Early February gave both state parties an opportunity to put their organizational skills to the test. The returns are in, and for one party they’re not pretty.
• The GOP caucus was a disaster. Mitt Romney won, but by the time Nevada Republicans finished painstakingly (indeed, painfully painstakingly) counting the ballots, the caucus was old news and Romney’s victory received only scattered national attention. Caucusing on Super Bowl weekend didn’t help, but when the Nevada GOP tried to move the date, it capitulated to growling from New Hampshire Republicans unhappy that Nevada might steal their thunder.
The special Saturday-night caucus, arranged to accommodate observant Jews who could not attend during the Sabbath, didn’t help, either. Whether Sheldon Adelson pressed for the special meeting is besides the point politically—it was at the school named for him and was supported by him, so his name was associated with it. At the meeting, Republicans had trouble figuring out who could vote, robo-calls were used to increase turnout by the not-necessarily-Jewish supporters of Ron Paul, anti-Semitic statements were allegedly made by said supporters, and the whole event began to look like something that begins with “cluster.”
Nevada Republicans also managed a publicity coup in the Los Angeles Times for ejecting its Las Vegas correspondent, Ashley Powers, from the caucus amid cries that she was a spy and liar. A party official informed her that witnesses said she’d tried to record them (she hadn’t). Meanwhile, national media tried to call the county party chair and couldn’t reach him.
Nevada Republicans wound up appearing out of touch, incompetent, paranoid and dishonest. Ultimately, organization starts at the top, from chairs to Gov. Brian Sandoval. The governor has tried to heal the party’s woes, but unity is never easy, especially when crazies are loose.
• Democrats had an opportunity for infighting, and passed it up. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen announced his withdrawal from the Democratic race in House District 1 against former state Sen. and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus. Titus led in fundraising more than 2-1, picked up several union endorsements and has far more grassroots campaign experience than Kihuen.
Originally, Titus was the one swimming upstream. The president and national party want to encourage Hispanic turnout, which should favor Democrats. Nevada’s top Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid, announced his support for Kihuen and invited him to the State of the Union, and veterans of Reid’s campaigns worked for him. But the money never poured in, suggesting Democrats and their supporters chose to wait and see. Waiting, they saw Titus as a stronger candidate.
Whether or not Titus and Kihuen are thrilled with each other, they said and did all the right things. He made the requisite comments about unity and vowed his support. She praised him. Reid praised everybody.
• Does all this matter? Yes. A well-run political party can energize and direct individuals and groups to act on behalf of a ticket, benefiting all Democrats or Republicans.
Oddly, Republicans and Democrats acted like one another’s stereotypes. Will Rogers famously said he didn’t belong to an organized party, he was a Democrat. Meanwhile, Republicans are reputed to be businesspeople with impeccable organization skills.
The problems surrounding the caucuses may signal trouble as the general election nears. The Republicans came into the caucus with everything going for them: a Mormon frontrunner in a state with a significant Mormon population, an energized Tea Party movement and a president who—to put it lightly—stokes the passions of the base. And caucus attendance dropped by 10,000 from 2008.
The rank-and-file are important, and they’re still energized. But leadership counts. The party will have to get organized—and soon.