Reid pushes for earlier Nevada caucus

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants his state's Democratic caucus to follow Iowa in 2008.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants his state's Democratic caucus to follow Iowa in 2008.Freddie Lee / Fox News via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrats were lobbied hard by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and organized labor before they picked Nevada as the best bet to energize the party's early presidential voting in 2008.

A Democratic rules panel on Saturday recommended that Nevada hold a caucus after Iowa's leadoff contest in mid-January 2008, but before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. South Carolina was awarded an early primary a week after New Hampshire.

The full Democratic National Committee will have to approve the plan during its August meeting in Chicago before the changes become effective.

The addition of Nevada to the first round of voting is likely to reshape the Democratic presidential campaigning in the opening rounds - shifting some of the candidates' attention and time usually reserved for Iowa and New Hampshire to Nevada's glitzy casinos and hotels, sprawling suburbs and growing Hispanic population.

Decision not final, but...
Aides for several potential candidates are already making contacts with key political figures in Nevada - especially with union representatives for the hotel and restaurant workers, Democratic strategists say.

In the end, the lobbying of Reid and organized labor trumped the lobbying of Democratic Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and the shadow of likely GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Arizona's senior senator.

"Nevada won because they did a better job of politicking," said Don Fowler, a member of the rules committee and former national chairman of the DNC. Nevada Democrats also argued that they have experience running caucuses.

Politicians and labor
Much of the politics was handled by Reid, the senior senator from Nevada and part of the Democrats' congressional leadership team.

"Reid worked it hard, but so did Governor Napolitano," said Democratic veteran Harold Ickes. "My sense is that he talked to everybody on the committee and he saw many of us in person."

Organized labor, particularly union leaders representing the hotel and restaurant workers, also campaigned for Nevada to get the early slot.

Inclusion of a state with a strong labor contingent was one of the Democrats' goals of diversifying the vote. About a quarter of Nevada voters in 2004 were in unions or came from union households, according to exit polls - a higher concentration than in many states. And they leaned toward Democrat John Kerry over President Bush in 2004.

Almost a fourth of the population of Nevada is Hispanic.

The McCain factor
Arizona was appealing to many of the Democrats voting Saturday, but the presence of McCain as a likely GOP presidential candidate raised concerns that Arizona may be a lost cause for the general election.

Early contests can build party strength. And Democrats may have their eye in 2008 on snagging Nevada, where Bush beat Kerry by just over 2 percentage points in 2004. "Nevada has the potential of flipping from a red state to a blue state," said panel member Donna Brazile.

Some Democrats were uncomfortable with the dominance of the gambling industry in Nevada, said rules panel member Elaine Kamarck, who added "they would have liked to see more economic diversity."

August decisions
The full DNC usually accepts the recommendations of the rules panel, but the debate over the 2008 primary calendar may resurface when the Democrats consider the changes at their summer meeting in Chicago next month or beyond. Some states would like to see the calendar changed even more.

And New Hampshire - especially in the person of Secretary of State Bill Gardner - is mulling over how to react.

Gardner must decide whether the changes violate a state law that requires New Hampshire to schedule its primary a week or more before any "similar election." He could move the New Hampshire primary earlier to protect its status.

"The DNC does not set the date for the New Hampshire primary," said Pamela Walsh, a spokeswoman for New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch. "Bill Gardner does. He will uphold New Hampshire law and set the primary date and the filing period as he feels is appropriate, and Governor Lynch will support him in whatever decision he makes."