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Nevada Democratic debate tonight on CNN

Nevada voters are in the midst of a season of firsts: First combined visit from the key presidential candidates leading to the state’s first presidential caucus in January, resulting in Nevada’s political barometer possibly helping determine which candidate gets the nod in the primaries. Next on the schedule – the first ever 2008 presidential debate in Nevada, which looms on the immediate horizon.

Tonight, the Democratic National Committee and CNN will host the debate in Las Vegas.

While pundits speculate there’ll be the requisite share of candidate in-fighting over individual voting records on hot-button topics from immigration to health care to the Iraq war ” candidate and party representatives said the debate may portend something more significant – the emergence of Nevada as a representative of the West.



“In many cases, the issues that affect Nevadans and the rest of the nation are the same,” said Shannon Gilson, communications director for the Nevada’s Barack Obama ’08 campaign. “How do we get out of a war in Iraq? How do we bring it to a reasonable end? How do we provide health care? I think Nevadans are trying to answer these questions.”

The debate will air from 5-7 p.m. on CNN. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are slated to participate.



CNN’s Wolf Blitzer will moderate, and CNN correspondents Campbell Brown, Suzanne Malveaux and John Robert will sit on the panel, which will ask questions during the first hour. Prescreened Nevada voters will ask the candidates questions during the second hour.

Nevada-specific issues taking center stage in the national spotlight like labor, renewable energy, water use and immigration are likely to be discussed during the pivotal second hour, said Kirsten Searer, Nevada Democratic Party deputy executive director.

“CNN has set aside the second part of the debate for undecided Democrats ” it should be an interesting insight,” she said. “(Nevada) is increasingly a barometer for national issues.

“We have a growing diverse population, many of our residents come from states from around the country – we’re essentially a melting pot of the country. We’ve voted for every successful presidential candidate since 1908 except for one.”

Paul Smith, another spokesman from the Nevada Democratic Party, characterized the debate itself along with the activities surrounding it as “an important showcase for Nevada.”

“We’ve organized a number of events (here) around the debate,” he said. “A debate-watch party in (Las Vegas) and a panel discussions the day after at UNLV on national security and politics are (scheduled).”

Other political action groups are using the debate, the fifth of six scheduled and one less than two months from the Iowa Caucus, as way to push their own agendas.

ONE, a national grass roots organization, will host a concert tonight at UNLV. Organizers said the concert will not only serve as a kick off to the debate but to “raise awareness of extreme poverty and treatable, preventable disease,” ONE spokeswoman Megan Jones said.

“There’s real political will and muscle and real voters behind these issues in Nevada,” Jones said. “We have the tools and strategy and ability to fight poverty – but we’re missing political will.”

In Carson City, the Obama Campaign will host a “Debate Watch Party” at its headquarters – 172 West Winnie Lane – at 5 p.m.

“We hope even if people are undecided on a candidate they can come watch,” said Nick Kowalski, who staffs Obama’s Carson City headquarters. “We’ll have food and beverages and the debate (broadcast) with a projector.

“It’s going to be a good night.”


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