Supporters of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are getting ready for party caucuses in Nevada Saturday. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Las Vegas, Nevada, the state is holding the first presidential contests of the year in the Western part of the country, and the results may indicate trends throughout the West.
The candidates, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, have made last-minute appeals to the voters in media ads.
"It is time we had a president who stands up for all of you," said Clinton.
Democrat Barack Obama made almost the same plea to prospective caucus-goers at a rally at a Las Vegas high school.
"You will have somebody in the White House who is thinking about you and listening to you and fighting for you and standing up for you, if you will stand up for me, if you will caucus for me," he said. "Then together, you and I, we're going to change this country."
When Democrats came to Las Vegas to hold a debate this week, their supporters were out in force.
Suki Stanley and Barb Borden were classmates of Hillary Clinton's in elementary school in Park Ridge, Illinois. Stanley says they came here to support her, impressed with her stand on issues including education and health care.
"We're in Nevada because we have been friends of Hillary for years, but more importantly we know her leadership abilities and her commitment to this country, and to people, particularly women and children," she said.
Behind the scenes, volunteers are urging party members to come out Saturday to vote for their candidate. Some of the volunteers are working the phones trying to build support for Republican John McCain.
Republican state senator Dennis Nolan says issues important to Nevadans and others in the West include immigration and managing precious resources such as water, which is often in short supply in the region.
"Ideologically, the western states tend to vote very similarly on a lot of issues - Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, and even Colorado, kind of clump together on the issues," he said. "And so with Nevada having a caucus on the front end of this election, being the first Western state, I think it's an excellent opportunity to poll how the western states are going to vote."
The candidates have also focused on the war in Iraq, immigration reform, border security, terrorism, health care, education, and an economy hurt by a downturn in the housing market.
With the Nevada caucuses being held in January this year, and other contests soon to follow, Republican caucus spokesman Steve Wark says the race is wide open and more states are getting a voice in choosing the nominees for president.
"We're relevant and many states are relevant," he said. "Too often when the caucuses and the primaries have been spread out over the last 30 to 40 years, oftentimes the nominee was chosen well before any of the states really had a chance to speak to the issue. And so this was a mad rush in 2008 to try to push their dates up try to be as relevant as possible."
At the College of Southern Nevada, which cosponsored this week's Democratic Party debate, student leaders talked politics. Taylor Gray, a Democrat, has decided to back Mrs. Clinton, impressed with her performance in the debate.
Republican RaQuan Snead, 20, has not made his choice yet. He has been interested in politics since he first voted two years ago.
"I was unable to participate in a presidential election, but I got to participate in some of our governor's election and some of our city council elections," he said. "So this will be the first time I get to participate in the presidential elections, and I'm very excited about that."
Republican candidates have also been focused on another contest Saturday, the South Carolina primary, although Republican Mitt Romney has been shuttling west for appearances in Nevada. The three leading Democrats - Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama - have each held several events here.
Saturday's Nevada caucuses are also being watched closely for possible trends among the Hispanic voters who could play a pivotal role in the presidential election in the Southwest. Nearly one in four Nevadans is Hispanic.
On February 5, which analysts call "super Tuesday" more than 20 states will hold primaries or caucuses, including the Western states of Colorado, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The results from those contests are expected to either point to the Democratic and Republican frontrunners in the race, or at the very least, eliminate the weaker candidates.