Friday, February 3, 2012

Nevada Caucus Tomorrow

On Saturday, the last of the early states will cast its votes: Nevada. Under the national Republican Party rules, Nevada is a member of the exclusive club--along with Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina--that gets to vote before all the rest. (Florida, given its importance in a general election, was able to crash the party, though it took a penalty for doing so.)

Traditionally, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are the "big three" early states. Nevada simply doesn't have as much prestige, and it gets less attention. The Mormon vote's role in both 2008 and 2012 also tended to result in the state being downplayed, as it gave Mitt Romney an unusual advantage. About a quarter of the Republican vote in the state is Mormon, and they nearly all voted for Romney in 2008. The Mormon vote played a similar role to the black vote in the Democrats' South Carolina Primary of 2008 (also about a quarter) which guaranteed Barack Obama's win.

Nevada's second-class status among the early states was reflected in the scant amount of polling that was done there. There have only been two recent polls conducted in Nevada:

Nevada Caucus
02/02 PPP (D) -- Romney 50, Gingrich 25, Santorum 15, Paul 8
01/31 Vegas R-Journal -- Romney 45, Gingrich 25, Santorum 11, Paul 9

Not surprisingly, Romney enjoys a colossal lead. Even in the poll taken before Romney's win in Florida, Romney holds a 20-point lead over Newt Gingrich. Since Romney is guaranteed to win Nevada, more attention will be paid to his margin of victory. One benchmark to consider is that Romney got 51% of the vote in 2008--and that was after losing in both Iowa and New Hampshire. However, it's possible that Romney's campaign expended more resources there in 2008, operating under the false impression that they would get full credit for winning one of the early states.

The other thing to watch for is how well Gingrich does compared to Rick Santorum. Santorum's argument for staying in the race is that Gingrich was given a chance to play the chief Anti-Romney and failed spectacularly in Florida. Santorum believes that if he is given a chance to take on Romney, he'll fare better. There are some polls that suggest this, but shifting from one Anti-Romney to another--without even the benefit of a debate--is like turning around a battleship. Santorum needs to beat Gingrich or get close in some of the February contests.

Meanwhile, Romney is hoping to build the impression that he is unstoppable. Having won Florida by a sizable margin, he hopes to win Nevada by a landslide and generate a bounce big enough to win the four states voting next week: Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, and Maine. All of those contests will take place prior to the one debate scheduled in February.