Ralston argued there's also a national perception about Nevada—that it's all the Las Vegas Strip, essentially—that keeps people from taking it as seriously as the other traditional early states. "Nevada has a stigma, too. "¦ We're kind of seen as an anomalous place, and I think that hurts our standing, too," Ralston said. "There's no real tradition that's been established here."
As for the lack of good polling data, Nevada is notoriously difficult to poll, which some in the state suggested was the reason major public outfits have steered clear thus far. With its high cell-phone use, number of shift workers who are difficult to reach during regular polling hours, and relatively transient population, pollsters have been consistently stumped by the state. Back in 2008, one poll the week of the caucuses put Mitt Romney in fourth place with 15 percent, and none that week had him at higher than 34 percent. The former Massachusetts governor ended up winning the caucuses with 51 percent of the vote.
On the Republican side, additional reasons abound. The first two early GOP caucuses held here, 2008 and 2012, were hardly competitive; Mitt Romney hit the 50 percent threshold both times, leaving little room for challengers and little reason for them to spend time here to build up operations.
Republican operatives in the state say this time around is far more open. "Our previous two early caucus events weren't really contests," said Robert Uithoven, Cruz's state director. "With Mitt Romney not being on the ballot this time around, there is a lot more investment in time and resources and from a much larger Republican field."
The state Republican Party also badly botched the counting process last time around, placing additional pressure on party officials to get it right this time. In 2012, despite Romney being announced early on as the victor, it took populous Clark County 36 hours to finish counting the ballots—leaving the second-place finisher in doubt for days. The state party has been plagued with problems, and GOP strategists in the state say that makes it harder for the state to get the national attention it deserves.
So what's the state to do? Republican operatives and lawmakers tried earlier this year to switch the party's caucus system to a primary system, which its proponents argued would bring significantly more voters into the process and, as a result, more candidates to the state. The move was ultimately unsuccessful, and the state legislature didn't pass the measure before it adjourned this summer.
"We want to protect our first-four status for presidential races, and perhaps more important than anything, we want to protect the integrity of the election," Bush adviser Ryan Erwin, who supported the move to a primary, told National Journal in May.
Most of all, there's extraordinary pressure to make sure none of the organizational mistakes of the 2012 caucus come back to haunt Nevada in 2016, particularly on the Republican side. If the caucuses can be both competitive and successful this time around, Nevada operatives say it will go a long way in raising the state's profile going forward. "At least from the Republican side, we run the risk of losing our early state status if we don't perform better than we have the previous two cycles," Uithoven said.