Las Vegas / Bloomberg
The scars of the housing collapse in Nevada are deep and still fresh, making the state a proving ground for the power of Bernie Sanders’s anti-Wall Street message to drive voters to the polls.
Sanders has surged in what had been considered a stronghold state for Hillary Clinton heading into Saturday’s Democratic presidential caucus, adding staff and airing a television ad that speaks directly to the pain that the demise of the housing market inflicted.
Nevada had the highest monthly foreclosure rate in the U.S. from January 2007 to February 2012, according to data provider RealtyTrac, and it’s still the fourth-highest in the nation. Almost one in four homes in Las Vegas is worth less than the mortgage against it, the highest share in the U.S., according to Zillow Inc.
Wall Street has been at both ends of the housing crash. Many here blame big banks for causing the crisis, and since 2012, Wall Street firms have been buying up foreclosed properties, driving up prices for home buyers.
Now banks are giving financing to investors buying homes to rent, triggering concern that Wall Street is reinventing the same tactics that crippled the financial system eight years ago.
Pragmatism and Passion
While Clinton makes the case that only she can deliver real results for voters concerned about Wall Street and the economy, her pragmatic approach stands in contrast to the passionate appeal being made by Sanders — that he’ll upend a “rigged” economy — as he tries to show that his narrow defeat in Iowa and overwhelming victory in New Hampshire weren’t just bumps on Clinton’s path to the party nomination.
“Whose message do they buy?” asked Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Sanders saying, ‘It’s the big banks’ and casting a lot of blame, or Hillary Clinton’s saying, ‘OK, let’s get real and fix this?”‘
In a town hall event broadcast by MSNBC and Spanish-language channel Telemundo, Sanders didn’t speak to the housing crisis directly. But he did address criticism from Clinton that his focus on Wall Street makes him a one-issue candidate.
“Do I believe that there has to be a major focus on the economy when the middle class is disappearing, when people in Nevada and all over this country are working longer hours for lower wages and almost all new income is going to the top 1 percent?” he asked. “Yes, I am going to focus on that.”
Clinton, appearing separately, was asked how she would help ease the fears of home ownership among Hispanics affected by the housing crisis. She said she wants the federal government to do more to relieve the burden on existing homeowners and help Hispanics and blacks get better access to credit. “I know how hard hit Nevada was,” Clinton said. “I take that very
The test of how the competing messages are playing with Nevada Democrats comes on Saturday. There’s been very little polling in the state, though a recent survey by CNN/ORC shows the Sanders and Clinton tied, with 42 percent of respondents saying the economy is the top issue. However, the poll of 282 likely Nevada Democratic caucus-goers had a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.
Sanders is airing an ad in Nevada featuring Erin Bilbray, a state Democratic committeewoman and superdelegate who has backed Sanders, describing how a home across the street from hers has sat vacant for six years and how good friends have had their homes foreclosed.
“People are still really suffering, and they’re looking for somebody that is going to create bold change,” Bilbray says in the ad. “Wall Street gave bad advice and bad loans over and over again, and nothing happened. People are so excited about Bernie Sanders because they know that he’s not beholden to Wall Street.”