People from around the world visit Nevada for one overarching reason: They’re looking to win big. The four remaining GOP candidates – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul – are hoping for the same outcome in Saturday’s caucuses.
Nevada hosts the fifth voting contest of the 2012 primary season, and the second round of caucuses. The event, which is overseen by the Nevada Republican Party, has the distinction of being the first voting contest in the West.
Like Florida, Nevada’s contest is only open to registered Republicans. The registration deadline ended Jan. 21, two weeks before Saturday’s caucus date. The state lists 468,174 registered Republicans, about 35 percent of the total registered voting population. In 2008 44,315 votes were cast in the Republican presidential caucus.
Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul are the only candidates who will appear on the ballot in Nevada. There is no uncommitted option, and no write-in option.
Romney is widely expected to win in Nevada. He swept the Silver State in 2008, winning the caucuses with 51 percent of the vote. Paul came in second place, with 14 percent. Paul’s strategy has focused on repeating his success in the state. He opted to forgo campaigning in Florida in favor of spending time in Nevada. Twenty-eight delegates are at stake and they will be doled out on a proportional basis.
One of the reasons often cited for Romney’s strong showing in Nevada in the past is the state’s large Mormon population. An estimated 5 percent of all U.S. Mormons live in Nevada, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Church of Latter-day Saints counts a membership of 175,149 in the state.
Caucus times will vary across the state, but most will take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. PT. There is one evening caucus scheduled at 7 p.m. in Clark County for those voters who cannot caucus during the day because of religious reasons.
The narrative of the state of the economy takes on a particular importance in Nevada. The state has the highest unemployment rate in the country, 12.6 percent as of December. Nevada also has the highest foreclosure rate in the country. One in every 177 homes in Nevada received a foreclosure filing in December 2011, according to the foreclosure database RealtyTrac.
Nevada is home to Gingrich mega-supporter Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have donated $10 million to the super PAC supporting Gingrich, Winning Our Future. Despite the Adelson backing, however, the group is being heavily outspent by the Pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, which has spent a little more than $202,000 on ad buys. Winning Our Future has only spent about $50,000 in the state on Internet advertising and radio advertising, according to their Federal Election Commission filings.
The most important county to watch in Nevada’s caucus is Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Clark is home to 71 percent of the population, and it made up 54 percent of the total vote in 2008. Romney scored a big victory in Clark County 2008, with 58 percent of the vote.
The other county to keep an eye on is Washoe County. The second-most populous county in the state, Washoe County is also traditionally more Republican then Clark County. Barack Obama won both Clark and Washoe Counties in 2008, but prior to that, Washoe County had not gone for a Democratic presidential nominee since it went for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Clark County has supported every Democratic nominee for president since 1992. Romney won Washoe County with 44 percent of the vote in 2008.
The two counties make up 85 percent of all the caucus sites in the Silver State.
Nevada’s caucuses kick off a string of caucuses scheduled for the month of February. Colorado and Minnesota will host their caucuses Tuesday, and Missouri will have its primary (although no delegates will be awarded in Missouri until the state meets for its caucuses March 17.) Maine will host its caucuses from Feb. 4-11.
The next major primaries are Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28.