CHICAGO Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from campaign staffers who recently whitewashed Nevada's electorate by claiming that the state is "nearly 80 percent white."
"That's not me," Clinton said, speaking to longtime Nevada politics reporter Jon Ralston in an interview that aired Tuesday night. "I have a great campaign. They work hard, but I love Nevada and Nevada was put into this early process because of diversity."
She added: "I know Nevada. I've spent a lot of time in Nevada. It's one of the most diverse and exciting places in our country."
Ralston, who interviewed Clinton and her rival Bernie Sanders last weekend, was asking her about a comment that her press secretary, Brian Fallon, made during an appearance on MSNBC on the day of the New Hampshire primary. Clinton lost that race badly to Sanders, thanks in large part to young and independent voters.
"There's reasons to believe that Senator Sanders should fare well in a state like Nevada," Fallon said. "Obviously there's an important Hispanic element to the Democratic caucus-goer universe in Nevada, but it's still a state that is 80 percent white voters."
Fallon's statement, which was reportedly repeated by other campaign officials, drew criticism from Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who fought for the state's inclusion in the first four contests.
"Well, it appears to me they've been reading one of the old yearbooks from my high school," Reid said in an interview with CNN. "They're way behind the times."
According to census data from 2014, the most recent available, about half of Nevada's population is non-white: just under 28 percent is Latino, 9 percent is African American and 8 percent is Asian American. In 2008, caucus exit polls showed that 65 percent of Democratic caucus-goers were white and 33 percent were Latino, African American or Asian American.
Clinton's actions show that her campaign is well aware of the importance of minority vote: she has made a concerted effort to reach out to African American, Latino and Asian communities in Nevada, and beyond. On Sunday in Las Vegas, Clinton started her day in an African American church before visiting a sandwich shop in Chinatown and, later, met with a group of DREAMers.
Her aides' comments about the state's demographics were interpreted by some as a way to lower expectations for Saturday's caucus, as Sanders draws supporters to his events by the hundreds.
Clinton told Ralston that she wants to ensure that the state's diversity is "reflected in the caucuses on Saturday" and emphasized her campaign's effort on the ground to turn out the vote.
"I'm saying no matter who you are in the state, I want your support," she said.
Ralston also asked Clinton about her record on immigration, which he said has been called "mixed." Clinton rejected that notion, and defended her position in 2014 that unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the Southern border should be "sent back."
"I was acting as I have acted my entire life," Clinton said, "as a child advocate."
Clinton and Sanders return to Nevada on Thursday ahead of the caucus.