Five things to watch for in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses

Five things to watch for in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses
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Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Press: Why Trump should thank FBI MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Bernie Sanders announces Senate reelection bid MORE both have plenty on the line in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

The state, with its diverse population, is supposed to be part of Clinton's much-discussed firewall. 

The White House hopeful needs a solid win to ease the fears of allies, who have watched the polls tighten state by state and have expressed fears of a Sanders “domino effect.”

Sanders, who has momentum fresh off his big win in New Hampshire, needs another victory to prove that he can win a large state with a sizable minority population and that his candidacy is legitimate. 

Here are five things to watch in Saturday's Democratic caucuses.

The minority vote

Clinton is counting on strong support from minorities, particularly Hispanics, who make up 27.8 percent of the population, according to the 2014 Census.  Her support from the Hispanic community was strong in the state when she ran in 2008, but will she keep her hold on the demographic this time around?

“That’s the big question: How high will the Latino percentage will be?” said Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada-Reno. “She needs them.”

In addition to her mass appeals to the Hispanic community, Clinton has also been focused on turning out African Americans, with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) campaigning in the Silver State for her.  

If the former first lady can get these two key voting blocs to turn out for her, she wins.

Union support

Clinton has the support of the unions (with the exception of the powerful 57,000-member Culinary Union) and their leadership. But will this translate to members, and particularly young people, in the labor movement?

One Nevada Democrat, who is not affiliated with either candidate, predicts the unions will “come out very big for Clinton.”  

Five of the at-large caucus locations are located right on the Vegas Strip, where workers will be able to leave to go caucus and still get paid.

“The higher the participation at the at-large caucuses, the better it is for Hillary,” the Democrat said.

Herzik agreed, adding that while there will be some defection. “If I’m Clinton, I’d much rather have [union endorsements] rather than to get people to defect.”

And as for the lack of an endorsement by the Culinary Union, Herzik said he wouldn’t read much into it as a slight to either Clinton or Sanders.

Elko, Elko, Elko

Clinton’s base is Clark County, home to Las Vegas. 

On Thursday, she made stops at four casinos to spend time with workers, many of who immigrated to the U.S.

But she’s also trying to get votes from more remote parts of the state. 

In fact, Clinton canceled a trip to Florida earlier this week to campaign in the northern city of Elko. 

Because delegates in the state are given out based on congressional districts, areas like Elko matter.

The Sanders campaign has put an emphasis on rural parts of the state. 

“The best indication I have is that the rural communities are up for grabs,” the Nevada Democrat said. “They’re both looking to capture some of that.”

While these are generally more conservative areas, there are pockets of progressive communities. And many of these areas have lost jobs, haven’t seen much development and are eager to hear the Sanders income inequality message. 

Sanders hasn’t given up on Clark County either. The Vermont Independent believes he can shore up support from the young voting bloc there.

Sanders organization 

Sanders came close to winning Iowa and then pummeled Clinton in New Hampshire. But Nevada will be the true test of whether or not his organization has what it takes to mobilize supporters in a large state with a diverse make-up.

“I think a lot of Democrats are wondering if he has the organizational reach outside of Iowa and NH,” said one top Democratic strategist. “Does he have the organizational chops to win? 

“It’s easy to geo-map places like that and you can count on people coming to you,” the strategist continued. “But Nevada is a whole different ballgame. It takes a larger organization. You’re going to voters.  They’re not coming to you. You could be in Las Vegas and not even know a caucus is taking place.”

Herzik said Sanders has momentum on his side. A double-digit edge in polls for Clinton has disappeared. 

While Clinton has done "all the right things" in terms of setting up a well-oiled machine in Nevada, "her team will have to bring people to the caucus sites. His people will come on their own,” Herzik said.

All about the delegate count

Clinton would be the first to caution that you can win the popular vote in Nevada but still lose the delegate count. After all, that’s what happened to her in 2008 against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHolder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump's requests The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Asian American and Pacific Islander community will be critical to ensuring successful 2018 elections for Democrats MORE, when the state’s system awarded him with one more delegate in the end. 

The delegate count is the only thing that matter. And with Clinton and Sanders in a dead heat in the Silver State, Herzik said the scenario of a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the delegate count is one “that could happen again this year.” 

Given Clinton’s edge with superdelgates — the party insiders who get a vote at the convention —Sanders has to get more raw delegates to defeat her.