Tuesday's debate in Las Vegas is to focus on issues that concern minorities, and is co-sponsored by African-American and Latino groups. That left one minority group feeling ignored.
"They forgot about almost 150,000 Asian people in this town," said Mike Vaswani, president of the Las Vegas Asian American Group, an umbrella group for Asian associations. "The Asian community is also a significant minority community."
The debate is being put on by the Nevada Democratic Party and MSNBC, cosponsored by the 100 Black Men of America, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the IMPACTO political action arm of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada African American Democratic Leadership Council and the College of Southern Nevada.
Vaswani said he respected all those groups, but that too often, in conversations about minorities, Asians are left out.
"We don't ask a lot of government, and we give a lot," he said. "We want to ask the candidates what they will do to support the Asian community."
The Asian group complained to the Democrats, and the party made accommodations. Asian community leaders were allocated some of the scarce debate tickets, and Asian groups were asked to submit questions.
"We're including them in all aspects of the debate," said Kirsten Searer, deputy executive director of the Nevada Democratic Party. "We recognize the importance of the (Asian and Pacific Islander) community in Nevada."
An event to recognize the importance of the Asian community also has been scheduled for 4 p.m. today in the Chinatown Plaza on Spring Mountain Road. Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley will be present, along with Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa.
A spokesman for Honda, whose district has the highest concentration of Asians in the mainland United States, acknowledged the event was arranged partly in response to complaints about the debate.
Vaswani said Asians have concerns that might not apply to other minority groups. They want to know candidates' thoughts on the situation in Pakistan, for example. And on immigration, Asians who are legal immigrants are distressed that bringing their families to the United States legally can take more than a decade, while people coming over the border illegally get in right away.
The attempts to reach out and recognize the Asian community are appreciated, Vaswani said, but fall short.
"It was the best they could do. We would have liked to be a full partner."
GRAND OLD FIESTA
Anxious to show that Democrats don't own the Hispanic vote, the Nevada chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly has become very active since its founding just a few months ago.
Last week, more than 100 attended a pre-caucus mixer held by the group. A straw poll of Republican presidential candidates was held.
Mitt Romney was the winner by a wide margin, with 37 votes, or 44 percent. He has an extensive organization in Nevada and is airing anti-illegal immigration radio ads.
Romney and John McCain were the only candidates to send representatives to the meeting. Still, Rudy Giuliani took second in the poll, with 19 votes, or 22 percent.
Despite his scant presence here, Giuliani has support from members of the Republican establishment including Rep. Jon Porter and Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson.
McCain finished third with 20 percent of the vote. Mike Huckabee got six votes, Fred Thompson got five and Ron Paul, even though he wasn't on the ballot, got two.
State Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, knows where she'll caucus on Saturday: "It's the elementary school my kids went to."
But she doesn't know whom she'll support.
Carlton was a supporter of Bill Richardson, who left the race last week. Since then, she's decided to "take a deep breath and see what happens," taking her time to decide and possibly chatting with Richardson later in the week to get his thoughts.
Richardson hasn't thrown his support behind another candidate.
Carlton was an out-of-town reporter's dream: a coffee shop waitress on the Strip who got elected to the Nevada Legislature with the help of the union.
But she recently quit her job at Treasure Island and took a part-time position with the Great Basin Primary Care Association, a nonprofit health care-advocacy group based in Northern Nevada that was looking to establish itself in Southern Nevada.
"The trays were getting heavier and heavier, and my chiropractor was making too much money off me," the 50-year-old Carlton quipped.
She is still paying Culinary union dues and says she will consider the union's endorsement of Barack Obama in making her choice. But she plans to make her own decision.
"We've got great candidates, and Culinary is supporting one of them, and Shelley Berkley and others are supporting another, and John Edwards is a wonderful guy," Carlton said. "It's hard to choose."
She acknowledged it's painful to see such friends pitted against one another.
"I just hope it doesn't get too dirty," she said. "Richardson was sort of the guy who was trying to keep everybody above the fray."
PLAYING TO WYNN
Elaine Wynn almost became one of the people disenfranchised by the caucus process. She's skipping a ski vacation to caucus on Saturday for Barack Obama.
"And there's good skiing," Wynn, an early Obama supporter, said last week. "But I'm happy, I'm so excited to be doing it," she hastened to add.
Wynn, an executive at husband Steve Wynn's company, Wynn Resorts, and prominent philanthropist, said she's not going to be a precinct captain, as the campaign had originally said she would be. Precinct captains are required to reach out to their neighborhoods and do other groundwork.
"My schedule is erratic because I travel a lot," Wynn said. "Canvassing is not necessarily the best use of my time, but I have the ability to reach out to political leaders in our state and our community."
She also provided a conference room for some meetings and urged that Wynn Las Vegas be one of the controversial at-large precinct sites.
Wynn switched her party registration from Republican to Democrat just last week.
After Obama's surprisingly big win in Iowa, she saw Obama's campaign get taken more seriously and felt she'd been "ahead of the curve."
As for Obama's chances here, "I think he will win Nevada," Wynn said.
"If he's truly catching on the way I think he is, we only have a short period of time in which another candidate could intervene in this upward trajectory. ... That's why everybody's running scared. The momentum is so strong."
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.