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May 27, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Nevada GOP: The ugly, the bad and the good

Taking the pulse – yes, there is one — of the state’s Republican Party efforts in your Friday Flash:

• End of Nevada GOP as we know it, money edition: Numbers can mislead and distort, even lie. But sometimes, they can tell the story.

Such is the case with reports filed this week that indicate just how wide the chasm is on the money side between the state Democratic Party and the Nevada GOP. The Democrats have raised more than $2 million this year for their federal PAC, mostly ($1.7 million) from transfers from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that have been poured into a field operation that worked so well in 2008 for the president and 2010 for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Democrats have about $653,000 cash on hand.

By contrast, the state GOP has raised about $188,000 and has $167,000 on hand, with only $41,000 from the national committees. It’s like Goliath versus a David with a squirt gun – this fable may end differently.

The GOP also won’t start getting huge infusions with the way the party is seen in DC – that is, as a joke. So the shadow GOP, aka Team Nevada – will get nearly all of the national committee money.

So: $1.7 million to $41,000. Those numbers don’t lie.

• End of GOP as we know it, base-problem edition: We already know about the Ron Paul folks going off the reservation, some traveling a short distance to Romney apathy and others all the way to outer space. It’s bad enough to have the fluoride-averse Clark County chairwoman (Cindy Lake) and the ethics-averse state boss (Michael McDonald) – both carried in by the Paul wave. But the GOP Establishment – the RNC, Team Romney, the shadow GOP – gets it, so they are acting.

The Republicans realize Romney doesn’t light a fire under the faithful – maybe flickering match? – so they don’t want to take any chances in harnessing all that anti-Obama kindling. Thus, it was no surprise that a RNC official confirmed to me Thursday that the organization “is financially supporting an effort to bring clarity to the Nevada presidential election ballot.”

By clarity, the RNC operative means minimizing the chances that someone who wants to oust President Barack Obama but doesn’t feel committed to Romney can register a protest vote by casting a ballot for “none of these candidates.” That’s why the GOP powers-that-be gathered plaintiffs, led by ex-County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, and are suing to erase the decades-old tradition because they fear its gets populated by anti-Obama voters.

The lawsuit’s arguments are tortured – that voters somehow are disenfranchised because the state disregards them. But they had to say something in their zeal/desperation to ensure a nominee who doesn’t excite the base doesn’t get deprived of votes.

In case you think they worry too much – and in case you wonder why they may try (quixotically, perhaps) to stop the state’s Libertarian Party from nominating Gary Johnson to be on the November ballot – remember 1998: John Ensign lost to Harry Reid by 428 votes. The Libertarian candidate, Michael Cloud, received 8,044 votes and “None of these candidates” took 8,125.

What if those 16,000 votes had to be apportioned without those choices? Yes, some might not have voted. But those that still would have might have changed Nevada history.

That’s what this is about – and the stakes are much higher in a state that could determine who controls the White House and the U.S. Senate.

• End of Nevada GOP as we know it, silver lining edition: Most years in Nevada – at least in recent cycles – the quality of Democratic operatives has been far superior to the Republican talent. But for the first time in memory, the GOP has a team that is worthy of being on the same playing field.

Consider:

Experienced hands in Team Nevada such as the RNC’s Darren Littel and Kristin Vieira, both of whom have plenty of state experience; Sen. Dean Heller’s chief of staff, Mac Abrams, who has plenty of major campaign expertise; Chris Carr, a former Nevada GOP staffer turned RNC operative and on the ground here; lesser-known folks such as Ryan Cherry, a Heller veteran, and Joe Catania, a field guy for Nevada candidates and now with Team Nevada; and skilled campaign types such as Mike Slanker (Heller), Ryan Erwin (Rep. Joe Heck) and microtargeter Billy Rogers helping GOP state Senate candidates, who could help turn out base voters.

Add in a Hispanic outreach effort – hey, guys, maybe we should talk to Latinos this year! – that has money and bodies and a full integration of all these working parts and this Republican Party – that is, Team Nevada – can compete with the Democratic machine.

The GOP is not a shadow of its former self; the shadow is better than its former self.

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