Caucus naysayers are proven to be off the mark

So much of the national media wanted to cover Saturday’s Democratic caucus at the nine at-large precincts on the Strip that the Democratic Party had to divvy up the slots.

But in deciding to stray from the madding crowd, I headed out to my own precinct at Cimarron-Memorial High School and found it equally packed with real Nevada Democrats.

This was as suburban a site as any, with moms pushing strollers vying with wheelchairs for the attention of campaign volunteers scrambling to pin down anyone who dared enter the doors still undecided.

Four years ago, John Kerry came to the countywide precinct site at Chaparral High School, and as the only candidate to visit, the contest was never in question.

While Hillary Clinton ultimately held Nevada — a state she has led in for a year — the tightness of the race with Barack Obama was evident in the push for every caucus-goer. Her husband’s late visits to the employee areas of Strip casinos was designed to pull Hispanic Culinary members away from Obama, their union’s endorsed candidate.

The caucus-day return of the former president to the MGM Grand — and 10 a.m. calls the campaign made to Democrats — showcased just how badly the Clinton campaign believed it might be trailing Obama. And indeed, a late poll suggested Obama was leading by 5 points statewide.

Ultimately the strategy worked, with precinct captains aggressively working the high school sites in Clark County, Chelsea Clinton in tow.

My 6-year-old son all but dictated that I stand up for Obama, almost as proof the Illinois senator has the youth vote. He and I like the candidate for different reasons. My son digs him because he has a cool name, wants to end the war in Iraq and to allow all children “to have (an insurance) card to see the doctor.”

I liked him because Republicans from Las Vegas and Reno and Elko I’ve talked with over the past few months said they’d vote for Obama (and as an aside they all tell me they loathe Clinton).

I’m one of the Democrats who tries not to make general elections quixotic affairs, so I stood with the Obama group.

My precinct, out in “suburban” Las Vegas, went the way most of the county did, with Clinton’s organization outdoing Obama’s new voter strategy.

In Cimarron’s theater, where they ran out of presidential preference cards, voter registration forms were a common site.

In my precinct, 2301, I met three Republicans who changed their affiliation Saturday to caucus for Obama.

Of 86 Democrats participating, Clinton won 50 to Obama’s 33 after the final go-round. The Obama camp picked up two voters and two others who had supported John Edwards left.

In that precinct, Clinton won four of the seven delegates, keeping with her powerful performance throughout Clark.

Nevada’s caucuses went off largely without a hitch, even though there was plenty of confusion at individual sites about how to register new voters and where each voter’s precinct was.

At Cimarron, Republicans were still meeting at 10:20 a.m. when The Associated Press had already called the race for Mitt Romney.

That delay made the typical snafus on the other side of the aisle more pronounced.

But despite some trouble Saturday and a year of hand wringing over every aspect of the caucus, the naysayers lost.

First critics said the candidates wouldn’t come. Then other states tried to muscle us out. The crowd forced the cancellation of a debate on the most watched cable news channel, and even locals complained they couldn’t get out of work to participate or were going to be out of town.

There was talk we wouldn’t matter, but the results in the earlier states helped us draw the eyes of the world.

Nevada’s Democrats withstood it all, even the 11th hour lawsuit, even with the uncommitted Harry Reid straddling an uncomfortable fence straight through his caucus morning in Searchlight.

Make no mistake, this caucus is all about Reid. It wouldn’t have happened without him and its real results — beyond Clinton’s victory yesterday — should be felt here for years.

Not only did tens of thousands take part statewide, the party has now made inroads in places such as Elko, where few Democrats did anything other than curse in past elections.

The victory will provide Clinton such momentum going into South Carolina — where Obama leads — that all things could still be equal heading into the Feb. 5 states. But Nevada painted a clearer path for Clinton to take the nomination.

Beating Obama in a diverse Western state, despite his strong labor support, will help her raise money and peel off black voters in the Palmetto State.

Obama needed Nevada not for next weekend’s primary in South Carolina, but to have two solid wins under his belt leading into the Feb. 5 states where Clinton is polling well.

Election results indicate Clinton carried the state using the old formula of getting Clark, while Obama was strong in the rural counties.

But should Clinton win the nomination, Nevada’s hopes of turning blue this fall will be long-shots.

And one thing is clear moving forward to November: The rifts in the Democratic Party were deepened in this process. Rifts between Hispanics and blacks, between Culinary and other unions, and yes, between Obama and Clinton supporters may be hard to heal before the general election.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at

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