The candidates will square off in the Cox Pavilion Thursday night.
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) - Campaign staffers, pols, and political junkies are all trying to game out the importance of the Democratic caucuses here in Nevada.
If one candidate (read Hillary Clinton) scoops up wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, will Nevada simply rubberstamp her march to victory? Or if Iowa and New Hampshire spit out different winners could the 11 days (sorry Michigan) between the presumed first-in-the-nation primary and the Silver State caucuses determine who wins the nomination before the race turns back East to South Carolina?
"If one of the candidates needs to get momentum or build momentum they are going to spend a lot of time here," says veteran Nevada political columnist and commentator Jon Ralston.
While it may not be the same attention they shower on Iowa, the Democratic candidates certainly have given Nevada some lovin' thus far. The CNN/Las Vegas Democratic Party Debate Thursday will mark New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s 19th day in the state. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards boasts three offices and will complete his 17th trip, 19th day, to Nevada by the end of this weekend. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s debate appearance will bring his trip tally to nine and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Delaware Joe Biden have each hit the state seven times. Obama has the most campaign offices, roughly 50 field organizers, and his campaign has conducted over 100 mock caucuses. Camp Clinton boasts three visits by the senator’s top surrogate and husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the endorsement of Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I think Barack Obama has a real good organization here," says Ralston. "I think he has a chance to do well here. I think Bill Richardson, who started early on has a chance. Clinton has the endorsement of most of the major politicians and she looks inevitable here, but again it’s a caucus. It’s unpredictable. I think anybody who makes predictions is just whistling in the dark, because they’ve never done it before. They have absolutely no idea what turnout is going to be, and who is going to turn out, and it’s very difficult to do polling under those circumstances. So I think it’s a crap shoot."
No pun intended.
- CNN Senior Political Producer Sasha Johnson