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EDITORIAL: Expectations high for Bernie in Nevada

The caucusing in the caucuses takes place Saturday for Nevada Democrats.

Unlike in a secret ballot primary election, a caucus involves participants meeting at various locations to debate and discuss their presidential candidate preferences. Followers of candidates who fail to gain a minimum level of support may have to select another option if they can’t persuade enough people to join them. Final vote totals are used to award the state’s delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The process — which is run wholly by the party — is complicated, time-consuming, messy and prone to error. Nevada this week became the first state to use early voting in a caucus — which means it wasn’t really a pure “caucus” for many participants — and the state Democratic Party revealed Thursday that more than 1,000 ballots had to be voided because they were unsigned. Democrats no doubt hope that’s the most significant snag they encounter, given the Iowa debacle of three weeks ago.

Despite Nevada’s status as the first state in the West on the Democratic presidential nominating calendar and an electorate far more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire, Silver State Democrats appear poised to go for front-runner Bernie Sanders. Perhaps the idea that voters fit neatly into monolithic blocs based on their race, gender or ethnicity isn’t the most credible analysis. But Nevada has proven unpredictable in the past, and Sen. Sanders alienated powerful Culinary Local 226 with his “Medicare for All” proposal. A surprise can’t be ruled out.

If Sen. Sanders, an avowed socialist, emerges victorious in Nevada, the pressure will mount on moderate Democrats to coalesce behind a less radical candidate. But even with a second-place finish here, former Vice President Joe Biden would remain on life support. The other caucus hopefuls fighting to stake out the middle ground — Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — will require surprisingly strong showings in the Silver State to capture momentum.

Two other candidates also factor in — Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is not on the Nevada caucus ballot, but he made his debate debut Wednesday night on stage at the Paris Las Vegas — which may eventually be remembered as the place where the curtain was abruptly pulled back on his candidacy. But despite a less-than-scintillating performance, he vows to plow forward. Meanwhile, Mr. Steyer, a former hedge fund manager who failed to qualify for the Wednesday debate but does appear on the caucus ballot, could give himself cover for slogging on by earning double-digit support in Nevada.

Participants in the caucuses must be registered Democrats, but new voters may register at caucus sites, and existing voters may change their registration to take part. Check-in time is 10 a.m., and the caucuses will be called to order at noon. For a list of caucus locations by county, visit nvdems.com/caucus-day-locations/.

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