RENO, Nevada (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama took a small lead over rival Hillary Clinton in Nevada ahead of Saturday’s caucus, the party’s next contest, according to a poll released on Monday.
A Reno Gazette-Journal poll of 500 likely caucus goers found 32 percent favoring Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, 30 percent for Clinton, a senator from New York, and 27 percent for former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
With the poll’s margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, it appeared that any of those three leading candidates could have a chance at the top prize in the Saturday caucus.
Nevada holds the third Democratic contest after Iowa, which Obama won, and New Hampshire, where Clinton emerged victorious. Edwards came in second in Iowa and third in New Hampshire.
Campaign officials and observers are unusually cautious about the accuracy of Nevada polls because the state is holding a caucus for the first time, making turnout uncertain.
In a caucus, voters must dedicate one or two hours at a set time to debate and then stand in groups to express their candidate preference. Because it is a new process and falls on the first day of a three-day weekend, party officials expect only a small percentage of registered voters to show up.
In a state primary, voting is directly for candidates.
Clinton had a strong lead in Nevada polls as recently as a month ago and has the backing of many in the Democratic party there.
Obama received a boost last week when the state’s largest union, the Culinary Union, endorsed him and began urging its 60,000 members to show up in mass on Saturday.
Yet a lawsuit filed on Friday challenging caucus locations inside the famous Las Vegas casino hotels where many Culinary Union workers are employed could blunt the impact of union backing if the challenge is successful.
The Reno Gazette-Journal poll showed Sen. John McCain of Arizona leading among likely Republican caucus goers, with 22 percent. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had 18 percent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 16 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 15 percent.
Romney has devoted the greatest effort to the state among Republicans, and a loss here would be a blow to his national effort.
Obama campaigned On Monday in Reno, Nevada’s second casino city, first meeting at a round-table with four voters impacted by home foreclosure problems as the U.S. housing crises deepens. Nevada has the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, four times the national average, hitting one out of every 152 households.
The Illinois senator is spending much of this week in Nevada, and Clinton has visited Las Vegas and Reno in recent days in their tight contest, also to highlight the economy and the foreclosure crisis.
“Because of the sharp fall in the housing market, Nevada has been particularly hard hit,” Obama said. “There has been a deterioration of the economy.”
One woman said she had lost her home to foreclosure, and another said she had fallen behind in payments as her husband fell ill with cancer and was in a car accident.
“You guys have been going through some tough times, goodness,” Obama said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think anything else is allowed to go wrong for four or five decades.”
Edwards has not campaigned recently in Nevada but will appear with Clinton and Obama at a debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Editing by Philip Barbara