Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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Background of Nevada's caucus

For the first time, Nevada’s Democrats and Republicans will have a chance to play a stronger role in who the nominees will be for president by being among a select group of states picked to hold primaries and caucuses in January.

By being one of the early states, Nevada’s caucuses are hoped to gain the state more national attention, bring in more presidential candidates and thus raise awareness of Western issues.

Another advantage of an early caucus date, is that it gives Nevada’s voters more clout than in the past in helping to shape the presidential race. Candidates come to early states often and engage in "retail" politics, making it more likely for citizens to get a chance to meet them. Lesser-known candidates can concentrate on the early states in hopes of creating some early momentum or creating an upset.

Nevada Democratic Party state chair Jill Derby said ". . . Nevada is the first real test of the Hispanic vote, along with the labor and Western vote. A candidate who wins Nevada is poised to win the West and the country."

A test of the West

Caucuses are nothing new to Nevada. The state has had them since the 1960s to help select delegates to the Republican and Democratic parties' national conventions.

However, caucuses generally don't draw a lot of voter interest because of their arcane nature — you don't just walk in and vote. Whereas voting might take 10 minutes, caucuses can take as long as two hours. And in some, you have to declare a candidate publicly and you might have other people trying to persuade you to change your mind.

This is the first time in Nevada's history where the state has been given the right to hold caucuses before the normal "window" (from Feb. 5 to June 10 in 2008) for states to schedule their primaries and caucuses. Nevada emerged into the presidential politics spotlight as the result of an exhaustive examination of the presidential nominating schedule by the Democratic Party after the 2004 elections.

The study emerged from criticism about New Hampshire and Iowa always having the first primary and the first caucus. Other states have argued that New Hampshire and Iowa aren't representative of the entire country.

And they say it's not fair to shut other states out of the early process.

After the study, the Democratic National Committee decided that New Hampshire and Iowa should retain their traditional roles to be the first primary state and first caucus state, respectively.

However, the DNC also agreed that some other states who were more representative economically, ethnically and geographically of the entire country also be included in the early, pre-window period.

A dozen states lobbied to hold their primaries or caucuses in January 2008. The result: The DNC approved an early primary in South Carolina and an early caucus in Nevada.

Democrats picked Nevada for the "pre-window period" because it's a Western state, it has a large minority population, including Hispanics and African Americans, and it is known for its strong labor unions. Nevada has also argued its demographics more closely represent the country as a whole. Minorities represent 41.1 percent of Nevada's population. That breaks down into 24.4 percent Hispanic, 7.2 percent African American and 5.8 percent Asian.

The schedule that emerged after the DNC set their dates and Republicans set their dates:

-- Iowa caucuses - Jan. 3

-- New Hampshire primary - Jan. 8

-- Nevada caucuses - Jan. 19.

-- South Carolina caucuses - Jan. 29 for Democrats, Jan. 19 for Republicans.

The "window" for other states to hold their primaries and caucuses opens from Feb. 5 to June 10. But efforts by other states to be among the early birds has ended up front-loading the nomination process.

More than 30 states are planning to hold their own primaries or caucuses on or before Feb. 5, dubbed by many pundits as Super Tuesday because more than half of the delegates to the national conventions will be selected that day.

Cutting in line

Despite the DNC's rules to have only four states in January, other states have decided to move their primaries or caucuses up to the pre-window time period. They claimed it's unfair for only a few states to get the benefits of an early primary or caucus, which includes more candidate visits and thus more media coverage and attention. And that means more dollars are filtering into those states.

Some of the states that moved up their primaries or caucuses.

-- Wyoming caucus - Republicans Jan. 5; Democrats, March 8.

-- Michigan caucus - moved to Jan. 15.

-- Florida primary - moved to Jan. 29 for both Democrats and Republicans.

Keeping order

To avoid a free-for-all, the major parties have decided to play hardball and levy punishment to those states that jump ahead in line.

For example, after Florida announced it would move up its primary to Jan. 29, the DNC decided to strip Florida of all of its 210 delegates. Florida's Democrats decided to do it anyway. The Republican National Committee has said it would take away half of the GOP delegates, or 57 delegates.

Michigan's legislature moved its primary to Jan. 15, subjecting itself to the same penalty faced by Florida.

Expected turnouts

With all the hoopla surrounding Nevada's entry as a pre-window state, there's one large concern that party leaders are down-playing -- will the state's voters show up?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised some eyebrows around the state when he predicted 100,000 Nevadans will participate.

Political observers have been skeptical because at the last Nevada presidential caucus in 2004, only some 9,000 people attended. That compares with 125,000 in Iowa that same year, where the early caucuses have become a tradition.

But party operatives think they can get more Nevada voters to participate.

Kirsten Searer, deputy executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party, said (before Reid made his prediction) that she expected "three or four times" the 9,000 participants from 2004, or some 36,000 participants.

Hans Gullickson, Republican state caucus director, danced away from any number estimates. It mostly depends on the candidates themselves, Gullickson said.

Party operatives and political activitists have been trying to educate the public with a series of educational seminars and mock caucuses called "mockacuses," where participates vote on pizza toppings rather than their presidential pick.

Dave Toplikar, New Media Managing Editor