The Debatable Debate

Seven Republican presidential candidates came to Las Vegas for a debate on Tuesday, Oct. 18, on CNN at the Western Republican Leadership Conference.  Some thoughts on that:

  • Originally, there were to be eight, but Jon Huntsman decided to boycott the debate. Why? New Hampshire holds its primary a week before any similar contest, and it’s fighting with Nevada over just when the voting will be. Huntsman’s loyalty to New Hampshire is touching. But as a wise politician said, if you want loyalty, get a dog. Huntsman’s campaign has yet to achieve liftoff in the polls, so he’s hoping to do well in New Hampshire, or at least well enough to boost his chances. He has had a presence there, but little presence in Nevada.
  • Which is, in itself, interesting to ponder. Huntsman served as governor of Utah before accepting an appointment as ambassador to China, from which he resigned to run for president (speaking of loyalty, his general-election opponent would be the president who appointed him ambassador). He’s Mormon. Many Republicans and political commentators have long since conceded Nevada to Mitt Romney, who is Mormon and was governor of Massachusetts, which is much farther from Nevada than Utah is. Why not challenge Romney here? Partly because most pundits and candidates have seen New Hampshire as the launching pad, not Nevada.
  • Speaking of Romney, he opened his campaign headquarters here on Monday, the day before the debate. The vehicle in which he showed up did not have the family dog strapped to the roof. Before you think that’s strange, he once drove about 1,000 miles on a family vacation with the dog in a cage, strapped to the car roof. If he hoped for an SPCA endorsement, there went his chances.
  • As the debate neared, Romney was in a virtual tie in the polls for the lead for the nomination with … Herman Cain. In Nevada, Romney’s main competition is likelier to be Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, as was the case in 2008. The Nevada GOP nearly had a civil war over Paul and his supporters, so it will be interesting to see whether time has healed all wounds.
  • Gov. Rick Perry of Texas hopes to revive his flagging campaign here, and he has high-powered help: an endorsement from Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who apparently had a bit of personal displeasure in dealing with Romney while Perry was nicer to him. If Sandoval is as popular as pollsters claim—and his approval rating is about the same as his percentage of the vote in 2010—and as powerful as he hopes to be within the Republican Party, it will be worth watching how Perry does in the debate and later on in the Nevada caucus, and what excuse Sandoval makes when Perry loses the caucus.
  • CNN sent 62,482 anchors and contributors to Southern Nevada for the event, in the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian, the flagship resort for Sheldon Adelson, a major GOP donor. It was a night for money: GOP candidates hoping for dollars, Adelson getting an evening-long advertisement for his hotel, and, ideally, those CNN anchors losing a lot of money here.

Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.