The Nevada Republican Party learned a tough lesson this week: if you take on New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and his state’s first-in-the-nation primary, you will lose.
On Saturday, Nevada Republicans folded under pressure and voted to move their caucuses to February 4. Nevada is one of the four states sanctioned by the Republican National Committee to hold its presidential nominating contest earlier than other states. Initially, the caucuses were scheduled for late February, making Nevada the third state that Republican hopefuls would be competing in.
But when Florida, which is not meant to be an early state, jumped the line and moved its primary to January 31, the whole schedule was thrown into disarray. South Carolina and Iowa moved up their contests to January to maintain their placement, and Nevada moved its caucus date to Saturday, January 14.
That did not sit well with Gardner, who has served as New Hampshire’s secretary of state for the past 35 years. State law gives him sole control over setting the date of the primary. It also requires that there be seven days between its primary and any other similar contest. A January 14 Nevada primary would make that impossible.
Gardner responded with a statement requesting that Nevada delay its primary by at least 72 hours, which would allow New Hampshire to hold its primary on January 10 and still have the required seven-day window. If Nevada failed to comply, he threatened to move the New Hampshire to early December.
The Nevada GOP stood firm, but it quickly became clear that there was little support for their position. Five of the Republican presidential candidates vowed to boycott the Nevada caucuses if the date were not moved. Iowa Republicans denounced Nevada’s intransigence. The Republican National Committee stepped in and asked Nevada to move their date back. Ultimately, Nevada caved.
Through all this, Gardner came to be seen as a larger than life figure, single-handedly able to hold the entire primary schedule hostage to his particular demands. Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston referred to him as “King Bill,” and a new Twitter hashtag, #billgardnerfacts, was born to describe his mythic feats.
“God wanted to create the world in 11 days. Bill Gardner said seven,” quipped Ralston on Twitter. “Bill Gardner did not go to UNH, UNH went to bill Gardner,” joked another tweeter.
It was Gardner’s moment in the spotlight. But the man who has served as secretary of state for the past 35 years prefers to stay in behind the curtain.
At the thought of a profile being written about him, he practically recoiled.
“Oh, come on, oh—,” he said, sounding disappointed and somewhat confused.
“Well, I’d rather you do a story about New Hampshire and the primary — tell that story,” he said.
“Come here and watch it. Do a story about a lesser known candidate or somebody who believes they have something important to say to the country and don’t get a lot of attention … it might be more fun, actually to do that,” he added somewhat sheepishly.
Indeed, an hour and a half of conversation, even with Gardner doing most of the talking, turned up little information about the man himself. What did come out of it was an intriguing history lesson.