"Though Nevada is relative newcomer to the early primary stage, the Nevada Republican Party's 'First in the West' Caucus will be a vital, highly competitive test of national appeal and organizational ability for Republican candidates. To get the Republican Party's nomination, a good showing in Nevada is critical." --Cory Adair

Early Nevada precinct caucuses were first held in the 2008 cycle.  Democratic and Republican 2012 nominating rules single out Nevada as one of four states that can go early.  After a bit of drama and under some pressure, the Nevada Republican Party set its caucus date as Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 (>).  Democrats opted to hold their caucuses on Jan. 21 to protect Nevada's "hard-fought status as a presidential early-voting state." (1, 2).

A Battleground State

With a population of 2.6 million, Nevada had been one of the fastest growing states, but the economy has been very hard hit in the past several years.  Tourism and the gambling industry are cornerstones of the economy.  In Dec. 2011 Nevada had the highest unemployment rate of any state, 12.6%, down somewhat from a high of 14.9% in Dec. 2010.  In the first half of 2010 Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate of the 50 states.  Other issues include water and immigration.  Second Amendment rights are important in the state.  Although the Obama administration has defunded the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository northwest of Las Vegas, it remains an issue.  Nevada Republicans were also still smarting over Harry Reid's re-election in 2010.  

Of 1,082,705 active registered voters as of January 2012, 447,881 (41.37%) were Democrats, 400,310 (36.97%) Republicans, and 172,463 (15.93%) non-partisan, and the rest other parties.  Las Vegas and Reno account for much of the voting population; for example, of the 175,706 votes cast during the competitive June 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary, 52.3% came from Clark County and 23.7% from Washoe County.  According to the William C. Velazquez Institute, Latinos account for 11.42% of registered voters.  According to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are 174,662 members in the state (>).  Nevada also has one of the largest populations of veterans in the United States.

Origin of the Early Nevada Caucuses

The early Nevada caucuses originated with the Democratic National Committee, which was seeking to diversify the beginning of the nominating process.  On  Aug. 19, 2006 at its summer meeting in Chicago the full DNC voted to add the Nevada caucuses to the pre-window period; the date was set for January 19, 2008.  Nevada Republicans, not wanting to be left on the sidelines, approved a move to January 19 in a near unanimous vote during their April 21, 2007 meeting in Carson City.  Nevada Democrats had a significant head start in preparing for their caucuses and there was a lot more activity on their side.  117,599 Democrats participated in the Democratic caucuses, while only 43,578 Republicans participated in the GOP caucuses.  Nevada Republicans delivered a solid win to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; he obtained 51.1% (>) of the vote, which many observers attributed high turnout among Mormons.

A Busy 2010...A Busier 2012?

In 2010, Nevada saw the most hotly contested U.S. Senate race in the country; despite his unpopularity, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) defeated former Rep. Sharron Angle (R).  Republicans did keep the governorship, as former federal Judge Brian Sandoval (R) defeated Clark County Commission Chair Rory Reid (D), and they picked up the 3rd CD, where Dr. Joe Heck (R) defeated freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D).  Both chambers of the legislature remained in Democratic control. 

State Republicans put in place a solid team to run the caucuses.  State chair Amy Tarkanian was elected chairwoman in June 2011.  On Sept. 6 she announced David Gallagher as the party's executive director; CAP Public Affairs, a firm led by Gentry Collins, James Anderson and Alan Philp, as "caucus advisors and general consultants overseeing caucus operations;" and Cory Drumright as the caucus director (>).  There were many decisions to be made; for example the party was to consider the question of same-day registration for the caucuses at its Oct. 22 state meeting (>).

The Western Republican Leadership Conference and the CNN debate on October 18 focused attention on the state.  Two other proposed debates fell through: an Americans for Tax Reform/Daily Caller/Citizens Outreach Foundation presidential debate planned for July 10, 2011 in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Conservative Leadership Conference (>) and a Telemundo debate planned for early December in Las Vegas (>).

Nevada did not get as much traffic as other early states.  From the beginning Mitt Romney was considered the favorite in Nevada; he had won the 2008 caucuses with 51% and it was expected he would benefit from the state's high Mormon population.  Ron Paul achieved one of his better showings in 2008 here, and his campaign built a strong organization.  Rick Perry had the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, but bowed out before the South Carolina primary.

Despite all the preparations there were some rough spots in these second ever caucuses.  Each county opted to set its own rules (>).  A special evening caucus was held at Becker Middle School in Las Vegas for observant Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists; voters were required to sign a declaration saying they had missed their scheduled caucus because of reasons of faith, but others who had missed their morning caucus signed and participated as well.  And, despite the Nevada Republican Party's partnership with Twitter and Google "to implement new and innovative methods of reporting election results" certified results were not announced until the morning of February 6.

Post-caucus and in the fall, 2012 will be busy.  Nevada has gained one seat due to reapportionment.  The U.S. Senate race could be interesting.  Gov. Sandoval appointed Rep. Dean Heller (R-2nd CD) to fill the seat which had been held by Sen. John Ensign (Ensign announced he would not seek re-election in 2012, then announced he would resign).  Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-1st CD) is running for the Senate seat so her seat will be open.  Heller should have something of an advantage as he runs for a full term in 2012.  Former state party chairman Mark Amodei (R) won the Sept. 13, 2011 special election to fill the 2nd CD seat that had been held by Heller.   At the presidential level, in the general election Nevada will likely once again be a battleground state.   




Key Dates

July 9-10, 2011 - Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, NV. +

Oct. 18, 2011 - WRLC/CNN Debate in Las Vegas, NV.
Oct. 18-21, 2011 - Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

Jan. 21, 2012 - Democratic Caucuses, 2

Feb. 4, 2012 - Republican Caucuses