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Edwards Can Win Nevada

HENDERSON, Nevada - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent much of Thursday in California, looking ahead to February 5 mega-states that could decide the Democratic nomination. John Edwards made a brief stop in the Golden State as well, but he used the bulk of his day to stump across neighboring Nevada, which holds its caucuses this Saturday. That should come as no surprise: Given its demographics and the amount of energy the former Senator has put into the state, Nevada is likely to either boost Edwards back into a legitimate three-way race or be the final nail in his campaign's coffin.

During his 2004 campaign, Edwards and fellow candidate Dick Gephardt talked about their fathers' blue collar occupations so much that they should be designated (D-Mill Worker) and (D-Milk Man), respectively. Both battled for union backing, along with Howard Dean. This year, Edwards has fared much better among unions, and lately, Edwards' reliance on his father's background as a way to connect with voters has made a comeback. He has always enjoyed strong support from labor unions, and among both groups of voters, Nevada offers fertile territory.

Nearly 14% of Silver State employees belong to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And for all the talk of the importance of the Las Vegas-based Culinary Workers' Union, which is backing Obama, Edwards enjoys significant support among other key unions in the state, including groups representing communications workers, carpenters, steel workers and transport workers.

By contrast, Edwards has been spending significant time and resources in South Carolina. There, just over 3% of workers belong to a union. If Edwards is to take advantage of a decade of good relations with labor, Nevada should be the state he targets.

Top Nevada elected officials have built what should be a good backbone for an Edwards organization. He has the support of the Speaker of the state Assembly and a number of other important legislators, and his staff includes several field experts and union leaders who should be adept at turning out caucus-goers. His organization is deeper in South Carolina, but the Nevada cavalry is nothing to scoff at.

Finally, Edwards' poll position is simply better in Nevada than it is in South Carolina. In the Palmetto State, he trails leader Obama by some 30 points. In Nevada, he trails by as much as ten. Both states present a challenge for the former Senator, though a 30-point mountain is much more terrifying than a ten-point hill.

If Edwards remains intent on staying in the race through the convention, he will need to win at least a few delegates. Even better, he needs to finish better than a distant second, as he did in Iowa, and certainly better than the distant third New Hampshire provided. Edwards has always banked on an impressive South Carolina showing. Perhaps, in the final two days before caucus-goers head out on Saturday, his team should throw everything it can at Nevada, instead.