Can Nevada, a state with five little electoral votes and a population smaller than some major cities, actually play a key role in deciding who will be the next Democratic nominee for President of the United States?
That was certainly the hope when the Silver State’s Democratic leaders moved the caucus ahead several months, making us one of the earliest primary caucuses in the nation. When Sen. Hillary Clinton was leading in all the polls, it looked as though Nevada’s caucus would just serve as another rubber stamp on her way to the nomination.
Now, however, the polls are tightening in the country’s first two primary battlegrounds, Iowa and New Hampshire. Sen. Barack Obama has closed the gap, and former Sen. John Edwards is close in Iowa. The race in each of these states is “within the margin of error,” the term for the scientific error factor assigned to every public opinion poll.
The scenario is now developing as follows: one candidate could win in Iowa, another in New Hampshire. The next primary states are Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina. If you thought the campaigning was fast and furious up to this point, just wait until you have a split decision in the first two states.
If one candidate wins in Iowa and Nevada, they would immediately establish clear momentum – which is the key to victory in this race – because voters love to support a winner. On the Republican side, Nevada’s significance isn’t quite as clear. The race is more open between the top candidates, and the Republican caucus here was not originally sanctioned by the National GOP. Republican presidential candidates have made their way to Nevada and will continue to do so throughout the beginning of next year.
Democrats, however, are aggressively campaigning in all areas of the state. Obama followed other candidates’ leads and set up field offices in Elko and Pahrump to court voters. Bill Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd are hoping Nevada might give them a chance to break the stranglehold Clinton and Obama have had on the top spots.
Clinton has mopped up the most personal endorsements from Nevada’s elected Democratic leaders, including Clark County Commission Chair Rory Reid, Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera and numerous members of his caucus. But other candidates have gotten their share of personal commitments and union endorsements.
The largest labor unions, usually big players in local politics, have yet to endorse. The Culinary Union and Service International Employees Union, each with thousands of members, will not announce until after the first of the year whom they will endorse. These unions can each deliver large blocks of voters that could mean huge gains for the candidate they support.
If Nevadans end up supporting the eventual Democratic or Republican nominee, that could mean huge clout if that person goes on to become president. In a state with only five electoral votes, that influence could be very important in halting projects like the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste repository.