The Caucus Process
Although the talking heads on the squawk box would have you believe that today is "the caucus", it is merely the first winnowing of electors. This morning, prior to the straw poll, we nominated and elected delegates from each precinct to represent us at the county caucuses next month. At those meetings, the delegates who were elected today will elect their county's delegates to the state caucus in March. At that meeting, the county delegates will elect the state's delegates to the national conventions.
None of Nevada's delegates, at any level, are "pledged" or forced to vote in any other manner than they see fit. Functionally, what that means is that this morning's caucus meetings were thousands of mini-elections for a pool of electors that the campaigns must now woo.
Each individual campaign will now try to organize the elected delegates to vote together as a block for their hand-selected campaign loyalists from each county. The campaign that shows up with the most loyalists in Carson City not only has a voting advantage, but also an advantage in the conduct of the meeting.
NB to any campaign that reads this: if a jacuzzi shows up in my back yard or a new truck in my driveway, I'll be your loyalist!
Nevada has been a caucus state in the past, however, this is the first time that the delegates have been elected at the precinct level. For the three Presidential campaigns that bothered to understand the Nevada caucus process, some very simple organization yielded big results this morning.
Clinton took the opportunity to walk through neighborhoods on the east side of town in an effort to garner support among the Latino population of Las Vegas, which makes up 40% of the Culinary union. The media is reporting that it paid off with Clinton winning the state-wide straw poll by 5%.
However, while all eyes were focused on The Strip (including the Clintons'), Obama was quietly recruiting potential delegates in rural Nevada. Obama is claiming that he got enough of "his" precinct delegates elected today to get 13 delegates to the national convention while Clinton will only get 12.
Today's precinct caucuses revealed something that even the Nevada GOP knew but didn't really know: Romney has a lot of popular support in Nevada. From the entrance polls, we know that 94% of the Mormon population of Nevada supported Romney, but even without that vote he bested the second-place straw poll finisher, Ron Paul, 2:1. From all accounts, the campaign and the church understood the Nevada caucus process and Romney supporters were heavily encouraged to volunteer themselves as precinct delegates.
For historical comparison, in previous Nevada caucuses, less than 10% of Republican precinct delegates in Clark County (Las Vegas) were filled by volunteers. Based only on the high-school where I served as a poll-watcher, something approaching 100% of available delegates were filled this morning.
The only other campaign that apparently understood the caucus process and had a credible organization on the ground was that of Ron Paul. Although the campaigns have yet to poll the elected delegates and determine their leanings, it is quite possible (actually, more probable) that Ron Paul garnered an outsized proportion of delegates to that suggested by the straw poll and the other campaigns garnered few, if any.
Since the nominations of both parties are far from done-deals, Nevada is much more important today than it was yesterday. In essence, there are now only four campaigns in Nevada (two Republican, two Democrat), and pure strategy will determine the outcome of the county and state caucuses. For the Democrats, the two winners are also the front-runners, so there's not much change in that race. On the Republican side, though, the true winner of the Nevada caucus depends on the chances you give Ron Paul of securing enough delegates nation-wide to win the Republican nomination.
If you are a die-hard Paulite, convinced that Ron Paul will kick in a super-turbo-aftercharger on Super Tuesday and somehow snatch a ton of delegates to the Republican National Convention, then Mitt Romney is today's clear winner. Without knowing how the delegates fell today for either candidate, Romney's strong showing in the straw poll indicates that Ron Paul will be unable to exit Nevada with a majority of delegates. Paul the Republican Nominee needed the field of delegates to be more fractured.
If, however, you suspect that Ron Paul will not be addressing the crowd in Minneapolis as his party's nominee, then Ron Paul may just be the big winner in Nevada today. Mitt Romney definitely needs Nevada's delegates to win the Republican nomination, and that makes Ron Paul Mitt's new best friend.
Caucus vs. Primary
There has never been a dirth of talking craniums in the media decrying the caucus process. They want Iowa and Nevada to become irrelevant the moment they project the winner. The good news for Nevadans, and every other caucus state, however, is that especially in this election cycle, states that are still players after February 5th are going to play a big part in both the Democratic and Republican races. New Hampshire, on the other hand, has just about four years to go before anyone remembers that it is part of the union.