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Many Nevadans Skip Caucuses Despite Strong Interest In Presidential Race

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Brennan Paterson, 34, is an independent voter who wanted to caucus for Bernie Sanders - but didn't, because he did not want to register as a Democrat.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

RENO, Nev. -- Joyce Trombley has quite the love-hate relationship with the 2016 presidential race.

"I listen probably way too much because I'm interested in what's going to happen to our country next," she says while shopping at the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op in downtown Reno on a recent afternoon.

She's a realtor, in her 60s, and says she toggles between NPR, CNN, MSNBC and Fox on her car's satellite radio as she drives around for work -- even though the negativity in the race is wearing her down.

It's like she can't help herself: She wants to turn it off, but she can't.

"I know, I guess so," Trombley agrees with a little laugh. "I do care so much that we select the right person. And I guess it is interesting. It is our own reality show."

She's a registered Republican who voted for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "I make the choice that's right for me," she says.

This year? She won't say. And what's more, she won't caucus.

"If there were a primary election, I would love to be voting in that primary election," she says. "I'm just not going to take the time to caucus."


If you think California voter turnout has been bad in recent years, check out the Nevada caucuses: Just 14 percent of registered Democrats showed up on Saturday, when Hillary Clinton notched a five-point win over Bernie Sanders. And Republicans, who caucus Tuesday, have historically had even lower turnouts: 11 percent in 2008, 8 percent in 2012.

Yet many Nevadans who aren't participating are still paying a lot of attention to the presidential race and speak with knowledge and passion about the campaign. Some, like Trombley, don't caucus because they don't want to; others, because they can't.

At Antojitos Mexican Restaurant, Carlos Juarez takes a moment to rest when all his customers have been served.

"I'm the owner when the wife's not here," he jokes.

He sits at a counter, sipping a drink in a pineapple through a straw.

"Squirt, tequila, orange juice and other secret recipes. Not on the menu!"

Juarez has seen all the news coverage of Bernie Sanders catching up to Hillary Clinton. And he's not happy about that, "because I want Hillary to win."

And yet ...  leaving his restaurant for two hours on a Saturday afternoon simply isn't an option for him.

"I don't have time to caucus here, being a business-owner here," he says. "Very busy on weekends. Hard to get out."


It's mid-afternoon at this south Reno shopping center -- errand-running time.

"I would like to vote for Bernie Sanders," 34-year-old Brennan Paterson says as he walks to his car. "I would like to caucus for him. But I can't."

That's because he's an independent. He could register as a Democrat -- even on the day of the caucuses -- and the state party would let him participate. But that's a non-starter for him.

"I would not betray my principles just to caucus," he says. "It's silly that it's a closed caucus system. It's a poor system. But it is what it is."

Gerry and Sharon Morse stop to chat as they walk into Total Wine. They, too, are independents. He's for John Kasich; she's for Bernie Sanders.

"We wish it would go back to the primary," Gerry says.

"I would go vote in the primary," Sharon agrees, "but not a caucus."

"It's a waste of time," Gerry goes on. "And to hear people carp for a couple of hours -- that's asking too much. And I'm a veteran -- I did 20 years -- so I care. But that's ridiculous."


Some voters simply aren't ready to make up their minds.

"I'm not quite decided completely between Sanders and Clinton," says Don Travis, a 59-year-old newly-retired respiratory therapist. "So I probably won't caucus."

Travis likes Bernie Sanders but worries Sanders isn't electable and that his positions aren't realistic.

"I probably will end up going with Hillary," he says. "We'll see what happens."

But not until November. "Right."

And then, there's Mark, a 56-year-old software programmer who declined to give his last name. I ask if he's paying attention to the campaign.

"Oh, absolutely," he says without hesitation. "It's probably gonna be the most important presidential election that this country has had in my lifetime."

Mark likes Donald Trump. "At this point in time, I'm of the opinion that we need to just clean house."

He spoke at length about what he calls a corrupt political system and his frustration with political correctness. But will he caucus for Trump?

"I'm not getting that involved."

 Election 2016

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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