“If Sanders wins here by a large margin, I think he has a chance to win South Carolina and be in a very strong position going into Super Tuesday,” Jon Ralston, the editor of The Nevada Independent, said in an interview, referring to the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29. “But if he does not, if there’s an upset or if Joe Biden finishes a strong second and stories are written about how he’s the comeback kid, that could change everything.”
The Democratic candidates sparred in a fiery debate on Wednesday in Las Vegas, but it may not have much impact on the state’s results. That’s partly because the focus of the night fell most heavily on Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, who came under merciless attack from all five of his onstage rivals — but who is not competing in the Nevada caucuses.
Besides, the early-voting period, which ran from Saturday through Tuesday, was already over by the time the candidates debated. According to the Review Journal/AARP poll — taken just before early voting began — roughly three in five Nevadans planned to vote in that window, rather than on caucus day. And sure enough, the Nevada Democratic Party has reported high early turnout (this was the first time Nevada has offered early voting). Officials estimate that roughly 75,000 people participated; that’s nearly equal to the total number of Nevada caucusgoers in 2016.
The party said that about half of those early voters were first-time caucusgoers, according to CNN — a possible boon to Mr. Sanders, who outperformed his rivals among first-time caucusgoers and voters in the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, according to entrance and exit polls.
It is possible that the results of Nevada’s caucuses won’t be the main headline on Saturday night: That could end up being the caucus process itself, in the event of a fiasco similar to what occurred in Iowa. There were lines and delays at many early-voting sites; the iPad system that was set up to try to avert an Iowa-like disaster proved slightly cumbersome, according to some reports, though no major hiccups have been reported.
It remains to be seen whether the caucuses will go off without a hitch, or if final results will prove elusive — as they still are in Iowa.
“If there’s a huge turnout on caucus day, and it’s 50,000 or 70,000 or 80,000 people, I’m not betting on anything,” Mr. Ralston said.