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Caucus Countdown: Trump on top, Democrats deadlocked

Nevada Poll.PNG

A new poll released today by CNN/ORC shows a commanding Nevada lead for Republican Donald Trump and an essentially tied race between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The poll was conducted between February 10th and February 15th, questioning 1006 Nevadans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three points, coming three days before Nevada Democrats conduct their caucus, and six days before Nevada Republicans conduct theirs. Among the respondents, 245 said they were likely to caucus for Republicans; 282 said they would caucus for Democrats.

In the Democratic race, the poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders 48% to 47%, with 5% having no opinion. It also reflects Sanders growing popularity, arriving in Nevada having nearly beaten Clinton in Iowa and trouncing her in New Hampshire. The last CNN/ORC poll, conducted in October before the Democrat's first debate in Las Vegas, had Clinton leading Sanders in Nevada 50% to 34%.

"Well, I think Bernie's got the momentum," says Las Vegas Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, a Sanders supporter.

In the closing days, both campaigns are waging a pitched battle on the ground and in the air to win support, with the Clinton campaign continuing its effort to bring in high-profile surrogates. At a noon barbeque in downtown Las Vegas, Texas Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee dismissed any talk of a dead-heat. "Well, let me just say this: polls don't vote," she told me. "Hillary has been in Nevada since last year."

The Congresswoman said she spent part of the morning knocking on doors for Clinton. "I didn't get one negative door slam or one negative 'I'm not voting for Hillary'."

Both Clinton and Sanders are returning to Southern Nevada, with events scheduled for the remainder of the week. Tomorrow night, they're appearing in a town hall focusing on Latino issues, which will be televised on MSNBC from Las Vegas.

"When I listen to Bernie talk, he has that vision that you see in a President," Swank says. "He reminded me of that excitement, that hope, that Obama had when he ran in 2008."

For Republicans, Trump remains leading the field in Nevada, getting 45% support. The two next closest candidates are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, getting 19% and 17% respectively. The last CNN/ORC poll, conducted in October, also showed Trump leading with 38% but indicating how much the race has changed, four months ago Ben Carson was second, with 22%. In the latest Nevada poll, Carson, Kasich and Bush trail, getting 7%, 5% and 1% respectively.

"My immediate reaction is to be very dismissive of the poll," says the Nevada Cruz Campaign's Ryan Hamilton. He tells me the sample size of likely GOP caucus-goers, 245 people, is too small, and he claims he's hearing something quite different.

"We really only hear one other name on the phone and that name is Donald Trump," Hamilton tells me, "and to be perfectly honest, we're hearing more Cruz, and less Trump."

For Nevada Republicans, the field may be impacted by what happens this Saturday in South Carolina, which is holding a GOP primary that has been nothing short of brutal. Gloves are off. Like Nevada, polls there are showing Trump with a commanding lead, with Cruz, Rubio and, to a lesser extent, Bush bunched behind.

In Nevada, voters will deliver the definitive poll. For Democrats, the CNN/ORC poll says 25% are still undecided. For Republicans, it's a point higher, at 26%.

Count Republican Brian Lemons among those who has not made a pick, yet. I spoke to him outside a strip mall at Rancho and Charleston.

"I was a little dismayed by the last debate," he told me, referring to last Saturday's face-off in South Carolina that saw Trump as the main target. "I thought it was kind of a circus and didn't think it showed the Republican Party in a good light, so hopefully they'll clean that up," he said.

What does he think about the GOP field, I asked him.

"It's interesting. Good entertainment," he said.

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