s March 3 primary, Harris will have
to hold her own in the first four early states — and her campaign
is putting a special focus on the more diverse Nevada and South
Carolina. Harris has visited Nevada eight times, more than any of
the other top contenders in the race, according to a candidate
tracker published by the Nevada Independent website.
On her trips, Harris has made a point to reach out to diverse
communities, from a town hall in a Latino neighborhood that
featured simultaneous Spanish translation headsets to an event with
Asian-American leaders at a Vietnamese restaurant. She met last
weekend with a black fraternity and sorority group that includes
Harris’ sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Harris speaks during a Hispanics in Politics event at Doña Maria
Tamales restaurant in Las Vegas in May. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun
Not every event has gone smoothly — Harris attracted
controversy after attending services last weekend at a Las Vegas
led by a pastor who’s called being gay a sin. She told
reporters Thursday she hadn’t known about the views of the
pastor, Robert E. Fowler, Sr. Senators Cory Booker and Bernie
Sanders had also appeared at the church.
Being from California has given Harris a strong foundation in
some of the top issues for Democrats in both states, from
immigration to labor rights to environmental protections. West said
Harris seemed the most informed of the candidates she’d met so
far (along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, another westerner) on
the important local issue of Yucca Mountain, the long-delayed
federal proposal to store nuclear waste in Nevada.
“She had a very in-depth knowledge of the issue,” West said.
Harris had discussed the science with her and promised
“‘we’re not going to just dump it in somebody’s
Harris has other advantages in the state. She’s close with
Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada’s senior senator. Both were
elected in 2016 and previously served as attorney generals of their
respective states. They also
worked together on a national settlement with big banks in the
wake of the foreclosure crisis, which hit both states hard.
Nevada strategists are impressed by Harris’ team, including
advisors Emmy Ruiz, who led Barack Obama’s 2012 general election
campaign and Hillary Clinton’s successful 2016 caucus campaign in
the state, and Megan Jones, who worked for the powerful Nevada
political operation of former Senate Majority Leader Harry
And in the weekends leading up to the Feb. 22 caucuses,
Harris’ campaign will likely be able to bus hundreds of
volunteers from the Bay Area and Los Angeles to Nevada’s
“The senator often says she sees Nevada as first cousins with
California,” Ernie Apreza, Harris’ state director and a former
Obama field organizer here, said in an interview.
Still, she has work to do to improve her standing, as the
few Democratic polls conducted in the state so far put her
behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and
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At a town hall at an elementary school in suburban Henderson last
Saturday, the line of people waiting to get inside snaked around
the parking lot in 109-degree heat. Attendees packed into the
cafeteria on folding chairs to hear Harris give an impassioned call
for gun control, a few hours after news broke of the El Paso mass
Some of the people in the crowd had been Harris’ constituents
not too long ago. Rob Shives, who wore a San Francisco Giants
t-shirt, walked away with a grin on his face after shaking the
candidate’s hand. He moved to Henderson, not far from Las Vegas,
six months ago after living in the Bay Area for 25 years. He said
he’s a longtime fan.
“I’ve been supporting her since she was running for district
attorney,” he said, calling Harris “inspiring” and vowing to
volunteer for her caucus campaign.
Shives built his own house here for a fraction of the cost of
his condo in Palo Alto, and enjoys the more laid-back lifestyle in
“I thought I had the bright idea to move here, but there’s a
lot of people here who used to live in the Bay Area,” he
marveled. “And now we’re even going to get the Raiders.”
Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
How Californians moving to Nevada are changing the state’s politics