Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 | 10:10 p.m.
The MGM Grand Conference Center resounded with horns passed out by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and was lit with glow sticks from the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as about 2,200 raucous Democrats gathered to hear speeches from the party’s three candidates for president Wednesday night.
The Battle Born/Battleground First in the West dinner, hosted by Sen. Harry Reid, was the first time the three candidates appeared in Nevada since the debate in October and was a critical test of campaign support heading into the state’s nominating caucus on Feb. 20.
Clinton and Sanders were joined by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, as well as prominent state Democrats, including Rep. Dina Titus, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and the four candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Congressional District.
Compared to previous speeches, Clinton focused on several Nevada-centric issues, including the housing crisis, renewable energy and immigration, as well as taking digs at Reps. Joe Heck and Cresent Hardy and Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
“You have an attorney general who seems to have made it his mission to tear apart hardworking immigrant families,” she said, referring to the lawsuit Laxalt joined on behalf of the state against President Barack Obama’s executive action.
Clinton praised Masto, who is opposing Heck in the race for Reid’s seat. “Catherine is so well prepared, so focused in what she can do for you in the Senate,” she said.
Largely declining to draw a contrast between herself and her Democratic rivals, the former first lady did criticize Sanders’ plan for tuition-free college education, saying that Americans shouldn’t be taxed so that “Donald Trump’s kids can go to college for free.” She also called out Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio for what she described as flip-flopping on immigration, saying that he worked on a comprehensive immigration reform bill but “now he renounces it.”
She also reiterated parts of her speech from earlier today at Sun City Anthem in Henderson, praising the president’s recently announced executive actions on gun control and stressing the importance of addressing mental health in the community. Earlier today, Clinton noted that she would be releasing a comprehensive mental health plan by the end of the month. She also toured the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, which trains hotel workers, speaking with students who were learning to emulsify mayonnaise, roll meatballs and bake vegetarian lasagna. The Culinary Union has not yet endorsed a candidate.
By contrast to Clinton, Sanders stuck closely to his standard stump speech, focusing on income inequality, the expansion of Social Security and universal health care. “The United States today remains the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to every man woman and child,” Sanders said. At times, he struggled to be heard over a chorus of horns blown by supporters, holding up his hand several times to silence them.
He only took one oblique dig at his Democratic opponents, saying he is “very proud” to be the only Democratic candidate for president without a SuperPAC. “It is too late for establishment politics and establishment economics,” he added.
Sanders rallied supporters before the dinner, speaking at the Tropicana, introduced by the co-creator of "The Daily Show" Lizz Winstead and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. Sanders took a dig at the PUC’s solar decision, saying that it had “moved in exactly the wrong direction.”
In his speech, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sought to revive his flagging campaign by moving to Clinton’s left on several issues. He called for a $15 per hour national minimum wage, a more liberal immigration and refugee policy and the return of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that regulated banks and was repealed during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
O’Malley also sharply pushed back on the Nevada PUC’s decision to levy new fees on solar customers, saying that the new fees were “sabotaging” the industry. He will speak at a meeting of the Economic Club of Las Vegas on Thursday morning, following Republican candidate Sen. Rand Paul, who spoke before the group after the GOP debate.