Nevada does not have a long tradition of early caucuses in the presidential nominating process, and there are efforts in the legislature to change the caucus system to a primary election.

The early Nevada caucuses originated with the Democratic National Committee, which was seeking to diversify the beginning of its nominating process; Sen. Harry Reid  played a key role in promoting the early caucus.  On Aug. 19, 2006 at its summer meeting in Chicago the full DNC voted to add the Nevada caucuses to the pre-window period; the date was set for January 19, 2008.  Nevada Republicans, not wanting to be left on the sidelines, approved a move to January 19 in a near unanimous vote during their April 21, 2007 meeting in Carson City.  In 2012, Republicans and Democrats again held early caucuses, but, President Obama was unchallenged for re-election and all the focus was on the Republican side. 

Heading into 2016, some Republicans sought to change the caucus system to a primary election.  On May 12, 2015 the state Senate passed S.B. 421, which would have changed the primary date from June to the last Tuesday in February, by a party line vote of 11 to 9.  A.B. 302, introduced on March 13, 2015, would have allowed political parties to hold a presidential primary election, with the cost to be borne by the state.  However the Legislature failed to act before it adjourned on June 2.

The Silver State

With a population of 2.8 million (+), Nevada had been one of the fastest growing states, but the economy was very hard hit by collapse of the housing bubble.  As of Nov. 2015 Nevada had the fourth highest foreclosure rate of the 50 states (+).  As of Nov. 2015 the unemployment rate stood at 6.5% (+), better than just West Virginia, DC and New Mexico, but down from a high of 13.9% in Nov. 2010.  Tourism and the gambling industry are cornerstones of the Nevada economy.  Other issues include water and immigration.  Second Amendment rights are important in the state. 

Of 1,188,410 active registered voters as of August 2014, 476,263 (40.07%) were Democrats, 413,193 (34.77%) Republicans, 224,058 (18.85%) non-partisan, and the rest other parties.  Obama carried the state by 52.4% to 45.7% in 2012 and by 55.2% to 42.7% in 2008; Bush won in 2004 and 2000, and Clinton in 1996 and 1992.  Las Vegas and Reno account for much of the voting population; for example, of the 1,016,664 votes cast during the Nov. 6, 2012 general election, 68.1% came from Clark County and 18.5% from Washoe County.  The Census Bureau estimates the Hispanic or Latino population at 27.5% as of July 1, 2013 (over 767,000).  Analysis by the William C. Velazquez Institute (PDF), found that the Latino vote was decisive in delivering the state's electoral votes to President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.  Nevada has one of the highest proportions of veterans in its population of any state: 225,933 veterans were living in Nevada as of Sept. 30, 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (>).  According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are 180,600 members in the state in 327 congregations (>).

Developing a Tradition: Nevada Caucuses in 2008 and 2012

Nevada Democrats had a significant head start in preparing for their caucuses and there was much more activity on their side.  117,599 Democrats participated in the Democratic precinct caucuses, double the numbers predicted, and Sen. Hillary Clinton edged out a win over Sen. Barack Obama by 50.8% to 45.0% (>).  Only 43,578 Republicans participated in the GOP precinct caucuses, delivering a solid win to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; he obtained 51% of the vote to 13% each for Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. John McCain.  Many observers attributed Romney's win to high turnout among Mormons (>).

In 2012 the two parties diverged on the dates (1, 2, 3); Democrats held non-competitive caucuses on Jan. 21.  President Obama was unchallenged, but more than 12,000 people gathered at 118 caucus locations and 1,553 precincts (>).  Nevada Republicans held their precinct caucuses on Feb. 4, making it the fourth GOP contest after the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary.  

From the beginning Mitt Romney was considered the favorite in Nevada; he had won the 2008 caucuses and it was expected he would benefit from the state's high Mormon population.  Ron Paul achieved one of his better showings in 2008 here, and his campaign built a strong organization for 2012.  Rick Perry had the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval, but he bowed out before the South Carolina primary.

Despite all the preparations there were rough spots in these second ever Republican presidential caucuses.  Each county opted to set its own rules (>).  A special evening caucus was held at Becker Middle School in Las Vegas for observant Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists; voters were required to sign a declaration saying they had missed their scheduled caucus because of reasons of faith, but others who had missed their morning caucus signed and participated as well.  And, despite the Nevada Republican Party's partnership with Twitter and Google "to implement new and innovative methods of reporting election results" certified results were not announced until the morning of February 6. Further, turnout was down from 2008.  Just 32,894 people participated in the Feb. 4 Nevada Republican caucuses; to put that in perspective, as of January 2012 there were 400,310 active registered Republicans in Nevada.

A Relatively Calm 2014

In comparison to 2010, the equivalent point in the 2012 cycle, Nevada is experiencing a relatively calm mid-term elections in 2014.  Recall that in 2010, Nevada saw the most hotly contested U.S. Senate race in the country as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) defeated former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) despite his unpopularity.  In the race for governor, former federal Judge Brian Sandoval (R) defeated Clark County Commission Chair Rory Reid (D), and in the 3rd CD Dr. Joe Heck (R) defeated freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D).  2014 is a decidedly different story.  Gov. Sandoval appears certain to win re-election; the Democratic nominee for governor, Bob Goodman, finished second to "None of These Candidates" in the June primary.  The congressional delegation is split evenly.  U.S. Reps. Joe Heck (R-3rd CD) and Mark Amodei (R-2nd CD) and Dina Titus (D-1st CD) and Steven Horsford (D-4th CD) are favored to win re-election.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and Sen. Dean Heller (R) are not up for re-election.  Control of the Nevada Senate will be hotly contested; as of Sept. 2014 Democrats hold an 11 to 10 majority.  Democrats have a solid 26 to 15 majority in the Assembly (and there is one vacancy).

Also of note in 2014, Las Vegas made a strong bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, arguing that "Las Vegas knows how to host an event of this scale and do it better than anyone else."  However organizers withdrew their bid in May (1, 2).

2016 Dem. and Rep. Candidates Played to Different Audiences...

As they built their caucus campaigns, candidates of both parties appealed to various constituencies around the state, such as the large veteran population, Latinos, rural voters, and workers on the Las Vegas strip.  Republicans candidates reached out to social conservatives and to more libertarian-minded voters.  Nevada has long had a libertarian reputation (although in Nov. 2012 Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius pointed pointed out that other states are moving ahead of Nevada in areas such as legalizing gay marriage and marijuana >).  Countering the libertarian tendencies, Mormons have a fairly conservative set of values.  On the Democratic side, unions are key players, particularly Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, which represent "over 57,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, including at most of casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas."  The Culinary Workers remained neutral, but veteran political reporter Jon Ralston argues that U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and the union gave a key boost to Clinton in Clark County (+).

...And Held Their Contests on Different Dates

Nevada was the third contest for Democrats after Iowa and New Hampshire (+); the Nevada Democratic caucuses took place Saturday, February 20, ahead of the February 27 South Carolina Democratic primary.  For Republicans, South Carolina's traditional early primary took precedence.  The Republican caucuses occurred on Tuesday, February 23, three days after the February 20 South Carolina Republican primary.  Both parties had experienced operatives working to organize their caucuses: Greg Bailor was caucus director for the Republicans  and Cory Warfield was caucus director for the Democrats; both started in June 2015 (+).

See: Republicans  |  Democrats

Note: DNC and RNC rules have different language covering the timing of the early primaries.

DNC rules specify specific dates for the four early states, including Feb. 18, 2016 for Nevada, while RNC rules have a general carve-out period that covers the four early states.

However, state law, cited above, trumps the rules. If other states move up their primary dates and encroach on the window, Secretary of State Bill Gardner will move its date forward.

DNC Rule 11 - "...Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 10 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 3 days before the first Tuesday in March..."

RNC Rule 16 (4) (c) (1) - "No primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention shall occur prior to March 1 or after the second Saturday in June in the year in which a national convention is held. Except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may conduct their processes no earlier than one month before the next earliest state in the year in which a national convention is held and shall not be subject to the provisions of paragraph (c)(2) of this rule."


Rep. Endorse

Key Dates

Dec. 15 - RNC-sanctioned debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas  (CNN). +

Jan. 8 - Candidate filing deadline.

Feb. 23 - Republican Presidential Caucus.

Oct. 13 - DNC-sanctioned debate at the Wynn in Las Vegas (CNN). +

Jan. 6 - "Battle Born/Battleground" First in the West Caucus Dinner at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Feb. 20 - Nevada Democratic Precinct Caucuses.