War Tops Concerns In Nevada

John Hunt, the chairman of the Clark County, NV Democratic Party, is a veteran. USAF retired. Last week, his son returned from a third tour of duty in the Middle East. "For me, the war is the quintessential issue of this campaign," he says.

And of the caucuses: more than even Iowa or New Hampshire, Nevada Dems are incredibly anti-war. The state has the third highest percentage of veterans in the country and a disproportionately high number of Iraq war dead.

This Thursday, Hunt will be the master of ceremonies at the biggest political event of the decade: a candidate debate on CNN and the state party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner fundraiser. 80% of those in the audience will be precinct chairs and captains. Clark County itself accounts for 75% of the statewide vote.

The Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19 may be more influential than some Democrats realize. For one thing, assuming that Michigan, on Jan. 15, remains a non-factor for Dems, the candidates will have more than a full week to campaign in the state. And that same night, Republicans in South Carolina will hold their all-important primaries, meaning that the media will be geared up to cover politics.

The stakes are different for different candidates: With a Nevada win, Hillary Clinton could shut down any momentum Barack Obama might try to build before the South Carolina Dem primary on 1/29.

Given the amount of time and resources he spent in Nevada, a first or second place finish is critical for Bill Richardson. Obama, who probably has the best ground game in the state, could break an IA-NH stride for Hillary Clinton. If he gets some well-placed endorsements, John Edwards could be as competitive here as any of the other Dems.

Here are some questions worth asking this week:

-- Who wins the big crowd war, HRC or Obama?
-- Can Edwards pull off a large scale event or will he stick to small town halls and press conferences?
-- Can close observers see improvement in the now-beefed up Edwards campaign?
-- Does Richardson have anything going on, or is he just another 2nd tier candidate?
-- Can close observers see cracks in the now-smaller Richardson campaign?
-- Which candidates just fly in and fly out?
-- Does Hillary’s solid job building relationships in Nevada give her an edge at the JJ dinner?
-- Does the endorsement by Asm. Ruben Kihuen (first Latino statewide elected official and political rock star) provide HRC a counterweight to the drivers' license mess?