In Nevada, polling uncertainty overtakes campaign narratives

In Nevada, polling uncertainty overtakes campaign narratives
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The unpredictability of polling in Nevada has left it unclear whether each party’s presumed presidential front-runner will pull off a victory.

For Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from the Scott Pruitt emails Trump: DNC chairman's race ‘rigged’ Dem 2020 hopefuls lead pack in opposing Trump Cabinet picks MORE, Nevada’s Democratic caucuses on Saturday will test the presumption that a state with a more diverse electorate will vote resoundingly for her.

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And while Republican Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKudlow: Trump presidency ends 'war against business' Ex-Trump adviser: Ryan should be replaced if he can't execute on ObamaCare French president rips Trump’s Paris comments MORE has been ahead in polls, strategists say Ted CruzTed CruzBrietbart CEO reveals that Trump donors are part owners At CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit MORE has shown success at mobilizing caucus supporters.

The timing of the contests could throw a wrench into Nevada’s results, as well, with the GOP caucuses scheduled for Tuesday, three days after the party’s South Carolina primary.

Nevada, which became an early-voting state in 2008, has dubbed itself the “first-in-the-West” caucuses.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Silver State’s contest works and what to watch for.

 

Democratic caucuses 

Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump: DNC chairman's race ‘rigged’ Dem 2020 hopefuls lead pack in opposing Trump Cabinet picks Perez to hit the Sunday shows following election victory MORE’s successes in Iowa and New Hampshire have been largely attributed to those states’ mostly white populations, but observers say Clinton likely has an edge with Hispanics in Nevada and South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary a week after Nevada’s caucuses.

Indeed, the Nevada Democratic Party says that, according to 2012 general election exit polls, 64 percent of voters were white and 19 percent were Hispanic.

According to a RealClearPolitics average, Clinton holds a double-digit lead over Sanders in the state. But until last week, the most recent poll was conducted in late December, long before the close Iowa caucus results and Sanders’s rout of Clinton in New Hampshire.

A poll from last week found them tied.

Clinton’s campaign recently downplayed her expected performance in the wake of Sander’s New Hampshire victory and has tried to portray the Silver State as less diverse.

“The behavior of the Clinton campaign after New Hampshire indicates they believe they are in a lot of trouble here, a place where they did set up a firewall,” said Jon Ralston, an influential Nevada journalist.

“The Clinton organization has a much better ground game,” he continued, “She should win, but there is a lot of enthusiasm there” for Sanders.

But with the unpredictability of polling and Sanders’s current momentum, strategists say he could cut into her apparent advantage among minority voters.

“The reality is if Bernie makes a significant dent in a state with a large Democratic Latino population, people are going to start talking and say, ‘What’s going on with the vaunted Clinton firewall?’ ” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “She’ll have to tread water for a week until South Carolina.”

Ralston also pointed to same-day voter registration as a “wild card” in the caucuses that could potentially be a boon for Sanders, who has touted his campaign’s popularity among new voters.

The candidates will also square off Thursday ahead of the vote during a town hall in Las Vegas hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo.

Saturday’s Democratic caucuses are only open to registered Democrats, though the state party has same-day registration, which begins at 11 a.m. PST.

The caucuses will begin at noon and have a format similar to Iowa’s in which caucusgoers separate into groups to indicate which candidate they prefer. A candidate must reach a “viability” threshold of 15 percent to receive a delegate. If a group is not viable, a voter can choose another candidate or walk away.

Results are expected to start rolling in a few hours later. The state Democratic Party will run an interactive website that will update delegate counts with county and precinct breakdowns.

The caucuses will award a total of 43 delegates. Of those, 35 are “pledged” delegates, who will go to the overall winner. The remaining eight are superdelegates, who are free to support whichever candidate they prefer regardless of the results.

Three of the superdelegates have already pledged their support to Clinton: Nevada state Sen. Ruben Kihuen; Rep. Dina Titus; and Andres Ramirez, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee Hispanic Caucus.

The rest have remained neutral, including Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders and Schumer are right: Ellison for DNC chair The Hill's 12:30 Report Hopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs MORE, who has maintained that he won’t endorse prior to the caucuses.

Only one superdelegate has backed Sanders: Erin Bilbray, daughter of former Rep. James Bilbray (D).

If there’s a tie in deciding who gains or loses a delegate, it will be determined by drawing the highest card from an official party-provided deck. 

In 2008, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 5 points, but Barack ObamaBarack ObamaPerez to hit the Sunday shows following election victory Trump adviser: Dems should 'move on' from Garland EPA chief calls for 'aggressive' rollback of regulations at CPAC MORE ended up winning one more delegate than her.

Ralston said that delegates are awarded proportionally by congressional districts and that Obama had performed better in more of the rural ones. 

He said he doesn’t expect this to happen in this cycle because the Clinton campaign “has learned their lesson” this time around and has employed veterans of Obama’s 2008 campaign.

 

GOP caucuses

There has also been little polling done for the Republican race in Nevada, with the most recent survey from late December and the one before that from early October. Those polls showed Trump holding a steady lead over Cruz and the rest of the GOP field.

Before the GOP caucuses, Republicans will compete in South Carolina, where Trump is expected to fare well and holds a commanding lead in polls.

While Trump goes into both South Carolina and Nevada with a significant advantage following a strong victory in New Hampshire, strategists see Cruz as the candidate with the best chance of toppling the front-runner.

“The only person who can potentially top Trump in Nevada is Ted Cruz, just because he’s been demonstrating himself to be very effective with mobilizing in caucuses,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCainJohn McCainA stronger NATO for a safer world Drug importation won't save dollars or lives Dem rep Charlie Crist files for divorce MORE’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Marco RubioMarco RubioAt CPAC, Trump lashes out at media Conquering Trump returns to conservative summit Rubio brushes off demonstrator asking about town halls MORE, John Kasich and Jeb Bush are all competing for GOP establishment voters, and whoever among them emerges from South Carolina as the strongest might have some momentum going into Nevada.

“I think that the real race here between South Carolina and Nevada is who consistently finishes first among the mainstream candidates and whether or not Cruz is actually able to overcome Donald Trump in one of these two places,” O’Connell said.

The Republican caucuses will be held on Tuesday, three days after the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina GOP primary.

The party’s Nevada caucuses also operate similar to their Iowa counterparts. Each presidential candidate has a surrogate who speaks on his behalf for two minutes, and then caucusgoers cast secret ballots.

Thirty delegates will be awarded proportionally. A candidate must receive 3.33 percent of the statewide results to win a delegate, and there are no superdelegates for Republicans.

The caucuses will be held between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. PST, and results are expected to come later in the night. Caucus results will be exclusively reported through The Associated Press from the state party.