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August 27, 2014

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Republicans switch, fatten Dems’ numbers

Republicans Reward Romney

There were a few surprises on the Republican side of Nevada's caucuses on Jan. 19, but Mitt Romney wasn't one of them. The former Massachusetts governor — who had done extensive campaigning in Nevada, and had extremely strong support from his Mormon ties in Utah — won just as easily as he was expected to. But things spiced up slightly for second place when Ron Paul edged out John McCain.

A Day to Caucus

A sign hangs on the outside door of Culinary Union Local 226 political director Pilar Weiss after a caucus day rally and informational meeting at the Culinary Union Local 226 headquarters in Las Vegas early in the morning Saturday, January 19, 2008. Launch slideshow »

Caucus Results by County

See how Hillary won the Silver State

Perhaps the biggest winner in Saturday’s caucus will be the state Democratic Party. Judging from observations by Sun reporters at precincts across the state, many voters who had been registered as independents or Republicans declared themselves Democrats.

Caucuses are intended to enrich political parties in advance of general elections. Despite the intramural elbow-throwing among the competing Democratic campaigns, Saturday’s caucus may embolden the state party as it heads into the national election in November.

In Republican-rich Elko, 13 people of 76 in one downtown precinct changed their party affiliation from Republican to Democrat before the caucus, as party rules allow. Other caucusgoers said they’d switched parties before Saturday.

In a precinct in an older Las Vegas neighborhood, 16 of 51 people registered as Democrats on Saturday in order to caucus. Many of them had been Republicans.

And at a school near Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road, 23 Republicans switched their affiliation to caucus as Democrats, which officials said caused them to run out of ballots and registration forms.

To be sure, this is all anecdotal. The number of people who registered as Democrats on Saturday probably won’t be known for weeks, party officials said. New registrants had to fill out paper forms, which will be sent to county registrars.

But many Republican leaders took notice of what the Democratic Party had created.

“Whichever Republican nominee survives will have to take a hard look at what Democrats accomplished in the last 12 months, and will have to put a lot of resources on the ground here,” said Robert Uithoven, a veteran Republican consultant.

Whether newly registered Democrats reflect a one-day spike or will remain loyal to the party is the next question. Some Republicans think that if Clinton is the nominee, lost party members might return to the fold.

“If we have a good Republican candidate, the pendulum swings,” said Pete Ernaut, chairman of the Nevada Republican caucus. “If Hillary is the nominee, the chances of keeping crossover registration is much less likely.”

The Republican caucus, organized much later than the Democrats’ and overshadowed by South Carolina’s GOP primary Saturday, also exceeded projections, he pointed out.

Still, all three major Democratic candidates made last-minute pushes in previously rock-solid Republican counties.

Barack Obama, in particular, targeted Elko, in a county where 24 percent of voters were registered Democrats. In August, 900 people turned out to hear him speak; last week he drew about 1,300 people, filling a high school gymnasium.

Among his supporters: former Republican Rita Todd, a 50-year-old caregiver who said she’d stick with the party and support Clinton should she win the party nomination in Denver.

Sun writer Mary Manning contributed to this report.

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