WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, predicted Tuesday that Western states will play a critical role in electing the next president.
"The road to the White House will lead directly through the West and directly through Nevada and Colorado," Salazar said in a conference call Tuesday with reporters.
Reid, who played an important role in helping his state earn the right to hold an early presidential nominating contest, credited the move for helping to bring attention to issues that affect Western Democrats, and declared Nevada's caucuses will be "the first test of real diversity."
"I love Iowa. I love New Hampshire," Reid said in reference to the two traditional early-voting states. "But Iowa doesn't have a lot of people - it has a few people, but no diversity, one percent. New Hampshire has no people and no diversity."
Nevada has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1912 with the exception of Jimmy Carter in 1976. The state’s growing Latino population and strong union presence are the reasons why the Democratic National Committee chose the state to hold its caucuses before “Super Tuesday” on February 5.
While moving the caucus to January was a clear attempt to give the Silver State a prominent role in the Democratic presidential nominating contest, many have suggested Nevada's move ahead in the schedule - as well as those of several other states - only proved to increase the importance of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. But Reid brushed aside that suggestion, saying, "It is wrong to have a candidate chosen based on those two states - adding South Carolina and Nevada to the early mix has been very important and it does not, in any way, strengthen the power of Iowa or New Hampshire."
The senators' comments come two days before the seven major Democratic candidates are set to square-off in Las Vegas, Nevada at a debate sponsored by CNN and the Nevada Democratic Party. Reid hailed the debate as an "opportunity for candidates to speak directly to western voters."
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney