Nevada GOP faces internal party discontent over moving caucus date

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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In the wake of moving the Nevada caucuses to January 14, the Nevada Republican Party has been pressured by all sides, and to top it off, state chair Amy Tarkanian is also facing mounting discontent among the party’s central committee members over the decision.

Reports surfaced Wednesday evening that the Nevada GOP is likely to move its caucus date, bowing to pressure from the RNC and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who have been pushing for a later caucus date to better accommodate the primary schedule and prevent New Hampshire from holding its primary in December.

But Tarkanian will also face pressure from members of her own central committee at a meeting Saturday, many of whom were angered when the caucuses were moved in the first place. If the date of the caucuses has not been pushed back by Saturday, some members say there will be efforts to do so. Many are upset that they were not consulted on the decision to change the date, which was made by the party’s executive committee.

Moreover, the resulting loss of half the delegates at the national convention, and the fact that several candidates have said they will boycott the caucuses if they are not moved back, has some worrying about whether there were sound motives behind the decision. That skepticism is compounded by the fact that the date change is perceived to provide inordinate advantage to one candidate: Mitt Romney.

All of this builds on pre-existing anger that the executive committee has proposed same day voter registration for the caucuses, which many members feel would cause problems, either because Democrats would infiltrate the caucuses, or because it would allow for the possibility of one person participating in multiple caucuses, without the fraud being noticed until much later. Thhas opposition has spililed over into anger at these more recent events.

“The anger is palpable,” said one central committee member.

A big problem, said the committee member, is the “lack of transparency” in the decision making process. Many see it as the product of a “smoke-filled, back-room deal.”

“The perception is that the current party leadership has been operating behind closed doors and not keeping the central committee informed, and there is some angst over this,” echoed a member of the leadership of the Clark County Republican Party. (RELATED: NH Republicans want Romney to join Nevada boycott)

Jeri Taylor-Swade, another central committee member, said that all the jostling “just causes a lot of confusion and questioning — why are they doing this?”

Much of the anger comes from the sense that this is an attempt to hand the caucuses to Romney.

One source familiar with the proceedings said that members see the move as “a sell out to Romney and RNC,” and believe that the decision amounts to the leadership “shoving a candidate down the throats of the voters.”

Jeff Waufle, a central committee member from Clark County, said that he was “dismayed” that the state party was “going to give Romney the nomination now pretty much.”

There is speculation that this perceived favoritism of Romney is why some of the other candidates — Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain — have said they will boycott the caucuses if the date is not moved, said Taylor-Swade.

Romney’s camp has denied lobbying for the caucuses to be moved.

Tarkanian called the criticisms “a bunch of nonsense.”

“I have been very fair and open, and everything I said goes through executive board. Everything has to be passed through the executive board. I’m not a dictator,” she said.

The allegations that the move was intended to help Romney, she said, were just “scare tactics” coming from the other campaigns.

As talk surfaced of a possible date change, Tarkanian said that the main focus was “making sure that what we do is going to be right for Nevada, right for the nation,” and that it was all ultimately tailored toward the end goal of defeating President Barack Obama.

She noted that being fourth was important, but stressed that Nevada would be “first in the west no matter what happens.”

Putting aside the suspicions of smoke-filled rooms and shady deals, central committee members expressed concern that even if there were legitimate reasons for the date change — such as ensuring that Nevada goes fourth and remains an early-voting state — perhaps they weren’t worth the risk.

The first central committee member said that the argument that it was about increasing Nevada’s influence seemed “disingenuous” because with several candidates boycotting, the loss of delegates, and suspicions swirling around the decision making process, “either the caucus is not going to be taken seriously and the impact will be minimal or people are going to essentially see it as having been rigged.”

“I don’t want our delegates to be cut in half,” said Waufle, who expressed concern that the delegates would be chosen by the executive board, which, in his opinion, left “too much room for hanky panky.”

In some cases, the fact that the date has remained in flux has simply caused confusion and logistical problems.

Each county must reserve a space for their caucuses, organize and train volunteers, produce the necessary materials, and get out the word to voters about when and where they have to be. In a large county like Clark County, said the member of the Clark County leadership, that’s “an incredible logistical effort” due to the necessity of training over 500 volunteers and reserving enough facilities to accommodate the over 200,000 Republicans in the district.

For some of the smaller counties, the issue is that a small number of people must now accomplish the task in a shorter period of time.

“Well, it’ll be more difficult because there’s Christmas right there before it,” said Marla Criss, Chair of the Elko County Republican Party, noting that around that time, it’s “hard to get people motivated to do things.”

“For Christmas,” quipped Nevada-based political consultant Chuck Warren, “Florida Republican Party should pitch in and buy Republican state party officers, staff and Presidential campaign staffs in Nevada, Iowa, et cetera a case of Advil. They have caused a series of migraines for these poor folks. To think these party volunteers, staff and campaign staffs thought they would actually enjoy Christmas this year.”

The new schedule, Criss said, “compresses all that time back with the holidays, and then our caucus, and then I think two weeks later we have our Lincoln day dinner… Being a smaller county, we don’t have a lot of people,” she continued, so “it’s the same people doing both things,” so it will require “a lot of juggling to get it done.”

Additionally, the county party had scheduled its Lincoln Day Dinner to correspond with the timing of the caucuses, in order to attract greater fundraising and potentially some of the candidates.

“It’s kind of impossible to do that now because you can’t have them over the Christmas holidays,” Criss said.

Criss said she was concerned with what kind of message the repeated movement of the caucus sent to the rank and file of the party.

“One of my concerns is … it looks bad for the party to be moving things around and not looking like we’re consistent…I guess the party loses credibility in a way,” she said.

Central committee members say much of this anger is likely to be taken out on the party’s leadership on Saturday at the central committee meeting when elections will be held for the party leadership.

“What we’re going to see on October 22 could be very effectively described as a fire storm,” said the central committee member. “Voters on the state central committee are looking to punish someone.”

“[Tarkanian’s] support is evaporating rapidly,” the central committee member said.

A couple sources speculated that even if a viable candidate does not challenge Tarkanian, it is possible that many members would abstain in protest and she would still not receive a majority vote.

“I’ve worked really hard, and I’m just going to continue to work hard, and we’ll see what happens Saturday, but I’m not too worried,” Tarkanian said when asked about a possible challenge. “I’m here to serve Nevada and make sure that it shines.”