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 ClintonBannon's ex-wife: 'He didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews' Kasich: I don't know what we're hearing from Trump on immigration Clinton's State schedules won't be fully released until after election: AP 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 TrumpBannon's ex-wife: 'He didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews' Trump's son shares photo after rescuing baby deer Kasich: I don't know what we're hearing from Trump on immigration MORE has been ahead in polls, strategists say Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: On the fringe FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno Presidential hopefuls still bank on retail politics 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 SandersLatino Republicans split on Trump's outreach Teamsters endorse Clinton Sanders, Merkley back McConnell decision to skip TPP vote 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 Reid10 most expensive House races McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos 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 ObamaAdministration proposes visa program for entrepreneurs Trump was wrong: Kaine is a liberal in a moderate's clothing FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton links Trump to 'alt-right' in Reno 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 McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report State officials under pressure to OK ObamaCare premium hikes McCain's primary opponent takes shot at his age MORE’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Marco RubioMarco RubioLatino Republicans split on Trump's outreach Illegal immigration foe: Trump shift the 'death knell of his candidacy' Analysis: Clinton speaks at higher grade level than Trump 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.