Nevada GOP Shows How Not to Conduct a Caucus

Confusion, “clueless media policies,” day-late results

NEVADA — Political reporters here—after clearing some hurdles placed in their paths—have seized on two essential elements following Mitt Romney’s sizable win in Saturday’s GOP caucuses in the Silver State.

First, a strong, cohesive organization is vital for victory.

Second, Nevada’s Republican leadership is neither strong nor organized. And, as at least one journalist observed, that could presage poorly for the GOP come November’s general election in this Western swing state.

The final results of Saturday’s caucuses (released at 1:00 a.m. Monday, some 36 hours after the last ballots were cast, due to discrepancies in vote totals) showed Romney garnering 50 percent of the votes from a meager 33,000 or so caucus-goers statewide. (The 2008 GOP caucuses here drew some 44,000).

The former Massachusetts governor had been predicted to win, but pollsters and pundits didn’t expect such a lopsided victory; Newt Gingrich, who finished second, got only 21 percent of the ballots.

As the Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon pointed out, Romney built a strong organization in Nevada in 2008, when he also won the Republican caucuses here. Wrote Damon on Sunday:

Building on a foundation of support from the Republican establishment and a network of volunteers, the former Massachusetts governor was best positioned to respond to Nevada caucus rules that were in a constant state of flux and blunt the momentum of the conservative alternative du jour.

While the Romney camp was well-organized, Nevada’s GOP leadership (or lack thereof) was far less so, and emerged from the weekend with a collective black eye—having overseen, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci put it in a headline, “a jackpot of embarrassments.”

For one, there were the long-delayed caucus results (“The prolonged count,” the Las Vegas Sun reported, “capped a caucus marked by disorganization, bickering and bumbling at nearly every turn.”) For another, there were what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Marinucci described as “clueless media policies” in place at multiple caucus sites. In some of Nevada’s rural counties, Marinucci reported, there was no media access to the caucuses whatsoever. And what of populous Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and its suburbs? More Marinucci:

Nevada’s Clark County GOP made it downright frustrating to cover an election— it appears by design. The county organization, under the guise of “security purposes,” made media jump through hoops to even get in to observe these gatherings. And they weren’t unusual here: about a third of the state counties didn’t allow media coverage and observation of their election at all—an outrageous decision that should have been condemned by state party officials.

Just three hours after caucusing began on Saturday, the Los Angeles Times’s Ashley Powers reported: “I got kicked out of a Nevada caucus.”

Powers was wearing a press badge issued by the Clark County Republican Party as she started taking notes at Precinct 1721’s caucus in suburban Henderson. Wrote Powers:

… the verdict on my presence was loud, and near-unanimous.


“You’re a bunch of liars!” someone shouted.

“Spy! She’s a spy!” someone else said.

A woman waved a button at me, which said: DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA.

Tough crowd, I thought.

Then a man walked over to me and said if I didn’t leave, he’d call security. So I left the room while voters cast their ballots.

A short time later, a male party volunteer tried to tell precinct 1721’s leaders that they were wrong, but at that point I was persona non grata. When I tried to reenter the room, an elderly man said people were still voting, grabbed my arm, pushed me away and shut the door in my face.

Powers dutifully reported that later a GOP official called to apologize. But the damage was done; Powers’s story was out there.

And then there was the special after-Sabbath caucus Saturday evening at a suburban Las Vegas private school, the Adelson (yes, that Adelson) Educational Campus, where Molly Ball, a staff writer for The Atlantic and a former political reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, received a less-than-welcome response to her request to interview one caucus-goer: Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, together with his wife, donated $10 million to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC, and found himself surrounded Saturday night by a sea of Ron Paul supporters. Wrote Ball:

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, sat patiently near the front as caucus-goers, the great majority of them Paul supporters, stood to speak for more than an hour. He leaned his wrist on a cane while she checked her iPhone. Approached by this reporter, he barked, “No comments,” and his bodyguards politely indicated that rule would be enforced.

Confusion reigned at the evening caucus, which started hours after the state’s other caucuses closed, and where caucus-goers were asked to sign affidavits stating they weren’t able to vote earlier in the day due to religious reasons. What of Nevadans who weren’t able to caucus earlier in the day due to other reasons? The Las Vegas Review-Journal described it as a “raucous” caucus, and an Associated Press account captured the uncertainty and disorder there:

Stay-at-home mother Cindy Koogler, 33, said she tried to vote in the morning, but was turned away after arriving an hour late because she was caring for her young son. A [Ron] Paul supporter told her about the Saturday night caucus.

“When you have a kid and he’s in the middle of potty-training, you can’t take him with you,” she said of the morning vote.

Koogler said she signed the declaration saying she was a religious voter and was not questioned.

But one Paul supporter refused to go along with the ruse, saying Republican leaders were encouraging voters to perjure themselves and refusing to move from the head of the line as Jewish rabbis, families with young children and elderly voters patiently waited in line behind him to be allowed into the caucus location.

“People are lying as they are walking in,” the protester, high school teacher Stephen Melancon, yelled at organizers. “You are setting them up to lie.”

Clark County GOP chair David Gibbs said he wasn’t sure how officials would address the voters who weren’t actually there because of the Sabbath, adding that it was up to each person to tell the truth.

Sure, America’s still in the thick of the primary and caucus season. But November’s general election is a mere nine months off, and that isn’t a lot of time for Nevada Republicans to pull together the kind of organization they’ll need if they hope to turn this key state red. After covering the weekend circus, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Marinucci offered this summation:

Nevada state GOP chair Amy Tarkanian boasted this week that her state will turn Republican in the next presidential election. Not likely if her state GOP runs that show like it ran the Nevada caucuses…

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Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who has covered political campaigns for various media outlets in the U.S. and for the BBC in the U.K.