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Democrat Tom Steyer confident ahead of Nevada caucus that could make or break his campaign

Reno-Gazette-Journal logo Reno-Gazette-Journal 2/14/2020 James DeHaven, Reno Gazette-Journal
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Nevada’s important to Tom Steyer. 

So much so, in fact, that he’s not even entertaining the thought of faltering in the state’s crucial Democratic presidential caucus on Feb. 22. 

“I’m going to do well,” the California billionaire and 2020 presidential hopeful told the Reno Gazette Journal when asked how his campaign might rebound from a lackluster showing in the Silver State. “I hate conditional questions. They totally stink. I’m going to do well.”

Tom Steyer wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer talks with the RGJ on Feb. 12, 2020. © Andy Barron/RGJ Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer talks with the RGJ on Feb. 12, 2020.

Steyer, who spoke during a wide-ranging Wednesday interview at his campaign offices in Sparks, has good reason to be optimistic. 

The San Francisco-based hedge fund tycoon has some personal ties to Nevada, and makes regular mention of summers spent here working on a Gardnerville ranch or taking quick trips to Lake Tahoe. 

He’s also spent years, and several million of his own dollars, on a wide array of progressive policy campaigns in the state. 

That investment appears to be paying off in Nevada polls, which show Steyer in fourth place with a 3 percentage point lead over fellow outsider candidate and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He’s fared even better in South Carolina, where surveys show him trailing only longtime front-runner Joe Biden. 

Steyer also faces some headwinds, especially after suffering setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

The 62-year-old candidate said he wasn’t surprised by his sixth-place finish in the Granite State, but acknowledged the results proved a bloodbath for many other lesser-known contenders to take on President Donald Trump. 

Poor showings from Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick prompted each to drop their longshot presidential bids, leaving only Steyer and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard lingering in the lower tier of Democratic candidates. 

That means Steyer now faces a tough task: Trying to rally supporters around a message of unity and electability already being pushed by higher-profile contenders such as Buttigieg, Biden and, to a lesser extent, progressive U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Tom Steyer et al. standing in a room: Democratic candidate for president Tom Steyer speaks during a campaign rally at the Elm Estate in Reno on Feb. 12, 2020. © JASON BEAN/RGJ Democratic candidate for president Tom Steyer speaks during a campaign rally at the Elm Estate in Reno on Feb. 12, 2020.

Billionaires buying the nomination?

What’s more, Steyer has to do so while weathering attacks from campaign front-runners who say he and fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg are trying to buy the Democratic nomination.

They point out Steyer has flooded the airwaves with some $124 million in digital, radio and TV ads — a tally only surpassed by Bloomberg, according to data from Advertising Analytics. 

Yet Bloomberg, unlike Steyer, has skyrocketed in national polls, rising to third place in a few short weeks despite sitting out a string of nationally televised debates and all four early nominating contests. 

For better or worse, Steyer took part in both, and insists he’d be in the same position even if he hadn’t opened up his wallet.

“Look, I started a business, I walked away from the business and I’ve spent my time since then going after what I think are the biggest problems in America,” he added. “I think I will do well or not do well based on message.”

a man holding a microphone: Democratic candidate for president Tom Steyer speaks during a campaign rally at the Elm Estate in Reno on Feb. 12, 2020. © JASON BEAN/RGJ Democratic candidate for president Tom Steyer speaks during a campaign rally at the Elm Estate in Reno on Feb. 12, 2020.

Steyer said he doesn’t see himself as a billionaire, though it’s clear he’s not just another Democratic policy activist looking to make a difference.

He, like many moderates in the Democratic primary contest, would prefer to build on Obamacare in order to provide a publicly funded health care option that would compete with private insurers. 

Unlike some of those contenders, Steyer has the cash on hand needed to roll out fresh batches of scathing TV ads, among them a new campaign that takes direct aim at progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to pay for Medicare For All. 

Steyer stressed that he is not part of a burgeoning “stop-Bernie” effort some establishment Democrats have been whispering about. 

See what others in Reno are reading:

He said he’s got his eye on a bigger task: Topping Trump at the polls. 

“You have to ask yourself who can beat Mr. Trump,” Steyer said. “I think Mr. Trump’s running on the economy. He’s lying about his economic record. 

“In order to be able to take him down, I believe you have to talk about growth, job creation and prosperity, not just about economic justice. I’m the person doing that.”

Early caucusing in Nevada begins on Feb. 15 at any one of 80 locations around the state. The state’s closed caucus system is open to registered Democrats who will be over the age of 18 by Nov. 3.

For more information, visit caucus.nvdems.com.

James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here

This article originally appeared on Reno Gazette-Journal: Democrat Tom Steyer confident ahead of Nevada caucus that could make or break his campaign

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