Ross Johnson photo Democrats line up outside White Pine High School on Feb. 20

Ross Johnson photo
Democrats line up outside White Pine High School on Feb. 20

Former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Democratic Caucus Saturday Feb. 20, beating Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by a popular vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. Out of a total of 43 state delegates, 20 have pledged to support Clinton, while Sanders won 15. Eight remain uncommitted.

Clinton won the White Pine County popular vote 51 percent to 49 percent, and the county’s delegates by the slimmest of margins, 47-46.

Dozens of supporters of both candidates rallied outside of White Pine High School hours before the caucus began. They distributed buttons, stickers and flyers in a last minute attempt to sway entering Democrats to their side.

County Party chairman Sam Hanson, with much precinct captain support, deftly wrangled a crowd swelling into the hundreds, confirming addresses and registering new Democrats on the spot.

Hanson eventually rallied them in the basketball gym.

“Sometimes people ask me how I keep everyone organized,” Hanson told the crowd. “I tell them, we’re not organized, we’re Democrats.”

After Hanson read letters from members around the party, including one from Nevada Senator Harry Reid, everyone broke off into their respective precincts to begin the complicated process.

Precincts Four and Five provided contrasting examples of how that process can unfold.

While Five proceeded relatively smoothly, Four garnered some controversy with late arrivals and uncommitted voters. Party observers circled the group, recording the action on their smartphones while supporters tried their best to sway one last uncommitted Democrat.

Their arguments ran the gamut from foreign policy experience to outsider status. They exchanged well worn criticisms about the other candidate in an attempt to bring him into their fold. His pen hovered over each candidate’s box for a few excruciating moments until he finally settled on Clinton, giving her the final edge in the precinct.

The candidates split the two delegates from Precinct Nine, in Baker, forcing a notorious tiebreaker unique to the Silver State: a card draw. A Clinton supporter ultimately drew the high card, earning her the precinct victory.

Though narrow, the victory is significant for Clinton. She owns a wide lead in the national delegate count over Sanders, 496-69. 445 of those are so-called “super-delegates,” who are Senators, House Representatives, State Governors and other members of the Democratic National Committee. Sanders needed, yet failed, to secure a solid win in Nevada to significantly close that gap.

As late as the 2000 election, Nevada Democrats held their caucus in March, after a dozen state primaries held on the same day known as Super Tuesday. In 2004, they moved the caucus up to February, before Super Tuesday, and into a much more influential position. Now Nevada is the first Western state to vote on presidential candidates.

Clinton won the popular caucus vote in Nevada in 2008, beating Barack Obama by five percentage points and earning about 600 more total county delegates, but Obama won White Pine County. Delegates are also technically not bound to a candidate until the party’s national convention, and Obama ended up with one more national delegate by that time.

This year’s Democratic county conventions will be held April 2, and the State Convention May 14-15 in Las Vegas. The Democratic National Convention will be held July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

Donald Trump won the Nevada Republican caucus Feb. 23, his third victory in a row on the road to the party’s presidential nomination. He won 46 percent of the popular vote statewide, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio earning 24 percent and Texas Senator Ted Cruz 21 percent. Of the 30 state delegates Nevada’s Republicans will send to their national convention, Trump is projected to earn 14. Seven are projected to support Rubio, and Cruz got six.

Trump leads the national projected delegate count for his party with 81, but delegates are not technically elected until the state conventions. Nevada’s state convention will be held May 13-15 in Reno, and there delegates are rule bound to vote according to the results of Tuesday’s caucus. Delegates will then travel to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18-21.

Trump won the White Pine County popular vote with 40 percent. Cruz earned 27 percent and Rubio 23 percent.

The Nevada Republican Caucus is a somewhat more straightforward process than the Democrats. Republicans came to vote at White Pine High School at their leisure between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m, while volunteers had the opportunity to speak publicly in support of a candidate any time during the event.

Mitt Romney won the last two Nevada caucuses in 2008 and 2012, earning half of the popular vote in each race. He lost the 2008 nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain, but went on the win the 2012 nomination.