Silver State shines for 'first test in West'

Nevada's presidential caucuses Saturday have been dubbed the "first test in the West." Republicans gather at 9 a.m. PT and Democrats at 11 a.m. PT to show support for candidates. USA TODAY's Jill Lawrence and Catalina Camia preview the nominating contest, which has had great significance for Democrats but has been mostly quiet for Republicans.

Delegates at stake:

25 for Democrats, 34 forRepublicans

Electoral votes:


Registered voters:

1,016,103 (about 11% areHispanic)

Primary and caucus history

Nevada held its first primary in 1912 and didn't hold another until 1976. Precinct caucuses started in the 1960s. For years, they have been held as late as March with little fanfare. The new early caucuses came about with pushing from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state's most powerful Democrat. National party leaders agreed to schedule Nevada in January to give a diverse electorate and a Western state more impact on the nominating process.


Support among likely voters:



The union label

About 15% of Nevada residents belong to a labor union. Barack Obama was endorsed by the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union, the state's largest. Carpenters and steelworkers are helping John Edwards. The union for state, county and local employees is spending money for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hispanic influence

About one in four people in Nevada are Hispanic. Their numbers grew by more than 485,000 from 1990 to 2006 — representing 38% of the state's new residents. In the 2004 election, Latinos made up about 8.3% of the vote. Last year, there were 11 Hispanic elected officials in Nevada, a jump from four in 2000.

Only in Vegas

Nine caucus sites are on the famed Las Vegas Strip so union and non-union shift workers — at construction sites, gas stations, hotels, restaurants and casinos — can participate. They include the Bellagio (featured in the movie Ocean's Eleven) and Caesars Palace. Clinton supporters and the state teachers union lost a bid to block them, arguing the sites gave workers there (many of them Culinary union members) an unfair advantage.

Urban vs. rural

Presidential hopefuls who campaign in Iowa try to visit all 99 counties. But Nevada covers more than 110,000 square miles (nearly double Iowa's size), so fewer than half of the state's 16 counties have seen a contender. Campaign stops have been confined to a 60-mile radius of Las Vegas and Reno, the two urban centers. A downside to the wide-open spaces: poor cellphone service, making it hard for candidates to keep in touch.

Celebrities on the trail

Maybe it's the proximity to Hollywood, but Nevada got its fair share of movie and TV stars who stumped for their favorite presidential candidates. Among them: James Denton of Desperate Housewives and actress Madeleine Stowe campaigned for Edwards. Ugly Betty star America Ferrera and tennis legend Billie Jean King turned out for Clinton. Martial-arts expert and actor Chuck Norris campaigned for Mike Huckabee.

Contributing: Anjeanette Damon, Reno Gazette-Journal. Sources: Almanac of American Politics; National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials; Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Polling from Reno Gazette-Journal survey of 500 likely Democratic and 500 Republican voters Jan. 11-13. Margin of error: +/—4.5 percentage points.