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2020 Democrats lay out competing visions at key Nevada event

John Locher/AP

The contours of the Democratic primary were clear on Sunday night in Nevada, just days before the party’s top 10 candidates headline a closely watched debate in Atlanta.

The point of the First in the West event was to give the 14 Democratic presidential hopefuls in attendance the chance to show off their ability to organize in the key caucus state and woo the small number of uncommitted Nevadans in the room.

But, more significantly, the event was a moment for each candidate, many of whom have already been preparing for Wednesday night’s debate, to road-test lines they may end up using against their Democratic opponents during this week’s debate.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, while focusing intently on President Donald Trump, offered a veiled swipe at Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other more liberal candidates by arguing “big transformational change in health care is hard” and that he should ask whether their preferred candidate can actually get what they are proposing done.

“A lot of people have the ideas, a lot of people have a vision, a lot of people have a plan, but who’s actually gotten it done,” Biden asked. “I’m the only one on this stage that was part of getting it done. I’ve done it, and I could do it again.”

Warren’s pledge for “big structural change” stood in direct contrast to Biden’s pragmatic pledge.

The Massachusetts senator laid out a litany of her policy proposals and cast those not standing with her as not fully grasping the urgency of the moment.

“I’ve got the biggest anti-corruption plan since Watergate. Corruption and, understand this, were not going to change it by a nibble here and a little bit of a change over there,” Warren said.

And Sanders echoed that sentiment.

“The truth is that this country faces an unprecedented moment in our history with enormous challenges before us,” Sanders said. “And tinkering around the edges just won’t do but has to be done. In this unprecedented moment in American history, we need an unprecedented response. We need a political revolution.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg took on Warren and Sanders on health care, telling the audience that as president he would “trust” Americans to decide whether they want government health care, continuing an attack he has used against “Medicare for All,” the sweeping health care plan that has been a focus of the Democratic primary.

“Rather than polarize the American people, I will mobilize the American majority that stands ready for the most progressive change to health care in a half century—delivering Medicare for All Who Want It—while also trusting you to decide whether you want it,” Buttigieg said.

Trump loomed large throughout the event.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called the state of politics “a moral moment” where Democrats won’t “beat Donald Trump by being more Trump-y.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the party “have such a chance” to oust Trump, adding “we cannot screw this up.”

And California Sen. Kamala Harris bluntly said she believes that the county has a “criminal living in the White House.”

But the most pointed comment of the night about Trump came from Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who called the President a “bastard.”

“I think the House is going to do it,” the Democrat said of impeachment. “Frankly, I’d like to impeach the bastard right now.”

Titus, who used the line earlier in the day at a Sanders event, told CNN that she “kind of got caught up in the moment” during her speech and that the swear was “just the first term that came to the top of my head.”

The dinner — a fundraiser for the state party — brought together Nevada’s most committed activists and organizers, with each campaign buying tickets to fill the room in a sign of strength in the state.

Polls show that Biden holds a sizable lead in Nevada, the third state the nominating process. A Fox News poll released earlier this month found Biden at 24% in Nevada, with Warren and Sanders trailing him at 18%.

The First in the West event also honored former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who received a lifetime achievement award from the Democratic Party. Reid had surgery to treat pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Before each candidate delivered their respective stump speeches, Reid was presented with the award and each candidate came to the stage to celebrate the former senator.

“It’s a long way from Searchlight to Washington. But I didn’t get there alone. I got there because of you, Nevadans,” Reid told the audience.

In response, almost each candidate mentioned Reid and his tenure during their speech, but Booker, who served with Reid, recalled a powerful story about his father’s 2013 passing.

“My dad died here. It was during my primary to become a United States senator, my father had a stroke and went to the hospital, right here in Las Vegas,” Booker recalled. “And I will never forget, I’m competing in a primary to become a United States senator, but I’ll never forget getting a call from a man named Harry Reid.”

Booker recalled Reid telling him to stay on the campaign trail and that he would go and “meet with your mom.”

“Harry Reid did not know me. But he went to the hospital. He sat with my mom,” Booker recalled. “My dad then died six days before I was elected to the United States Senate. Harry was one of those early calls to me.”

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