Voters in the Western U.S. state of Nevada gather for caucuses at 250 locations Saturday to have their say in who will be the Democratic Party's nominee to oppose Republican President Donald Trump in the November national election.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the favorite in Nevada, where public opinion polls showed him with a clear lead above the next tier of candidates.
Sanders is looking to build on the early momentum his campaign has experienced with strong finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary earlier this month.
The same is true for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was atop the race in Iowa along with Sanders and finished a close second in New Hampshire.
Slightly ahead of Buttigieg in polls, but seeking a strong Nevada result after slower starts in the early voting states are former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Bloomberg joins fray
In early October, Biden and Warren were together leading national polls in the Democratic race. But they experienced a drop in support as Sanders moved in front and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the competition with hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising that propelled him to strong polling numbers.
According to polls, the other major contenders in Nevada are Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer.
Klobuchar surprised in New Hampshire with a third-place finish, afterward celebrating her campaign as an underestimated one that has "beaten the odds every step of the way."
Big early turnout
Democrats are hoping the Nevada caucus process goes more smoothly than the one in Iowa, where a problem with a new smartphone app and clogged phone lines caused long delays in reporting any results. After the counting stretched on for days, Iowa state party chairman Tony Price resigned.
Officials in Nevada are expressing confidence in the systems they have place, with state party chief William McCurdy telling reporters, "We will be successful."
"We've done a lot of work here, and what happened in Iowa will not be in Nevada," McCurdy said. "As soon as we heard what was happening on the ground in Iowa, we put our heads down and we got to work, and we made sure that we put together a process, and allowed for the training for our volunteers and our precinct chairs to have the ability to feel confident."
One factor that may help in Nevada is that the state allowed early voting this year, drawing a large number of people over four days.
The Nevada State Democratic Party said nearly 75,000 people participated in the early voting. That compares to about 84,000 people who took part in the Democratic primary in 2016.
McCurdy said the party was "really thrilled for the turnout."
The caucus process works differently from the national presidential election in which voters pick only one candidate to support.
At the caucuses, voters make their initial candidate choice, after which officials tally up the results and disqualify those candidates who do not meet a required threshold. Those whose candidates were tossed from the race then have the opportunity to move to another candidate and be counted among their supporters in the final results.
Unlike many of the states in the national election, the state primary and caucus contests award delegates to candidates on a proportional basis, so even coming in second or third can be valuable in amassing the support needed to march to an eventual victory at the Democratic Party's national convention in July.
Nevada has 36 pledged delegates at stake Saturday.
So far, Buttigieg leads the race with 22 delegates from Iowa and New Hampshire, followed by Sanders with 21; Warren, eight; Klobuchar, seven, and Biden, six.
More diverse electorate
The Nevada caucus is an opportunity for those who have support among a more diverse electorate to make up ground after competing in two states that are overwhelmingly white. Nevada's population is about 29% Hispanic, 10% African American and 10% Asian.
After a primary election in the Southern state of South Carolina February 29, the race will accelerate.
March 3 brings voting in 14 states, including delegate-rich California and Texas, along with the U.S. territory American Samoa and Democrats voting abroad. A total of 1,357 pledged delegates are at stake that day.
To clinch the nomination, a candidate needs to earn 1,991 pledged delegates.
Republicans will officially select their candidate, the incumbent Trump, at their convention in August.