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January 12, 2008

The Forgotten Caucus?

South Carolina will not go to the precincts alone on January 19th, but it seems that the media has mostly forgotten it. Nevada moved its contest to the same date with the blessings of both parties, but it has received little of the coverage of the other early primary and caucus states. Pollsters and candidates have also mostly skipped the home state of Sin City.

As John Edwards would ask, "Why ... why?" Nevada wanted to raise its profile in the nomination process, and the parties seemed eager to expand the focus out West, which gets short shrift in the primaries. The state has 34 Republican delegates at risk, and 25 for the Democrats, which makes it at least as important as New Hampshire in that sense. Yet despite a couple of high-profile visits from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, we here nothing of Nevada.

It appears pollsters have something to do with the lack of coverage. They do not trust the Nevadans with caucusing, according to the Las Vegas Sun:

National public opinion pollsters, fresh off a glaring failure to pick the winner in New Hampshire’s presidential primary, are now violently queasy about trying to predict a winner in Nevada.

In fact, for a variety of reasons, major news organizations are taking a pass on polling before Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucus.

The concerns stem from the New Hampshire mistake and from knowledge that Nevada has a large transient population not familiar with the workings of a big-time caucus.

By comparison, New Hampshire is a state with a long history of political participation, a stable population and a history of respected surveys that have accurately gauged the preferences of the electorate. Nevertheless, the polls had Illinois Sen. Barack Obama leading New York Sen. Hillary Clinton on election day by an average margin of more than 8 percentage points.

Clinton won by 2 points.

The pollsters don't want to get burned, especially after this past week's fiasco in the Granite State. That's why, with less than ten days to go before the Nevada caucus, no national pollster has attempted to survey the state since early December. At that time, polls showed Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani vying for the lead on the GOP side, and Clinton with a fairly safe lead over Obama. That was five weeks ago, however, and plenty has transpired in the race since.

I suspect Romney will do well in Nevada. They have a large Mormon presence, which will help, and the state already has a Mormon Senator in Harry Reid. John McCain won't be popular even though he comes from neighboring Arizona, thanks to efforts to fight gambling on college sports. Rudy polled well there earlier, and may either win or come in a close second. Mike Huckabee probably won't sit well with more individualistic Nevadans, especially among the gamers, and I'm not aware that Thompson has campaigned in the state at all.

If Romney wins Nevada, will the press notice it?


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