Analysts see several lessons in caucuses

Political analyst Fred Lokken said Saturday he sees a number of lessons in Nevada's first attempt at political caucuses.

Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said the most obvious lesson is that neither party was fully prepared for the number of participants who showed up.

"Especially the Republican side, this party was not prepared for participation.

"Not only were they not prepared for the onslaught, but they weren't even clear on the rules to pick delegates to the county convention," he said.

At the end of the day, more than 115,000 Democrats and more than 44,000 Republicans participated.

Lokken said the high turnout gives him confidence the results are much less skewed than they could have been.

"I was afraid we might see a real difference between likely voters and those who are more party centered," Lokken said. "There is a difference between what a party wants and what the general public is looking for and I'm kind of reassured (by the turnout) that didn't happen today."

He said a major achievement for the caucuses is that, "Nevada brought out more minority voters than any other caucus in history of the republic, so we finally have more diversity."

Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno agreed.

He said despite the glitches in the number of ballots and waiting lists, the process worked better than anybody thought it would in terms of turnout.

The record-breaking participation came about in part because of the candidate visits and the closeness of the races.

"The closeness of the, particularly the Democratic race, elevated interest, and you really had two Democrats who drew in a wider range of people," Herzik said. "Yes, there were glitches, but the party leaders have to be happy. As a political science professor, really a glorified civics teacher, I thought it was great too."

Lokken said one thing to consider is Hillary Clinton's victory despite the endorsement of Barack Obama by Las Vegas's powerful culinary workers union.

He said many observers were expecting the power of that union to swing the caucus for Obama despite the fact all polling had Clinton ahead.

Herzik also noted Sen. Clinton's win.

"Hillary had the Democratic base and the older voter, but she also brought in more women and did very well with the Latino vote and broke even with labor," he said. "That she did well with labor, that's a significant story for her, because labor backed Obama, and despite what she says, her record is not as strong on labor."

John Edwards, who garnered less than 4 percent of the vote, had the best record on labor, he said. "Go figure."

Though he lost the popular vote in Nevada, Herzik said Obama's loss wasn't a bad one.

Clinton had to win Nevada, he said.

"If Hillary would have lost Nevada, that would have made her very vulnerable. She'd have no momentum going into South Carolina where she's actually behind. This was a good win for her.

"It wasn't a bad loss for Obama, he was not expected to win. He ran close, maybe won 16 of 17 counties, and ended up with as many delegates as Clinton. It's not a bad loss, it hurts his momentum and it does make South Carolina more critical to him."

In the Republican race, Herzik said Mitt Romney's victory in Nevada did not help identify a clear front runner.

"I don't think it's a surprise Romney won. I think the margin of victory was a surprise.

"The Democrats are down to two now. The Republicans, I have no clue. There are multi-Republican candidates that can win any given day."

He said he is uncertain if the upcoming Florida contest, in which Rudy Giuliani is expected to make his first real showing, followed by Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, will help move a candidate forward.

"They could clarify things, or they could also make it clear as mud," he said.

A percentage of voters in Nevada "met the caucuses and didn't like them," Lokken said.

Some told him they didn't like the absence of a secret balloting process.

Democrats had to physically join the group for the candidate they supported so all could see where they stood.

While Republicans made their choice by writing the name on a ballot, Lokken said, "even among Republicans there was this feeling when they turned in the ballot, that it was being looked at."

He said he agrees with those who told him they would much prefer a presidential preference primary like the one Nevada had 20 years ago.

"The Legislature should get it back and bill the parties to pay for it," he said. "It would generate a run for the voting machines to see if they're working. It would be a secret ballot process so you don't have to feel like you're being pressured or manipulated."

"If we'd had a primary, we likely would have seen more than 100,000 Republicans participate," Lokken said.

The turnout, Herzik said, though it caused a lot of disorganization, "is a problem any political party would take any day. We complain when there's low turnout, then when there's high turnout people still complain," he said. "Get over it."

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750. City Editor Kelli Du Fresne contributed to this report.


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