Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008 | 2 a.m.
It’s been two weeks since Nevada’s first competitive presidential caucuses, and Nevadans are still buzzing about our day in the political sun.
Most people are thrilled with the unexpectedly high turnout of almost 118,000 Democrats — more than 12 times the number of Nevada Democrats who caucused in 2004. Some express frustration with the challenges presented by such a huge turnout. I asked for feedback from our Democratic mailing list, and within a few days heard from hundreds of Nevadans with a variety of caucus experiences.
I’ve been responding to many of these e-mails individually, and people often seem surprised to hear Nevada has held presidential caucuses since the 1960s. State law requires our parties to hold a caucus as the first step to electing our state’s national convention delegates.
Usually, few Nevadans participated. Our state was so far behind in the political calendar that our caucuses were a foregone conclusion. Each party had a presumed nominee by the time Nevadans caucused.
Several years ago Sen. Harry Reid saw an opportunity to make Nevada a force to be reckoned with in presidential politics by adding Nevada to the lineup of early states that weigh in on our presidential candidates.
The Democratic National Committee was clear: It was looking to add one caucus state and one primary state — one from the West and one from the South — to the mix of early states. Through the DNC process, many states competed for these prime opportunities and it became clear that Nevada was in the mix because it was a caucus state.
South Carolina was selected by the DNC as an early primary state, and Nevada was ultimately selected from other Western states as a caucus state because we successfully argued our state would add ethnic, geographic and economic diversity. Nevada is almost 40 percent minority, 15 percent of our workers belong to a union, and we are in the West, a region of growing importance to the Democratic Party.
In other words, our early position — and all of the rallies, debates, forums and coffee shop visits that come with that — could be put in peril if we did not have a caucus.
Nevada was a true “First Test in the West.” Our caucus included seniors, veterans, cowboys, ranchers, construction workers, teachers, miners, dealers and more. Exit polls estimated that 15 percent of caucusgoers were African-American, and another 15 percent were Hispanic.
The Nevada Democratic Party realizes that along with an unexpectedly high turnout came plenty of growing pains. We are examining feedback on the caucus to decide what we did right and wrong, and what we can do differently next time.
The caucus isn’t perfect, but there are many advantages to it. The unique and fun nature of a caucus attracts new people and forces our party to organize and build an infrastructure from our neighborhoods on up. An estimated 30,000 Democrats filled out new registration forms Jan. 19.
I want to thank all Nevadans who participated in our first-ever competitive caucus. We started a proud tradition for our state, and the Nevada Democratic Party emerged stronger than ever before.
Jill Derby is chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party.