The influence of rural Republicans on the presidential caucus could bring to the forefront more traditional Republican issues -- smaller government and lower taxes -- than such hot-button social issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.
"We have more old-school Republican conservatives that are more focused on fiscal conservatism than moral or evangelical conservatism," Ernaut said.
Nevada Republicans "are different just because of the gambling and the brothels," said David Damore, a University of Nevada Las Vegas political analyst. "Prostitution is never really an issue -- it's just kind of the way it is."
What is an issue is the perception that the state Democrats are organizing as never before, while the Republicans try to shake off what Damore called a "national malaise" lingering from the 2006 midterm election.
"They haven't organized what you've seen the Democrats do with the healthcare debate" in March among presidential nomination contenders in Carson City, Damore said. Republican candidates come through Nevada and hold "basically a town hall meeting and then go to a fundraiser that's closed to the public. It will be interesting to see if they can get this together."
Ernaut believes Lowden's election as chairwoman signals the end of the internal turmoil. Lowden, who has a reputation for organization and the kinds of connections that can raise money, was recruited by Gibbons, with whom she served in the state Legislature along with Ernaut.
Ernaut and others say the proof that the state Republican Party remains strong can be found in the 2006 election results. Nevada Republicans won an open governor's seat and an open congressional seat, as well as reelected U.S. Sen. John Ensign.
"Nevada was probably the only state in the country that bucked the national trend of this last election," Ernaut said. "I think we proved beyond any doubt that we were organized, well-funded and able to turn out our voters."
But Democrats came within 4,000 votes of unseating incumbent Rep. Jon Porter in the district that covers most of the Las Vegas suburbs, and took four of the six statewide down-ticket seats that had been held by Republicans. Those results have invigorated Democrats.
Chuck Muth, a Carson City-based Republican political consultant and former executive state director, has a blog called Muth's Truths that was instrumental in organizing pressure on the party to move the caucus date to match the Democrats'.
Muth said Lowden has already made strides. A week after she took over, she held a Las Vegas fundraiser that Muth said made $40,000 and "took the party out of the red and into the black."
And though preparing for the caucus will be a challenge, party faithful believe the Republicans will be ready for their close-up.
"I don't think it's as bad as everybody else is saying it is," said Dan Burdish, a former state Republican executive director. "If you've got the funds, you're going to be able to organize. Most of it is going to be to make sure the candidates know what they have to do within the state, and getting them to have their people show up."