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Democrats, Republicans ramp up caucus planning

The early steps toward next year’s Nevada caucuses are small and simple.

About 40 Democrats gathered at a community recreation center in Las Vegas on Thursday to plan and learn more, 100 days in advance of their party’s Feb. 20 caucus to decide who should win the nomination for president.

The Republican caucus will follow on Feb. 23.

Nevada’s caucuses are high-stakes affairs for both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, for whom it will be their first election test among western states.

Both parties hope to use the event to energize their bases and boost registration for the November 2016 election.

And the push to mobilize volunteers, register voters and educate people about how the caucus process works has ramifications beyond helping nominate a president. They are eyeing other races too, including the one for the open U.S. Senate seat of retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The most prominent candidates so far to jump into that race include U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat.

“Winning this seat is important for the Democrats to take back the majority in the United States Senate, a majority that is going to decide who sits on our United States Supreme Court for decades to come,” Cortez Masto told the audience at Thursday night’s meeting, thanking them for their hard work.

The group then held a “mock caucus,” learning how the process works by gathering around images of Muppet characters — Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy among them — who took the place of the real candidates to keep things neutral. Similar events are planned for the future.

Hilary Barrett, the Nevada Democrats’ deputy training director for the caucuses, said the process is easy to learn.

There are more than 2,000 precincts in Nevada, and each one gets a precinct chairman to shepherd the caucus process. It’s not like traditional voting, which is overseen by county elections officials and happens in the privacy of a voting booth. Instead, it’s a town hall structure organized by state party officials, where supporters group together to openly back their candidate.

Republicans have started planning too, work that includes registering voters and organizing leaders and logistics.

Greg Bailor, caucus director for the Nevada Republican Party, said all the county organizations will need to submit caucus locations and their own volunteer precinct chairman names to the party by Christmas.

Republicans also are looking forward to the buzz that will come when Republican candidates debate on Dec. 15 in Las Vegas.

Democratic presidential candidates debated in Las Vegas in October.

— Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1

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