The question is whether the Donald Trump steamroller can overcome his lack of a ground game in Nevada.
If he has an on the ground organization, it’s pretty low key, Nevada pundits say. And the way the Republican Party has set up its caucuses, it isn’t exactly in his favor. First, it’s a Tuesday, not a Saturday which will undoubtedly reduce turnout. Second, it’s from 5-9 p.m. — which doesn’t exactly favor working people with younger children.
Third, to participate in the GOP caucuses, people had to not only be registered voters 10 days ago, but they also had to be registered Republican voters 10 days ago.
Contrast that with the Democrats who were registering voters and switching both Republicans and independents to Democrat at their caucuses.
That last requirement will affect not only the presidential preference vote at the caucuses but the delegate selection process that follows it this evening. The preference vote is binding but only on the first convention ballot. That makes delegate selection important because, if the convention goes more than one ballot, those delegates can vote for anyone they want.
“Everything they’re doing is going to make it very hard for Trump,” said Fred Lokken, Truckee Meadows Community College Political Science professor.
Offsetting that, he said, Trump, “seems to still have very strong momentum.”
That was more than evident in Saturday’s South Carolina primary where Trump emerged with a clear victory, 32.5 percent and a full 10 points ahead of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Political observers say Trump should be the victor tonight.
Jon Ralston, host of Ralston Live on PBS, told MSNBC that Trump should win handily in the state since he has led every Nevada poll since entering the race.
Eric Herzik, chairman of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Political Science Department, said he think’s Trump will win — but not by the wide margin some have predicted.
“Primarily because he has this anger demographic,” he said. “There is this anger out there. It’s unfocused and often contradictory but Trump is tapping into it.”
Working against Trump, Herzik said, is the structure of the GOP caucuses and the fact that his Nevada ground game is “invisible.”
“A lot of his supporters don’t have established records of participating,” Herzik said adding they may not know they had to be registered with the party 10 days early and sign up to caucus.
“It’s like the cards are stacked for mainstream Republicans,” said Lokken.
Lokken said he thinks Trump is leading going into the GOP caucuses.
“The question is how many of his supporters will qualify to get in the door,” he said. “They’re going to find out when they show up and the frustration is going to build.”
Because of how the Republican caucuses are set up, Lokken said, “don’t expect any grandiose turnout.”
Both the Rubio and Cruz Nevada campaigns have made it clear they intend to cut into Trump’s lead by getting voters to the caucuses in large numbers — something they believe Trump can’t do.
And both of them have solid organizations in Nevada.
Cruz, Herzik said, is “tapping into the same part of the Republican Party that voted for Sharron Angle and Jim Gibbons but I don’t know if he can expand it from there.”
Rubio, he said, “is becoming the establishment alternative or pragmatic Republican alternative.”
Lokken said he thinks the Republican caucus rules actually favor Cruz.
He said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Cruz won Nevada even though Trump still has the lead and the momentum
“Rubio plays well with conservatives but Cruz more so,” Lokken said.
He said Rubio has to find a way to win one somewhere along the line.
Since Saturday, Rubio has been the primary beneficiary of Jeb Bush’s withdrawal after South Carolina.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei both shifted their support to Rubio after Bush pulled out and several Republican members of the state Senate have since put their money on Rubio as well.
Nationally, Rubio also has scored several other members of Congress as backers since Bush quit the race including Utah’s Orrin Hatch.
And Bush’s financial backers — the big money people — are rapidly moving to Rubio, Lokken said.
The delegates selected today will attend the GOP county conventions on April 9 where delegates to the state convention on May 14-15 will be selected.