Thoughts on the Nevada Caucuses
Caucuses are fundamentally undemocratic, and have no business helping the Democratic Party decide its nominee. Caucuses take place in public. Caucus-goes are subject to direct pressure as they're voting. Caucuses are also time-consuming, at times tedious, and they discourage participation.
In Iowa, the caucus process probably hurt Senator Obama. Despite his large margin of victory, he likely would have done even better in a primary. Turnout was huge, by caucus standards, but not by primary standards. Obama's dominance among first-time participants was an indication of his ability to inspire new people to get involved. It stands to reason that he would have inspired even more new participants, had the process involved the simplicity and privacy of voting booths, rather than the more taxing and time-consuming process of caucusing.
In Nevada, the caucus process will probably help Senator Obama. Many members of the powerful Culinary Workers Union will be voting in front of their colleagues, forepersons, and union representatives. Should they wish to vote for anyone other than the candidate their union endorsed, the pressure may be too much. Obviously, this would have been the case no matter whom the union endorsed. There is also the legitimate grievance of the people who will be working at other caucus locations, and who therefore will be unable to participate in their own caucuses.
The system, in Nevada, is a mess. The timing of the lawsuit, however, was absurdly political, and it should not have prevailed. Some mechanism needs be established to enable the participation of the currently disenfranchised school employees, but disenfranchising others was not the way to do it. Beginning next week, it would do Nevada Democrats well to revisit the issues raised in the lawsuit, so that all who want to participate in the electoral process are able. Better yet, they should get rid of the caucus and switch to a primary.
The polls show Senator Clinton with a small but legitimate lead, in Nevada, and the political forces mustered by Senator Reid's son Rory, who is a Clark County Commissioner and former chairman of the state party, may help her prevail. The Culinary Workers Union will do what they can for Senator Obama. This race may come down to a simple power struggle between two powerful local institutions. Senator Edwards has no such institutional support, and is lagging in the polls.