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January 18, 2007
By Scott Gayer
So what’s all the ruckus about a caucus anyway? Just hearing the word might be leaving many Nevada residents and students puzzled.
According to some student leaders and campus sources, where to go and what to do were the most daunting questions Nevada’s voters dealt with as the commotion and national media attention culminated with the Jan. 19 caucuses for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for president.
Historically, Nevada always used caucuses instead of primaries to elect local representatives and past presidents. Yet, according to Eric Herzik, a Nevada professor of political science, Nevada’s caucuses never occurred during any crucial point of the presidential election process, nor were they publicized to voters in an organized way.
“[Nevada’s caucus process] just wasn’t very active in being inclusive,” Herzik said.
Aside from past confusion, the early timing of this year’s caucus is the biggest change in Nevada’s electoral process. Coming off the tailwind of the New Hampshire and Iowa caucuses, the results of Nevada’s caucuses could serve as a good barometer for how candidates could fare in upcoming primaries across the nation.
According to Herzik, the date change was spearheaded by the Democrats. Soon after, the Republicans followed suit. Herzik said that public sentiment toward caucuses is largely that of confusion. The early and highly publicized date has not helped to make matters much easier for Nevada voters.
Rachel Miller, president of the Young Democrats student organization, affirmed much of the local public’s sentiment towards the process. She also tried to explain how a caucus differs from a primary.
“A primary is about your vote and a caucus is about your voice,” Miller said.
Matt Wellborn, state chair for the Nevada College Republicans, echoed the excitement and uncertainty that many participants might also be feeling as they approach caucus day.
“As a group we’re kind of excited for [the caucuses] but we’re kind of learning as we go too,” said Welborn, a 22-year-old civil engineering major. “It’s neat because it’s a different way to draw people in.”
Nevada’s college-age voter turnout should also be closely watched. According to Herzik, many candidates in years past have tried to court the college voting population. This year’s candidates are no different.
In Herzik’s opinion, this type of push for collegiate votes is typical for any election year, but it is not always met with high student turnout in the voting booth. He thinks that one Democratic campaign — that of Illinois Sen. Barrack Obama — may have already pushed harder for student votes than any other
“Every presidential year you see a push for student involvement,” Herzik said. “The Obama people have actively courted the younger vote.”
Miller, a 20-year-old political science major, also thinks that many candidates may have gained popularity among students and other voters because of the candidates’ notoriety.
“Suddenly you have all these political celebrities running and people start paying attention,” Miller said.
Herzik agreed. He said that often popularity takes precedent over politics in the minds of voters.
“A lot of times when you’re voting for president you’re voting for the general sense of the person,” Herzik said.
Both Miller and Wellborn are already in the planning stages for upcoming campus political action initiatives. Wellborn said that there has been some difficulty in communicating with students about the importance of the upcoming caucuses because many students have been out of town due to semester break.
In the meantime, both leaders still attest to increased political awareness and involvement in the student body. How this trend develops throughout the campus leading up into the general election will be interesting to watch, they said.
Herzik said that caucuses are unique because of how much they go against current American voting trends. Many Americans seem to be more in favor of “convenience voting” rather than taking the time to publicly debate the merits of each candidate with neighbors.
“With a caucus, it’s about the politics,” Herzik said. “You’re not doing that on your way to buy a pair of jeans.”
Scott Gayer is undergraduate journalism student.