In California, Elizabeth Warren gazed into a laptop camera, resting her chin on her hand while recounting her working-class childhood for about 200 voters scattered hundreds of miles away across Nevada.
In Minden, Nevada, about 40 Democrats watched on a small television as Warren delivered parts of her stump speech before fielding her first question, posed by a teacher dialing into the videoconference from a high school library seven hours away in West Wendover.
Warren was one of four Democratic presidential candidates pioneering a virtual campaign trail Friday night in rural Nevada. The early voting state has struggled to attract presidential candidates to its far-flung and sparsely populated towns, spurring Nevada Democrats to set up videoconference town halls with candidates.
“This is a way for us to get to see them and let them see us and see that we are here,” said Janet Walls, a 77-year-old Democrat from Minden. “Don’t forget us.”
Along with Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson and Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton all participated in the cyber-campaigning Friday, speaking one after another to at least 17 locations around the state.
Nevada, the third-in-line state to cast votes on the Democratic presidential nominee, isn’t as compact or accessible as New Hampshire, Iowa or South Carolina, where candidates can more quickly and easily visit rural areas.
Walls acknowledged the challenges that keep most Democratic presidential candidates from journeying to rural Nevada, where they might be met with a sparse crowd.
“I don’t like it, but I understand it,” she said.
Kimi Cole, the chair of the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, organized the virtual visits to ensure voters in remote parts of the state can play a role in vetting the party’s crowded field of White House hopefuls.
It could be a nationwide model as presidential candidates expand the traditional campaign map to seek support in places where Democrats have struggled, including rural America. For the candidates struggling to break out of a crowded Democratic field, rural support could make a vital difference in Nevada’s caucuses.
Cole said about 200 people tuned in to the cyber-visits from libraries, schools, homes and even a pizza parlor.
There were some technical complications, including a few instances where candidates’ microphones were accidently muted or their words were drowned out by their own voice echoing across the other screen. But on the whole, voters who participated seemed enthusiastic about the opportunity and asked questions about issues like tribal sovereignty, natural resources and the opioid epidemic.
Loretta Kuliawat, 56, compared Booker’s cyber appearance to a campaign stop he made in her town last month — the only candidate to visit Minden in person.
“I don’t feel any difference between watching him today and being in the room with him,” she said. She called the virtual visits “a really nice stopgap” until the candidates show up in person.
Before each candidate signed off, Cole pressed that point with them.
“That doesn’t let you off the hook from coming out in person,” Cole said to Warren.
“It’s not a hook! I want to come. I’m ready,” Warren responded. She then waved goodbye and closed her laptop.