Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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Jon Ralston:

Time to start a new tradition

For a guy who says he knows nothing about poker, Bill Gardner sure can bluff.

And if Nevada folds its very strong hand now, it will squander the efforts four years ago of the state’s greatest card player, who has made a career of intimidating opponents despite holding demonstrably weaker hands.

Indeed, we are here in Caucus Calendar Limbo because of two mild-mannered but deceivingly formidable state political titans, both ascribed mythical powers in their home bases. The unassuming Harry Reid got Nevada into the big, early-state game, but Gardner, the reserved New Hampshire secretary of state, is threatening to bust the state out of the World Series of Primaries.

With a state GOP having difficulty finding its voice — or at least speaking with one — and Gardner playing Nevada Republicans like Daniel Negreanu would handle tourists wandering into the Bellagio poker room, this is a defining moment. And there is not one reason why Nevada should fold its Jan. 14 hand — even though Gardner is a master at making it seem as if he holds all the cards, and he is colluding with some desperate players down on their luck.

Instead of bowing to Bill and the Four Dwarves — Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum — Nevada, led by Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP Chair Amy Tarkanian, should end Gardner’s 35-year winning streak. It is time for a bad beat.

Let me be clear: I like Gardner. Immensely, in fact. He is a real trip to talk to, either able to stay on message (“All Nevada has to do is move 72 hours.”) or regale you with decades of history, much of it fascinating. And his status in this process, as some kind of prestidigitator who always has an ace up his sleeve, is remarkable. My national media friends practically treat him like a God and now I get the reverence.

But the facts are these: After the Republican National Committee, which awarded the national convention to Florida, allowed the crucial state to flout the calendar rules, Gardner did what he always does, which is to be implacable and unflappable. When Florida went to Jan. 31, forcing the four early states (Nevada, South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire) to jump ahead, Gardner patiently waited. South Carolina chose Jan. 21 and as Iowa contemplated the first week in January, Gardner declined to set a date and said Nevada should pick one first.

Nevada officials wanted to schedule the caucus on a Saturday because such an event, unlike a primary, takes most of the day — or at least several hours. Gardner talked to Sandoval last week about the problem — New Hampshire has a state law that says any state after its primary must be at least seven days hence.

Forget the arrogance of one state telling others how far they must distance themselves from the New Hampshire seminal event, where a nearly all-white, supposedly omniscient voting force carefully winnows the field before the mere mortal states can participate. Actually, don’t forget that.

So Nevada sets its date on the 14th and Gardner is silent until he posts a statement this week, with the usual historical overture and then followed by an ultimatum: Either Nevada moves to the 17th or later or New Hampshire goes in December.

I say: Let them eat snow.

Despite the illusion created by Gardner and his national media acolytes, Nevada holds all the cards here.

No one should care if the Four Dwarves boycott the state — they weren’t competing here anyhow. They give up nothing but their self-respect by this New Hampshire genuflection.

So call Gardner’s bluff — let him go into December. So what? Even if Iowa were to follow suit — and it should not — Nevada then has the first event of 2012, an island of significance, as NBC political maven Chuck Todd might put it.

Whether New Hampshire goes four days before Nevada or in December, it will still be the first-in-the-nation primary, so that is a straw man erected by Gardner and the Four Dwarves.

The other, ineluctable truth, despite the New Hampshire vaunted tradition, is that no state in the country is a better crucible for an early test than Nevada. Highest unemployment rate. Worst rates of foreclosure and of homes underwater. Nevada also has a great contrast between rural and urban areas and, let’s not forget, unlike New Hampshire, is a pivotal battleground in the November 2012 sweepstakes.

The RNC’s weakness and Florida’s greed caused this. And Gardner is taking advantage.

Republicans here really should be asking: WWHD?

The truth is the Nevada GOP owes Harry Reid for using his clout to get Nevada early-state status, which must be preserved. Sandoval and Tarkanian are hanging tough so far, and they should continue to do so.

It’s time to call Gardner’s bluff. He has no hand and Nevada holds all the cards.

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