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An Inside View of the Nevada Caucuses

Tammy Soong joins us now from Reno.

Ms. Soong, I understand you're what they call a temporary chair of a Democratic caucus. You're running the caucus in your precinct?

Ms. TAMMY SOONG (Temporary Chair, Democratic Caucus, Reno): That's correct, at least if I get elected to be in the position of the caucus chair. It's sort of a formality that has to be done at the beginning of the meeting.

SIMON: Where are you going to caucus?

Ms. SOONG: We're caucusing at Brown Elementary School, which is just about a mile from my house.

SIMON: So how do these things work? I understand people are supposed to report by 11 a.m.

Ms. SOONG: Hmm. Checking is from 11 to 11:30 and after that, at 11:30, the actual meeting begins. There are some formalities that we go through. Then after, that we kind of read some letters from our congresswoman and our senator.

SIMON: Wishing you Godspeed and…

Ms. SOONG: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah. It's okay.

Ms. SOONG: And then at 12 o'clock, the doors are figuratively slammed shut and no one else can come in to the meeting. We take a head count of who has come to the caucus. After that, based on the attendees, we determine what's called the viability. It's based on the number of delegates that you're precinct is assigned.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SOONG: So it's anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent. So, for instance, if 100 people showed up to my caucus location…

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. SOONG: …25 people would have to be in each preference group in order to be a viable group.

SIMON: A preference group is a group of people who identify with a certain candidate.

Ms. SOONG: Exactly. What we do is for about 15 minutes, everybody talks, gets to talk about their candidates.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SOONG: And then we call for a vote and everyone goes into their corner. We count everyone up. And if you don't meet viability, in my example, 25 people, then you're considered a non-viable group. And then in that situation…

SIMON: Oh, disdain of it all, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SOONG: It's painful. In that situation, what those people will need to do is find a viable group, so again another 15 minutes and everyone gets to come over and try to convince those people to come over to their group - this is why our healthcare plan is better, we're a better candidate, that sort of thing. So after that 15 minutes, once the groups realign, then they recount. We actually have these preference cards where you mark your candidate, so we just kind of have a paper record. And then after that we elect delegates from the preference groups and that's it.

SIMON: Going to serve food at the caucus?

Ms. SOONG: There is. We have a couple of different jobs that you do at the caucus. There's a temporary caucus chair, one to be an assistant caucus chair. Then, there's a secretary and then a hospitality person, who is kind of in charge of the food. And they're doing coffee and water and probably muffins or something like that just so everybody stays happy.

SIMON: Excited?

Ms. SOONG: I am very excited. I think this is such an incredible opportunity for Nevada. I don't know if it's ever going to happen again. Clearly, we are in an incredibly unique situation right now where the spotlight is on us. And I'm really hoping that my fellow Nevadans all step up to the plate and actually participate in this, and show the rest of the country that we care, and that we have an opinion, and that we are, you know, interested in doing this. It's been incredible to be part of this process because we had so many candidates come through our city. This never would have happened before. Yeah, it's been incredible.

SIMON: Tammy Soong, who'll soon be running a Democratic caucus in her precinct in Reno, Nevada - biggest little city in the world.

Good luck to you.

Ms. SOONG: Thank you very much.

SIMON: And we have a correction. Last Saturday, we reported that John Edwards was concentrating his campaign resources on South Carolina, essentially leaving Nevada a two-candidate race. That was wrong. Mr. Edwards, in fact, added more events in the state and stepped up his competition there.

Our story also said that Senators Obama and Clinton had spent the previous week in Nevada. That was wrong too. It should have said they were planning to spend the coming week in Nevada.

If you want to follow the results as they come in, NPR's interactive election map should have the latest. You can find it at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.