Well Nevada is an interesting creature. They had their first ever caucus in 2004. Only the Democrats had a contest and they modelled their system after that of Iowa with viability thresholds and non-reportage of popular vote totals. In 2004, the caucus was relatively early but it was swamped by John M. Kerry (immediately after the Iowa caucus, Kerry briefly changed his middle name from "Forbes" to "Momentum"), who took 67% of the vote and 90% of the delegates. The are no figures for turnout, but estimates put it at 9000 people. There were about 366,700 registered Democrats, so that puts the turn out at 2% of eligible voters.
Unlike the Iowa caucus, where one must be a registered Democrat but can change their registration at the caucus site, in Nevada the only people who can registered on site are unregistered voters, changing the registration, unless done weeks in advance, is not an option.
The moral of the story? Polls are largely meaningless. Who will participate? No one knows. Only registered Democrats can participate, but 98% of them of never participated in a presidential preference caucus before and will be totally unfamiliar with the concept of, rather than taking five minutes to go in a booth and vote, taking an hour or two and go into a room in a local school or fire hall and stand with a group of people they may or may not know supporting their candidate while getting the evil eye from people they may or may not know supporting another candidate.
Obama and Clinton have been campaigning the hardest here, while Edwards has focussed on South Carolina. However, Edwards has now returned to the state and is doing a non-stop push until Saturday. Polls, which are meaningless, show a three-way race.
Each candidate has pros:
- Obama has been endorsed by the important Culinary Workers Union which represents most of the workers on the Las Vegas strip and whose members have the unique right of being able to caucus outside of their home precincts due to special caucus sites being set up at nine casinos on the strip. The importance of this union cannot be overrated. First, they will have the majority of their members at work and able to caucus at work. Second, in August, when their endorsement was expected to be for either Clinton or Edwards and Obama wasn't thought to be in the running, his campaign said: "Whoever gets the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union, more than likely, is going to win Nevada."
- Clinton may have lost her lead among Blacks, but her lead among Hispanics remains very strong. Nevada is over 22% Hispanic. Bill Clinton carried this state twice, despite the fact that it regularly went Republican both before and after.
- Edwards surprised a lot of people by surging in the polls that have been done out here since Iowa vs. his pre-Iowa numbers. I think I have the explanation. No one in Nevada really knows how to work a caucus and be successful because they've never done it before. That is no one, except for John Edwards' campaign team. Back in August, Edwards moved a number of his Nevada staff to Iowa, now, these folks familiar with Nevada, have just been on the frontlines in Iowa and have returned to Nevada with lessons learned. This may explain his uptick in polls and may give him a secret weapon on caucus day.
And that was just the confusion surrounding the Democratic caucus! The Republican caucus is both more and less confusing. More confusing in that, though the Democrats have only done this once before and only 2% of their voters particpated, the Republicans have never done it. Less confusing in that the Republican contest in South Carolina is the same day and the Republicans are focussing 99.9% of their efforts there.
That said, Mitt Romney has, like in Wyoming but to a lesser extent, put more resources in here than the other candidates. Moreover, his fellow Mormons make up 12% of voters here and that will likely be a boost to him. He was also endorsed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest paper in the state, this morning. Therefore it is hard to imagine him not taking a win. For Mike Huckabee, this could be the first state where he doesn't place third or better; I can't imagine that his strong religious creds and opposition to gambling would play well in and around Sin City. Moreover, unlike Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, he hasn't campaigned here.
As I mentioned in my Democratic analysis, I don't think the polls are very helpful and, indeed, while the two new polls on the Democratic side do at least agree with each other, on the Republican side they are totally inconsistent.
One poll has McCain up by 4 over Giuliani with Romney in fourth, while the other has Romney in the lead up by 7 over McCain! The variations are insane: Romney (28 vs 15), McCain (21 vs 22), Giuliani (11 vs 18), Huckabee (8 vs 16), Thompson (13 vs 11), Paul (9 vs 6).
These polls were both conducted after New Hampshire but before Michigan so, one might assume, they overstate McCain's strength and understate Romney's. One might also assume that McCain and Thompson have more consistent support because they didn't fluctuate much between polls. One might assume.
So, I am going to go way out on a limb here and predict the following:
Notice the cop out with three way tie for third!