- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Democratic presidential primary season that traditionally comes roaring out of the Iowa corn fields into snowy New Hampshire will take a midcourse detour through Nevada to give the West an early role in picking their 2008 nominee.

But political tradition dies hard, and most of the attention so far has been on Iowa (Jan. 14) and New Hampshire (Jan. 22), though Nevada Democratic leaders say they are working to promote their Jan. 19 caucuses to the press and presidential hopefuls, some of whom have campaigned in the state in the hope of throwing a monkey wrench into the plans of front-runners.

Nevada Democratic Chairman Tom Collins says his state’s caucuses have two big things going for it: “a diverse electorate that contains a large Latino minority population and an opportunity for the candidates to pitch their message in the neighboring Western states like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.”

Nevada, one of the fastest growing states in the country, has another thing going for it, a strong labor union membership that is one of his Democrats’ major constituencies, Mr. Collins said.

“We’re a progressive state, but we’re also a moderate state,” he said, underscoring the state’s deep political divisions, noting that “Bill Clinton won Nevada” in 1992 and 1996. President Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004.

Notably, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party’s front-runner, has not been out to Nevada yet, nor has Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, said Kirsten Searer, a spokesman for the Nevada Democratic Party.

But she noted that Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack came to the state when he announced his candidacy as has Sen. John Kerry.

Two other presidential hopefuls have made several trips out there this year. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose Hispanic heritage would help with the state’s more than 20 percent Hispanic population, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, who has been courting labor unions drawn to his message of economic populism.

In a show of strength for Mr. Richardson, 70 prominent Nevada Democrats, mostly Hispanics, on Thursday called on the former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary to formally announce his candidacy.

“Nevada will be the linchpin in the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2008 and many Nevadans believe Bill Richardson is the best choice to lead our party,” said Reynaldo Martinez, chairman of the Draft Bill Richardson Committee.

Strategists for Mr. Edwards, who has built a strong ground campaign in Iowa since his second-place showing there in the 2004 presidential caucuses, say that a win there followed by a victory in Nevada would send him into New Hampshire three days later with considerable momentum.

The traditional Iowa-New Hampshire kickoff was broken up by the Democratic National Committee earlier this year in an attempt to open up the early delegate-selection process to other constituencies of the country, particularly the West, a region that Republicans have largely dominated in past presidential elections.

Although Nevada has only five electoral votes and one of the smaller nominating delegations, it now looms as the second presidential contest in a faster, front-loaded presidential selection process that will likely wrap up the nomination by the end of February or early March.

“It isn’t well-known now, but by 2008 [Nevada] could be one of the pivotal events in the Democratic presidential nominating campaign,” a Democratic official said.

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