LAS VEGAS, Nevada — The caravan of housekeepers started at the Bellagio. With each worker clutching a boxed lunch in one hand and a mini American flag in the other, they swept past their hotel’s iconic fountain to the casino next door.
For a few short minutes, the matching outfits of bachelorette parties and tourist groups that typically flood the Las Vegas strip were drowned out by the uniforms of bartenders, maids and casino dealers who clocked out for a few short hours to participate in the Democratic caucus.
Full coverage of the race for the White House: Decision 2016
Going into Saturday, the race in Nevada was down to the wire, marking a key test on whether Hillary Clinton could maintain her lock on support from minority voters or Bernie Sanders’ insurgency campaign could carry him through Super Tuesday.
Nevada is the first state where minority voters could play a pivotal role in determining which candidate will be the next Democratic nominee. Crucially, 75 percent of registered Democrats live in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, making Sin City the hotbed of overall turnout for the race.
The Nevada Democratic Party set up six caucus locations on the Las Vegas strip to accommodate shift workers at the hotels and casinos so they don’t have to travel to their home precincts to participate.
The caucus location inside the ballroom at Caesar’s Palace was rapturous with activity as competing chants worked to overpower the other.
“Hill-Ar-Y!” and then “Feel the Bern!”
A cavalry of Sanders supporters from the National Nurses Union came in from across the country in a show of solidarity after canvassing Las Vegas homes for weeks.
“I was pleasantly surprised there was a lot of Bernie support,” Teresz Lozoya, a volunteer with the union, said. “More than that, even, there was a lot of non-support for Hillary.”
Throughout the week, both candidates have worked the hotel circuits, shaking hands with housekeepers and casino hands during their breaks, with Clinton hitting Caesar’s Palace three times in as many days.
Jimmy Leon, who started working at Caesar’s more than 20 years ago, beginning as a dishwasher and working his way up to become a chef in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, was one of the workers who waited in line hours before the caucus to meet both Clintons in the employee break room.
He got a selfie with Hillary and shook Bill Clinton’s hand.
“Bill Clinton is a very good president. Maybe she has the same ideas,” Leon said.
Raquel Reyes was devastated that she couldn’t leave her shift on the buffet floor at Caesar’s to run back and meet the Clintons on Saturday morning. A first-time caucus-goer, Reyes was too young to participate in 2008. But she wanted Clinton to win back then, too.
“I really wanted her to run again. I thought, ‘Please, maybe next time,’” she said.