(CNN) - In the battle for the last GOP presidential nomination, Nevada was an afterthought. But a new move by Nevada Republicans should make the state a player in the next race for the White House.
In 2012, Nevada will once again be third on the presidential primary and caucus calendar, the only western state with an early contest. But this time around, the caucus results on the Republican side will be binding.
In 2008, Nevada, for the first time, joined Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as one of the states to kick off the long road to the White House. Democrats focused on the state, with CNN holding a presidential debate in Las Vegas, and the major candidates, such as then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards all campaigning in the state.
But while the Democrat's caucus was binding, the GOP contest was not, and became an afterthought. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ended up winning the contest, thanks in part to backing by the many Mormons who live in Nevada who decided to support their fellow member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Last weekend, in hopes of preventing a repeat performance, Republican state party leaders changed the rules to make the 2012 caucus results binding, meaning that delegates attending the Republican National Convention in Florida the following summer must stick with the candidate choices determined by the caucus results.
"Usually we've been the ugly stepchild that nobody cared about," says Heidi Smith, a Nevada member of the Republican National Committee. "This time around it's going to be important for the candidates to come here and prove themselves to the people of Nevada."
It appears the Republicans are taking a page from the Democrat's playbook.
"Two years ago, the Republicans didn't do anything until too late, eventually piggybacking on the Democrats' early caucus. This year, they copied what the Democrats did in making the caucus binding, which many realized (because of the early date) will force candidates to come here," says Jon Ralston, who’s considered by many to be the dean of Nevada political reporters.
State Republicans did reject a move to make their caucus a winner-take-all contest.
"They did not, as some wanted, make it a winner-take-all, but proportional, as the Democrats did. That, you may recall, allowed Barack Obama to take home the most delegates despite losing the popular vote. Nevertheless, unlike 2008, when only Romney played here and won going away, the 2012 Nevada GOP caucus should have much more energy and participation," adds Ralston.
So it appears that Nevada, which was smack in the middle of the political spotlight in 2010 thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's difficult but ultimately successful re-election bid, will remain in the spotlight in the nearly 15 months leading up to its February 18, 2012 caucus.
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