Earlier caucus date may make Nevada a player in Democrat race

RENO - Nevada Democrats have moved their precinct caucuses up on the calendar in hopes that a Valentine's Day vote may mean Nevada will have a chance to influence the national nomination.

By moving the caucuses to Feb. 14, Nevada Democrats also hope to attract national attention and possibly a visit from one of the candidates. So far, there are no takers.

Nevada's place on the primary calendar has drawn the attention of the Democratic National Committee. Chairman Terry McAuliffe said last week Nevada will be "critical" to choosing the party's nominee.

As the party's seven candidates vie for the 2,162 delegates needed for the nomination, Nevada's 36 delegates could mean the difference in a close race.

Although those delegates aren't chosen until the state convention in April, a straw poll at the caucuses will indicate who has the most support. To get to the state convention, potential delegates must start at the caucus.

"There's nothing more important than the precinct caucuses," said Jeff Knutson, a 49-year-old writer who has organized a local campaign for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "If you don't go to the precinct caucuses, you're out. You've got nothing more to say."

In Nevada, Democrats in each county first gather at precinct caucuses Feb. 14. They participate in a straw poll, which is not a binding vote but shows which candidate the state will likely support.

Caucus-goers elect delegates to the county convention. The number of delegates supporting each candidate presumably will reflect the results of the straw poll. Delegates are not bound to a particular candidate.

At the county convention March 13, Democrats will elect delegates to the state convention and debate issues to be included in the party's platform. The more supporters a candidate has at the county convention, the more likely he is to have delegates sent to the state convention.

Delegates still can change their minds about which candidates they support before they get to the state convention.

At the state convention April 16-18, those running for a delegate spot at the national convention must formally declare which candidate they support and cannot change their minds if elected. Of the 36 delegates, seven are super-delegates, meaning they have an automatic spot at the national convention. They are state members of the Democratic National Committee and members of Congress.

Of the remaining 29 delegates, 10 are selected from Clark County, six from Washoe County and Nevada's rural counties, six are at-large delegates, three are elected officials or party leaders, and four are alternates.


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