Election 2008

An Inside View of the Nevada Caucuses

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Scott Simon talks with Tammy Soong, temporary chair for a Democratic caucus venue in her home city of Reno, Nev., about how Nevada will choose delegates for the 2008 Democratic National Convention during Saturday's caucuses.

Tammy Soong joins us now from Reno.

Ms. Soong, I understand you're what they call a temporary chair of a Democratic caucus. You're running the caucus in your precinct?

Ms. TAMMY SOONG (Temporary Chair, Democratic Caucus, Reno): That's correct, at least if I get elected to be in the position of the caucus chair. It's sort of a formality that has to be done at the beginning of the meeting.

SIMON: Where are you going to caucus?

Ms. SOONG: We're caucusing at Brown Elementary School, which is just about a mile from my house.

SIMON: So how do these things work? I understand people are supposed to report by 11 a.m.

Ms. SOONG: Hmm. Checking is from 11 to 11:30 and after that, at 11:30, the actual meeting begins. There are some formalities that we go through. Then after, that we kind of read some letters from our congresswoman and our senator.

SIMON: Wishing you Godspeed and…

Ms. SOONG: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah. It's okay.

Ms. SOONG: And then at 12 o'clock, the doors are figuratively slammed shut and no one else can come in to the meeting. We take a head count of who has come to the caucus. After that, based on the attendees, we determine what's called the viability. It's based on the number of delegates that you're precinct is assigned.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SOONG: So it's anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent. So, for instance, if 100 people showed up to my caucus location…

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. SOONG: …25 people would have to be in each preference group in order to be a viable group.

SIMON: A preference group is a group of people who identify with a certain candidate.

Ms. SOONG: Exactly. What we do is for about 15 minutes, everybody talks, gets to talk about their candidates.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SOONG: And then we call for a vote and everyone goes into their corner. We count everyone up. And if you don't meet viability, in my example, 25 people, then you're considered a non-viable group. And then in that situation…

SIMON: Oh, disdain of it all, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SOONG: It's painful. In that situation, what those people will need to do is find a viable group, so again another 15 minutes and everyone gets to come over and try to convince those people to come over to their group - this is why our healthcare plan is better, we're a better candidate, that sort of thing. So after that 15 minutes, once the groups realign, then they recount. We actually have these preference cards where you mark your candidate, so we just kind of have a paper record. And then after that we elect delegates from the preference groups and that's it.

SIMON: Going to serve food at the caucus?

Ms. SOONG: There is. We have a couple of different jobs that you do at the caucus. There's a temporary caucus chair, one to be an assistant caucus chair. Then, there's a secretary and then a hospitality person, who is kind of in charge of the food. And they're doing coffee and water and probably muffins or something like that just so everybody stays happy.

SIMON: Excited?

Ms. SOONG: I am very excited. I think this is such an incredible opportunity for Nevada. I don't know if it's ever going to happen again. Clearly, we are in an incredibly unique situation right now where the spotlight is on us. And I'm really hoping that my fellow Nevadans all step up to the plate and actually participate in this, and show the rest of the country that we care, and that we have an opinion, and that we are, you know, interested in doing this. It's been incredible to be part of this process because we had so many candidates come through our city. This never would have happened before. Yeah, it's been incredible.

SIMON: Tammy Soong, who'll soon be running a Democratic caucus in her precinct in Reno, Nevada - biggest little city in the world.

Good luck to you.

Ms. SOONG: Thank you very much.

SIMON: And we have a correction. Last Saturday, we reported that John Edwards was concentrating his campaign resources on South Carolina, essentially leaving Nevada a two-candidate race. That was wrong. Mr. Edwards, in fact, added more events in the state and stepped up his competition there.

Our story also said that Senators Obama and Clinton had spent the previous week in Nevada. That was wrong too. It should have said they were planning to spend the coming week in Nevada.

If you want to follow the results as they come in, NPR's interactive election map should have the latest. You can find it at npr.org.

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What's at Stake in the Nevada Caucuses?

Democrats greet dignitaries before a debate in Las Vegas. i

Democratic Presidential hopefuls (from left) Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) greet dignitaries before the start of a Democratic Presidential debate at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Ethan Miller/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Democrats greet dignitaries before a debate in Las Vegas.

Democratic Presidential hopefuls (from left) Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) greet dignitaries before the start of a Democratic Presidential debate at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Did You Know?

• Nevada is the first primary or caucus state with a sizable number of Hispanic voters.

• Only caucus-goers registered with a party can participate. Absentee ballots are not accepted. Nevada's caucuses will begin Saturday morning and are expected to last several hours.

• Nine hotels and casinos have been designated as Democratic caucus sites, in a move aimed at making it easier for casino workers to participate. The state Democratic Party let the culinary workers' union, which has endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, choose the sites. But that decision has been challenged in court by the state teacher's union, which argues that the sites unfairly favor Obama.

Nevada is the first Western state to hold caucuses for both parties, but Saturday's event has become more of a Democratic affair. Sens. Barack Obama (IL) and Hillary Clinton (NY) compete in the Silver State having each won a victory in an early voting contest. They, as well as former Sen. John Edwards (NC), are looking for a win in Nevada to give them a boost going into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Though Nevada Republicans are also caucusing that day, the GOP presidential candidates have largely chosen to focus their efforts in South Carolina, whose same-day primary has long been seen as determinative in the race for the Republican nomination.

Here's a guide to what's at stake for the candidates in Nevada's Jan. 19 caucuses, and the issues that will be on voters' minds.


Candidates: Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY); former Sen. John Edwards (NC); former Sen. Mike Gravel (AK); Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH); Sen. Barack Obama (IL)

What's at Stake: Clinton had a double-digit lead in the polls back in December, but Nevada's largest union of culinary workers (which has roughly 60,000 members) has endorsed Obama. A recent poll of 500 Democratic and Republican voters, sponsored by the Reno Gazette-Journal shows Clinton, Edwards and Obama in a statistical dead heat: Obama with 32 percent, Clinton with 30 percent and Edwards with 27 percent.

All of the candidates will fight over the Hispanic vote. Latinos make up 25 percent of the state's population, although only half of them can vote due to age or immigration status. The withdrawal of Gov. Bill Richardson (NM) from the race has only increased the remaining Democrats' efforts to woo Spanish-speaking voters. Nevada has hosted two Democratic debates, one in November and one on Jan. 15.

The Issues: As with most states, the Iraq war, immigration and the economy are major issues in Nevada. As a Western state, water, environmental and energy rights also come into play. Nevada has not been as hard-hit as other early-voting states, such as Michigan and South Carolina, in terms of unemployment — the booming casino businesses employs many residents — but it does have the highest rate of home foreclosures in the country.


Candidates: Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (NY); former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR); Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA); Sen. John McCain (AZ); Rep. Ron Paul (TX); former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA); former Sen. Fred Thompson (TN)

What's at Stake: Unlike the Democrats, the Republican candidates have never expended much effort in the state. A poll sponsored by the Reno-Gazette Journal shows the GOP candidates locked in a close contest.



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