Nevada Superdelegates Move Towards Kerry

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As Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry scored big wins in a seven-state contest Tuesday, three of Nevada's seven Democratic superdelegates said they've changed from uncommitted to Kerry "leaners."

National Committeewoman Dina Titus, a state senator from Las Vegas, said she's tentatively supporting Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., although she won't make a firm commitment until the Nevada Democratic caucuses Feb. 14.

"I'm leaning toward a Kerry-Edwards ticket," said Titus. "It would be good for Nevada and good for Democrats in general."

"John Kerry really fits," Titus added. "He's right on the economic issues and on social issues. He's been in war, he has experience. He has Senate votes on the record showing his opposition to the nuclear dump" that the federal government wants to open at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

State Democratic Party chairwoman and superdelegate Adriana Martinez has been uncommitted but said Tuesday she's also leaning toward Kerry, followed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

"John Kerry and his stance on the issues has always appealed to me," said Martinez. "But it's a close, close second for Dean, very close ... I love what he has done for the party, the energy he has created. I like him, and Edwards too."

Superdelegate and national committeeman Steven Horsford of Las Vegas said he also hasn't taken a formal position but tends to favor Kerry.

"Kerry definitely has the edge," said Horsford. "He considers himself the front-runner and I think that's true." He added that Edwards and Wesley Clark still have some support, but "it seems that Dean's momentum is running out."

Superdelegate Yvonne Atkinson Gates, a Clark County commissioner who's chairing Dean's campaign in Nevada, said she's sticking with Dean for now.

"When I say I support you, I support you until pretty much the end, until I can see it's doubtful," Atkinson Gates said. "That's just the way I am."

Atkinson Gates said she wanted to wait until after more caucuses this weekend because Dean "is back in the game" if he can some of the big states that are up.

"I'm not going to switch over now just because everything looks bad."

Of the three other Nevada superdelegates, Rep. Shelley Berkley and Sen. Harry Reid remain undecided and the party's vice chairman, Brian Wallace, favors Clark.

"Wesley Clark has demonstrated the most openness and willingness to embrace a native agenda," said Wallace, Washoe tribal chairman. "He's worked very closely on serious issues that affect the dreams of our community."

Berkley has said key factors in the Nevada caucuses will be the candidates' position on issues such as gambling and Yucca Mountain. She said both Kerry and Wesley Clark have pro-Nevada positions on Yucca Mountain and Kerry also has a stance on gambling issues that's OK for Nevada.

Reid questioned whether any delegate can emerge from the primaries and caucuses with enough support for the nomination prior to the party's national convention. A presidential candidate needs 2,162 delegates to secure the nomination.

Nevada will send a total of 32 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July. The seven superdelegates have no more power than the other delegates except that they are elected or party officials. Three pledged delegates will be determined at the state convention in April.

In related action, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, became the highest-ranking Democratic official in the state to endorse Kerry. Perkins called Kerry "the best fit for Nevada. He was a war hero, and he is an absolute no on Yucca Mountain."

Kerry's campaign in Nevada is led by former Rep. Jim Bilbray of Las Vegas and by state Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, the former state party chairman. The Kerry team hopes to boost their candidate's chances in Nevada with a visit before the Feb. 14 Democratic precinct caucuses.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Nevada Democrats can expect to have visits from "two, maybe three" viable presidential candidates by Feb. 14.