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Something important is happening in Nevada. And it’s bad for Rand Paul.

In this Feb. 27, 2015, file photo, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Update June 2: Nevada won't be switching to a primary after all.

A couple years ago, Nevada seemed to be Rand Paul's ace in the hole in the 2016 presidential race. That's looking less and less likely now.

For two reasons: First, the Ron Paul supporters who basically took over the state party in 2012 have largely been replaced, and now, the state GOP is moving toward replacing the Paul-friendly caucus process with a regular primary.

Here's David M. Drucker reporting at the Washington Examiner:

There are two bills pending in the Republican-controlled legislature, including one in the Assembly carried by Speaker John Hambrick. If passed and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada Republicans voting in the 2016 primary would pull the lever at the polls as they do in a general election, rather than caucusing in groups similar to how the primary is conducted in Iowa. Republican insiders supportive of the legislation are expressing confidence that it will be enacted.
"There are pros and cons to everything," Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald told the Washington Examiner on Friday. But McDonald said he is pushing for a normal primary because he and many other Silver State Republicans are unhappy with how the 2012 caucuses went down.
"It was a total disaster the way it was handled. It was an embarrassment for the state," said McDonald, a veteran state GOP activist now in his second term as chairman.

Our own Katie Zezima has more details on the possible changes. Another potential change is opening the process to non-Republicans -- something that would have a less-clear impact on Paul's campaign.

But getting back to the primary question (so to speak), just how does this affect Paul? Let us count the ways.

1) Caucuses favor underdogs

Caucuses favor candidates with more devoted supporters and tend to draw from a smaller pool of voters, allowing for someone with more of a niche base to be more competitive.

The most obvious example here is, of course, Ron Paul, Rand's father. In the 2012 campaign, Ron Paul averaged 12 percent of the vote in primary states. In caucus states, it was about double that: 23 percent.

In 2008, it was even more lopsided. He took 16 percent of the vote in the average caucus and just 6 percent in primaries.

And it wasn't just Ron Paul. Rick Santorum, whose broader appeal in 2012 was certainly limited, put himself on the map with what was belatedly determined to be a win in the Iowa caucuses and then shockingly big victories in Colorado and Minnesota caucuses in early February. And back in 2008, it was Mitt Romney's underdog campaign and Barack Obama's team excelled in caucus settings. (Hillary Clinton actually won more votes in the nominating process but lost because of the caucuses.)

Which brings us to...

2) Nevada is a good state for the Pauls

Nevada has a libertarian reputation.

Ron Paul finished third in Nevada in 2012, at 19 percent. It wasn't quite one of his best states, but that had more to do with the field than with Ron Paul. Namely: There was a Mormon candidate, Mitt Romney, and Mormons have big pull in Nevada caucuses. About one-quarter of GOP caucus-goers in 2012 were Mormon, in fact, and Romney won about nine out of 10 Mormon votes.

Going back to 2008, Ron Paul finished second (again, behind Romney), with 14 percent. But caucuses aren't just about the popular vote, either; there are many more steps to the process, and when all was said and done, Paul won many more delegates than he otherwise would have both times. His team played to the system and won.

Given Romney was running in both 2008 and 2012, we can't know how well Ron Paul would have done in the popular vote without him. But Nevada is certainly the kind of state a libertarian can excel in.

Rand Paul doesn't have the same devoted base his dad did, to be certain, but if he could have activated those existing, committed supporters in a caucus setting, he could certainly have benefited.

3) More casual voters might have an obvious pick

There's no Romney, but come 2016, it's not hard to see someone like Marco Rubio doing well in Nevada. After all, he used to live in the state (he was also a Mormon as a young man) and is Hispanic.

As mentioned above, Mormons are about one-quarter of the caucus process, and Latinos were about one in 10 voters. That might not sound like a lot, but that's a significant base of support Rubio could tap if he can get either or both to coalesce around him.

Rand Paul certainly isn't his father and could potentially have a significantly bigger base of support. But his base suffers more constraints than other Republicans -- and especially Rubio. He could still do well in Nevada, but a primary is far less ideal.

4) Nevada is an early state

Because Nevada didn't really matter in the 2008 and 2012 nominating contests (by virtue of Romney's dominance), some underestimate its importance. But it's one of the first four states, and we would argue that if such a caucus/primary change were taking place in New Hampshire or South Carolina, you can bet we'd be talking about it more than this.

Yes, it's fourth out of four, but the race is still very likely to be competitive at that point -- meaning to the extent that a primary hurts Paul, it hurts him in a key state that will help winnow the field of candidates in the first month.

Of course, it's all very early, and many things have yet to be determined. But keep an eye on what the Nevada GOP does in the coming weeks. It matters.