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The G.O.P. Landscape in Nevada

The Republican nominating train is in new terrain: the West. Saturday’s caucus in Nevada will unfold against mountains and deserts, a far different backdrop from the first four states.

But do not be fooled by the scenery. Where elections are concerned, Nevada is an urbanized state. Most Nevadans live in cities, and that holds true for Republicans and for Republican caucusgoers. In the state’s 2008 Republican caucus, exit polls found just over half of voters were from urban communities, and another quarter was from the suburbs.

Where the Voters Are

Most Nevadans live in and around the state’s two largest cities, Las Vegas and Reno. Sixty-two percent of the state’s registered Republicans live in Clark County, home to Las Vegas. These are establishment Republicans, many are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A fifth of the state’s Republicans live in Washoe County, mostly near Reno. Washoe County is a swing area in general elections and is often described as fertile ground for retail, New Hampshire-style politicking. This contrasts with the Las Vegas area, where expensive ad buys are a must.

After Clark County and Washoe County there is a precipitous drop: no other county contains more than 4 percent of the state’s Republicans. The rest of the state is sparsely populated and mostly rural.

Rural voters in Nevada have unique concerns, like the federal government’s management of local land (take for example the controversy over nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain).

In fact, many of the issues unique to Nevada revolve around what residents see as a meddling Washington bureaucracy. Nevadans, particularly in the rural areas, are steeped in individualism, limited government and low taxes (Nevada has no personal income tax).

The candidates have been spending most of their time in Las Vegas and Reno, but Elko, Nev., in the Northeast, has seen visits by Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. The Elko area is a conservative enclave and a good sample of what Nevada is like outside its two big cities. Nevada is the country’s largest gold producer, and the area around Elko is dotted with gold and other mineral mines.

Who the Voters Are

Mining has been one of the only areas of the state’s economy not to be completely ravaged by the economic downturn. Nevada consistently posts among the worst unemployment and foreclosure rates in the county, and the state’s construction industry imploded with the housing market. In 2008, 37 percent of Republican caucusgoers said the economy was the most important issue. That number will most likely be higher this go around.

The dire economy may help explain the fractured support of Nevada’s Tea Party, which has been one of the more active Tea Party groups in the country, but cannot seem to agree on a standard-bearer in the presidential campaign. Rick Santorum won the endorsement of Sharron Angle, a senatorial candidate backed by the Tea Party, but it might be too little too late. A poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal found Tea Party support was split, with 37 percent going to Newt Gingrich, 27 percent to Mr. Romney and 20 to Mr. Santorum.

Another important voting bloc, as has been widely noted, are Mormons. Twenty-six percent of 2008 Republican caucusgoers were Mormon, and Mr. Romney won 95 percent of their votes. Mr. Paul, however, has been trying to make inroads into that support. His focus on the Constitution is a natural fit for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which considers the document to be divinely inspired. And Mormonism has a history of conflict with the federal government.

In 2008, there was also a substantial share of caucusgoers — 8 percent — who were Hispanic. While a majority of Florida’s Hispanics are of Cuban descent, Nevada’s Hispanics are mostly of Mexican origin. Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul have reportedly courted this group’s support more than Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum.

All in all, Nevada is a unique state, but it will still offer a decent preview how other Western states, like Arizona and Colorado, may vote in their caucuses and primaries.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.