WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is moving staff out of Nevada to focus on other early voting states, a reflection of the uncertainty about the prominence of the first Western contest.
Two Edwards campaign officials said Wednesday that the Nevada staffers were being relocated to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. They would not disclose how many staffers were being moved but characterized it as a handful.
The Democratic National Committee gave Nevada a new early role in the presidential nominating process, allowing it to schedule its caucus on Jan. 19, between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. But New Hampshire has said it may go earlier than the Jan. 22 date set by the DNC to maintain its historic role in choosing the nominee, possibly moving Nevada back in the voting order.
The most recent Nevada poll, taken in late June by Mason-Dixon, showed Edwards in third place with 12 percent of the vote. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was leading with 39 percent, followed by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama with 17 percent.
Edwards has raised $23 million, less than half of the more than $50 million that Obama and Clinton have brought in. That leaves him fewer resources to spread across multiple states. He has declined to staff up in states that come on the Feb. 5 super Tuesday primary day, banking that victories in the early states will create the momentum needed to win contests that come later.
Jonathan Prince, Edwards' deputy campaign manager, said the 2004 vice presidential nominee is still committed to winning Nevada. The campaign has repeatedly said its goal is to raise $40 million this year, which it says will be enough to compete in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"Our strategy is unchanged - four states and $40 million," Prince said. "As the calendar fluctuates, with Iowa and New Hampshire moving up significantly, we need to accelerate hiring there to hit our organizing targets, so we're shifting some trained staffers there, but we are as committed as ever to winning Nevada."
The campaign advisers wouldn't say how many staff would be left, but said Nevada state director Bill Hyers will keep running the Edwards campaign in the state.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the campaign had more than 30 staff in Nevada as of July and is continuing to add staff. The Obama campaign recently opened an office in outlying Elko and is concentrating on rural outreach, Burton said.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment about its staff in the state.
Nevada was granted the early nominating date out of hope that a Western state with a large population of Hispanics and union workers will bring fresh issues to the debate. Many in the Democratic Party had expressed concern that two largely white states like Iowa and New Hampshire were not representative of diverse interests in the party.
Edwards has been a frequent visitor to Nevada, hoping that his appeal to labor would help propel him to victory there.
Edwards' advisers noted that Edwards visited the state last week and that upcoming trips by his wife and campaign manager are still on.
From the beginning, there have been questions about how seriously candidates would take Nevada and how hard they would work for the state's 22 base delegates. Nevada had only 17 caucus sites in 2004 - one per county - and just 8,500 of the state's nearly 1 million active registered voters took part. That was a huge jump from 2000, when fewer than 1,000 participated, and the increase overwhelmed the party and delayed results for hours.
This time, the party plans to have as many as 1,000 sites.
The Democratic candidates have been making the long trip across the country to campaign in Nevada, but not as frequently as they have been visiting Iowa and New Hampshire.