Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2016

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Jon Ralston:

Here’s hoping GOP doesn’t botch Nevada’s big moment

I was wrong and I’m thrilled — and petrified.

For months, I have been lamenting — nay, whining — that the state GOP meekly capitulated to a bluffing New Hampshire secretary of state and a strong-arming Republican National Committee and cost Nevada any influence by moving from third in the nation to fifth on the nominating calendar. I still believe the state could have had much more of a say had Nevada been where South Carolina was. But whether the now-favored Mitt Romney or previously surging Newt Gingrich wins Florida on Tuesday, the race will still be alive when it arrives here Feb. 4, and all four of the remaining candidates will come, along with many national media folks.

And that’s what scares me.

The Nevada Republican Party has in recent years seemed to leap off Rube Goldberg’s drawing board. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid exerted hegemony over the state Democratic organization, populating it with seasoned professionals, the GOP seemed to be auditioning for a spot on “The Biggest Loser.”

And now, we entrust these people to put on a show for the country, the world? Yes, I’m terrified.

This should be a time of glory for the state but instead we have the Amy “Should I stay or should I go” Tarkanian chairmanship, we have an extra caucus at a school named for the man (Sheldon Adelson) whose family has given $10 million to boost Newt Gingrich and we have a prescription for chaos and possibly contested results that should be available to ravenous East Coast media outlets shortly before “Meet the Press” airs the day after.

It didn’t have to be this way.

I won’t reiterate all the reasons the caucus should have been on Jan. 14, as originally planned. There was no reason to move, except that the powers that be jellyfish didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or want to feather their nicer nests in Tampa at the national convention. So be it.

But this caucus has always been slated for a Saturday, so there were going to be observant Jews and others who would have argued they were being discriminated against. The idea that it had to be on a Saturday because it is a caucus and a caucus takes several hours of time doesn’t hold water. Many of the caucuses on the calendar — Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota, to name a few — are during the week. The fact that Nevada is relatively new at the caucus game and needs more time does not inspire confidence in the Feb. 4 balloting.

But even if it had to be on a Saturday, why not deal with possible objections early on — as in, months ago — rather than allowing Adelson and others to raise the issue at the eleventh hour and then schedule it at his eponymously named school. Yes, The Adelson School was picked before he and his wife, Miriam, ponied up $10 million for the Gingrich-aligned SuperPAC, Winning Our Future. But why take the chance considering the Las Vegas Sands chairman’s outsized influence in GOP politics?

Not surprisingly, the other campaigns are grumbling about the arrangement because A) No one trusts the state party B) Some think the potential for fraud is immense C) Others say that the Adelson siting has at least a perceptual problem and maybe a real one (i.e. Newt-packing).

I find it ironic that the Clark County GOP, which has pushed the extra nighttime caucus, is the petri dish for all manner of fraud conspiracy theories, whether it is about Reid not really beating Angle or secretary of state voter regulations, leading one top party official to argue voting “is a privilege not a right.”

These are the folks now demanding a caucus that could be an invitation to fraud? Yes, welcome to Nevada, national presidential campaigns and national reporters.

Having what surely will become known as the Adelson caucus could also make the results susceptible to challenge, even though state law generally says parties can set their own rules. But why should a county with 60 percent of the state’s Republicans have two caucuses while the other 16 only get to have one?

The state party folks announced with great enthusiasm Friday that Twitter will deliver the caucus results and they will have Google maps, too — a terrific plan. But I can just imagine the tweets as the day/night drags on: “A 24-hour-caucus for a 24-hour town — where are the results?” Or: “Is Sheldon Adelson counting the votes first?” Or: “Why don’t the four of them just play a game of craps for it instead?”

So, yes, I am worried.

No matter what religion you follow — or if you are an atheist and willing to make an exception — now would be a good time to say a prayer for Nevada.

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