The chairman of the Democratic National Committee said Thursday that Nevada's five electoral votes are key to a Democratic presidential win and the party hopes to take back the state this year.
"We feel very competitive that we can win out there in Nevada, it's a very good state for us," DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe told Nevada reporters in a conference call.
"It obviously is a key, key state to the party. We need the Electoral College votes," he said.
President Bush beat Al Gore in Nevada 49.5 percent to 45.9 percent in 2000, and Republicans edge Democrats 41 percent to 40 percent among registered voters in the state.
But Democrat Bill Clinton won the state in the previous two presidential elections, and McAuliffe said Bush's policies on Yucca Mountain and other issues give Democrats an opportunity.
As a candidate for president, Bush said "sound science" and not politics should determine where the nation's nuclear waste is stored for the next 10,000 years. When he approved Yucca Mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the nation's nuclear dumpsite in 2002, top state Democrats and even Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn expressed outrage.
"George Bush broke his promise on the most important issue facing Nevada's future," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said Nevada could play a critical role in choosing the Democrats' presidential nominee when the state holds its caucuses Feb. 14. He said he expects the field to be whittled to two or three candidates by then; a nominee should emerge by March 10, he said.
McAuliffe also expressed confidence that Democratic Sen. Harry Reid will be re-elected in November. Party officials don't plan to spend money on the Reid race because they don't think he needs the help and there are other, more competitive races, he said.
"We're going to watch the race closely but at this point we feel very comfortable he is not on a target list in the Senate," McAuliffe said.
Three Republican officeholders are weighing bids against Reid. State Treasurer Brian Krolicki has formed an exploratory committee, and state Controller Kathy Augustine and Secretary of State Dean Heller also are considering running.
Responding to McAuliffe's comments, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said her party was "confident that Nevadans will be attracted to the president's pro-job and low-tax economic agenda."
"Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic Party have been playing politics too long with issues important to people in Nevada and all across the country. They've opposed a prescription drug benefit for seniors, they've opposed tax relief for middle-class Americans, and they have an agenda of protest and pessimism without anything positive to offer the American people, and we're confident that people will see through that," she said.