(Jim Clark) – The first pre-caucus “Basque Fry” of this century, an Iowa-type presidential candidate gathering, was held at a ranch in Gardnerville last weekend. It was organized by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Senator James Settelmeyer who created the sponsor, Morning in Nevada political action committee. The event was advertised on the radio, TV, newspapers, electronic mail, social media and just about every other means possible and as a result it was sold out with 1,500 participants. The four best-performing presidential candidates on the Fox News debate were there and in fine form. No one went away disappointed.
Fiery former HP Chief Carly Fiorina, brilliant orator Ted Cruz, soft-spoken Dr. Ben Carson and union fighting Scott Walker all took turns inspiring the enthusiastic GOP crowd, pointing with pride at traditional America and viewing with alarm the road to socialism Pres. Obama has the country on.
To understand the importance of this gathering to the upcoming Republican caucus you need to know a little about the history of Nevada becoming a political caucus state. Until 2008, Silver State Republicans and Democrats voted for their choice of presidential candidate in the state’s primary election, historically held in September. Since the national parties hold their conventions in July or August the Nevada results were meaningless. In an effort to bolster Nevada’s national stature the legislature moved the primary election date to June. However, with the Iowa caucuses held in January followed by primary elections in New Hampshire, South Carolina and other states, candidates in both parties amassed overwhelming delegate commitments well before Nevada’s June election. So presidential candidates didn’t bother to campaign in Nevada before the general election.
In 2007, US Senator Harry Reid (D – NV), who controls the leadership and finances of the Nevada Democratic Party, persuaded Democrats to support a caucus system for the 2008 election. Caucuses are the exclusive prerogative of the political parties and once a major party central committee votes for presidential selection by caucus that party has the exclusive right to set the date and establish rules as well as the obligation to fund the costs. Naturally Democrats set the date very early in the election year to induce candidates to campaign in Nevada. Faced with a choice of remaining irrelevant by retaining a June primary election or following the Democrats’ lead the GOP voted to also adopt a caucus system.
With no experience in running caucuses, it turned out not to be a pretty sight. For one thing the two major political parties had to arrange and pay for whatever voting process they chose to employ. They also had to make rules regarding registration cutoff, absentee ballots, early voting, etc. The responsibility was delegated to the seventeen individual county political organizations who did the best they could. One problem from the start for Republicans was that with no paid staff it was impossible to have an early or absentee voting system. As a result the actual polls were open only half a day, usually a Saturday, at public school buildings. This resulted in negligible voter turnout ranging from 8% to 12%. And when it came to the 2008 national convention even though McCain won in Nevada some McCain delegates bolted to Ron Paul. The 2012 experience was somewhat better but the voter turnout remained low.
2016 will be Nevada’s third presidential candidate caucus. It is scheduled for late February so the prospect of winning in Nevada will keep national candidates coming back to the Silver State. The fact that Laxalt and Settelmeyer secured funding for the Basque Fry from casino executives Sheldon Adleson and Steve Wynn, as well as a host of other sources, is a strong indication that Nevada’s GOP caucus is reaching maturity and can be expected to rival the Iowa caucuses for candidate and media interest.
Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.