Bush, Rubio, and Ben Carson have spent the most days campaigning in Nevada in 2015.
But without Romney locking down the state early, more campaigns are turning their eyes to the state. "In 2008 and 2012, most campaigns did not feel like they had the ability to compete with Mitt Romney, his campaign, and his organization in Nevada," said Robert Uithoven, the Nevada state director for Ted Cruz's campaign, which is planning to announce a larger state-leadership team soon. "And now, I think with the contest being wide open and Romney not being on the ballot, there are a lot more candidates who feel they can compete here."
Uithoven said that Cruz's socially conservative views and emphasis on protecting religious liberty will help him appeal to all voters of faith. Meanwhile, Rand Paul's campaign is also planning to ramp up its efforts in the state. The Kentucky senator hopes to tap into the libertarian infrastructure his father built over two presidential bids, but his team thinks his focus on constitutional rights has some Mormon appeal, too. Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Mormon who co-chairs the Paul campaign's operation in the Western states, is already helping with outreach to LDS voters.
"We feel that Rand has a strong connection their ideals and values, so it's just a matter of getting the message out into the community, getting them engaged in the process," said Carl Bunce, a senior adviser to Paul's campaign.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker began to form his team in Nevada last week, naming former Gov. Bob List as his state chairman. And Walker also appeared with Cruz, Carson, and Carly Fiorina at an event in rural Nevada over the weekend hosted by the state's attorney general, Adam Laxalt.
One question looming over everyone's Nevada caucus preparations is whether the Mormon community will be as outsized a factor in 2016 as it was when Romney was running. Several Republican strategists predicted the Mormon share of caucusgoers would shrink to 15 or 20 percent next year — not because of a turnout drop but because the prospect of a contested GOP caucus would boost turnout among other less-reliable groups of voters.
Despite that possibility, LDS members will still be a critical group. "It will be different," said Bunce, the Paul adviser. "There will be a diminished turnout among the LDS population but not much."
Now, even as other candidates start turning more attention to Nevada, Bush and Rubio hope their endorsements, campaign infrastructure, and visits will start to translate into concrete support among Mormon voters, building up a base ahead of the caucus night in six months' time. LDS member West Allen, a Las Vegas attorney who was a staunch Romney supporter, echoed many in saying that Bush and Rubio are soaking up much of the early attention — and that he hasn't yet decided who to back.
"They tend to be the ones people talk about, mostly because they're viewed as those who are thoughtful and who are trying to be wise and honest," Allen said of Bush and Rubio.
Yet with such a large Republican field, and no Mormon on the ballot, LDS voters aren't likely to coalesce around a single candidate again anytime soon.
"I don't think any of them are Romneys, as far as ability and sheer preparedness," Allen said. "But they are their own individuals, and we'll pick the best of them."