The dust has barely settled from Saturday’s South Carolina Republican Primary but the GOP race is headed out west on Tuesday (February 23rd) for the Nevada Republican Caucus. The most recent polling in Nevada was taken prior to Donald Trump’s victory in South Carolina, though the average over the past several weeks has shown him with anywhere from a 16 to 26 point lead.
Nevada is a recent addition to the early state calendar and has only held this role since the 2008 cycle. As a result, the caucus procedure is not as efficient as it is in Iowa, which isn’t saying much given how inefficient the process works there.
Report from Politico on what to expect, which is to say, expect the unexpected:
Nevada Republican party staffers have been hosting caucus training sessions for months. Republican campaign volunteers have been knocking on doors and calling voters since last summer. The candidates themselves have been collecting endorsements and holding events across the state since last spring.
Yet on the eve of Tuesday evening’s GOP caucus, no one has a firm sense of who’s winning here. And worse, there’s an undercurrent of nervousness about the prospect of a caucus calamity.
“It’s true, the smartest people just don’t know what’s going to happen here,” said Pete Ernaut, a Republican consultant who is unaffiliated with a presidential campaign. “Our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. Nevada loves to be independent, but that can also get in the way of being organized and coalesced around an important event, so it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Republican campaigns and state operatives point to a number of factors creating the cloud of confusion: a cash-poor state party in disarray, a public unaccustomed to the caucus process and a state that’s notoriously difficult to poll. Nevada doesn’t have a lot of experience running caucuses – the state picked up its first-in-the-West status in 2008, but it has yet to run smoothly and some campaigns are bracing for possible chaos again.
“I think all campaigns have some concerns. The caucus process is messy and there will inevitably be problems,” said a Republican presidential operative working in Nevada who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “But the RNC is helping, and I think the state and county parties are much better organized than they have been previously. [But] I don’t think anyone thinks this will go off without some problems at some level. It is the nature of a caucus, but we all expect this to go more smoothly than it has previously.”
Making things more difficult this time around is the immense interest from voters as each contest has seen a record turnout so far. Nevada is less experienced with handling this than other states, and caucuses are even far less efficient at record crowds than a standard primary is.
Here’s a snapshot of Nevada polling. As you can see, it’s sparse and mostly outdated. I expect some polling to be released later today which may give us an updated sense, but this is what we have to work with right now.
I’d have to say that Nevada leans Trump at this point given his victory in South Carolina. Marco Rubio has been counting on Nevada given his childhood roots in Las Vegas and a heavier immigrant population. If Trump also takes Nevada, he’s in the best position possible heading into Super Tuesday on March 1st.
However, Nevada could surprise us with a tight race and Rubio could put in competitive showing, especially given how inaccurate polling was in the Iowa Caucus back on February 1st.