Monday, April 14, 2008

The Clark County (NV) Re-Vote & The Caucus Question Revisited

[Well, it is more a do-over than a re-vote, but I'll stick with the descriptor I used on Friday.] After an inundation of alternate delegates postponed the initial attempt to hold a second step caucus on February 23, Clark County (Las Vegas) Democrats were finally able to gather to vote on and send delegates to the state convention next month. And while there were Obama gains from the precinct level to the county level, they were not as strong as the gains he enjoyed in a similar situation in Texas late last month. Unlike in Texas however, he finished second to Clinton (at least in Clark County), but made up ground in the race for national convention delegates coming out of the state.

Following Saturday's caucus in Las Vegas, Clinton dropped slightly from 55% of precinct delegates in the area to 54% of the county's delegates to the state convention. Oppositely, Obama managed to increase his support from 44% in Clark County in the initial caucuses to 46% in this latest round. Keep in mind though, that these delegates are not pledged (per se) to either candidate, which means that the battle by both campaigns for every delegate will continue in Nevada until those numbers are solidified by the state convention in mid-May.

During this cycle caucuses have come under more scrutiny because of the closeness of the race, and it has been the variations in the rules of all these caucuses that has driven most of the conversation. One distinction to be made is the number of steps in the process. There have been 14 caucuses (counting Texas but not those in the territories) and nine have multiple steps while the other five go from the initial caucus step to the state convention (only two steps). It could be hypothesized then that the greater the number of steps in the caucus process, the greater the chance would be for a candidate's support (in the aggregate) across a state to shift in some way.

Among the group of multiple step caucuses (CO, IA, KS, MN, NE, NV, ND, TX and WA), Iowa was the most likely to see some movement in the support levels of the candidates from one step to the next. More candidates were involved in that initial step who subsequently withdrew from the race. Both Clinton and Obama should have gained at the county convention levels. And both did...depending on who you ask (MSNBC or Politico's Ben Smith). Obama jumped from 37% support in the first step to either 51% or 56% on the county level. Clinton gained also, but only modestly; going from 29% support in the January 3 caucuses to either 31% or 36% support in the 99 Democratic county conventions. And there's still some wiggle room for both to tweak their numbers in the state convention because John Edwards maintains a small amount of support even after the county convention phase.

There has also been some delegate shift in Texas and Colorado. Including Nevada, that makes four of the eight multiple step states that have seen some changes from one phase to the next. Two others, Kansas and North Dakota, did not have any changes since the first step predetermined the outcome of the second step. That leaves Minnesota, Nebraska and Washington. Minnesota's Democratic Farm-Labor party allotted the month after the state's February 5 caucuses for "county unit" contests to elect delegates to the congressional district conventions to be held any time starting this coming Saturday (April 19) but before the beginning part of June (source: Results then come in at a staggered pace. The results out of Washington will be similarly staggered. The Democratic party there runs a convoluted system of events that is dependent upon whether a county is completely within a legislative district, split between districts or is split into several legislative districts (Seattle area). Nebraska will not hold its second step until next month.

Of the two step states, none have held their state conventions. Only North Dakota among the caucus states has held its state convention.

Moving forward then, Iowa, with its contingent of Edwards delegates is the most likely to see any significant shift in national convention delegate numbers between now and the end of the delegate selection process in June. Nevada though is a close second because the delegates to the state convention are not pledged to any one candidate.

The movement continues to be toward Obama, which isn't helping Clinton close the gap in the number of delegates (or make a case to superdelegates to align behind her).

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