Nevada caucus sites open for business

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 04: Nevada delagates make their way to a Republican caucus polling station at Centennial High School on February 4, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada is the first state in the West to vote as Republicans go about choosing their presidential candidate. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images) David Becker

Nevada delegates make their way to a Republican caucus polling station at Centennial High School on February 4, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Becker/Getty Images
Republican caucus-goers have begun gathering in community centers, veterans' halls and schools across the state to announce their preference in the Republican nominating process.

Nevada is the fifth state in the nation, and the first Western state, to choose among the candidates in the Republican presidential field. Only registered Republicans can participate in this contest. There are 400,000 active registered Republican voters in Nevada, and 10-15 percent of them are expected to participate in Saturday's events.

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Most caucuses will be finished this afternoon, but a special caucus session will take place this evening to accommodate religious observance.

This is only the second time Nevadans have caucused, the first was in 2008 when Nevada became a bigger player in the presidential nominating contest by creating the caucus and moving the date closer to the beginning of the process.

To encourage greater participation, the Nevada Republican Party urged participants to register early, but most are expected to sign up at their caucus site - as long as they have identification.

In sum, 28 delegates are at stake to be handed out proportionally at the state convention later this spring, which is where the delegates will officially be divvied among the candidates.

The Silver State is the seventh largest state by land mass but ranks 35th for population. Most of the 2.7 million people live in southern Nevada, which is home to the sprawling city of Las Vegas. Because there are more registered voters in Clark County than in the rest of the state combined, candidates focus much of their attention there.

Las Vegas is also home to one of the worst economies in the country. One out of 177 homes are in some form of foreclosure, and unemployment sits at about 12.7 percent (although the latest numbers won't be available until March), much higher than the national average.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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