Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Amid all the other mishaps and scandals that have sullied the Republican brand recently, the state party’s canceling of its convention may seem insignificant.
Little wonder, what with the other news in just the past few days: New revelations about the Justice Department’s hiring only lawyers who subscribed to President Bush’s conservative orthodoxy, and last week’s indictment of longtime Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens on charges of concealing home renovations and other gifts from a contractor.
These damaging headlines, among numerous others, have largely drowned out the news about the Republicans’ inability to make their convention happen.
Here’s the backstory:
In April the party held a convention in Reno to elect delegates to the national convention. This is often a largely ceremonial process and party leaders probably figured — and certainly hoped — it would be this time around.
Although Arizona Sen. John McCain was not the preferred Republican presidential candidate among Nevada conservatives, by the day of the convention there was no doubt he would eventually be the party’s nominee.
But an emerging wing of libertarians and opponents of an immigration law overhaul sought to secure a majority of those delegates for libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul. No one won that late April Saturday; party leaders called a halt to the convention before delegates were assigned.
Wayne Terhune, an outspoken Paul supporter, contends the party did so to prevent his candidate from capturing the delegates.
Sue Lowden, the party’s executive director, disputes this, saying a quorum no longer was present to continue with voting.
In any event, the party called for another convention, on July 26, also in Reno. But among the nearly 1,400 invitations sent out, only 230 were returned — falling short of the necessary quorum, Lowden said. So party leaders decided they would select the delegates for the national convention without reconvening.
Republican leaders, including Lowden and county party Chairman Bernie Zadrowski, attribute the poor response to burdensome travel costs versus disarray within the party apparatus or a fear that the noisy Paul supporters could win out. (State Democrats, who were more sharply divided among presidential candidates, hosted their best-attended state convention ever.)
Another theory for the failed Republican convention is that party leaders couldn’t excite rank-and-file Republicans. Political scientists call this an “enthusiasm gap.”
Republicans “can throw money around, but if the establishment here is not enthusiastic, what are they going to do?” said David Damore, a professor of political science at UNLV. This is against the backdrop of the Barack Obama campaign which, he notes, already has precinct captains in place.
If the state Republican Party can’t muster interest in its convention, the McCain campaign can’t be too encouraged that Nevada, a traditional red state that’s looking increasingly purple, will ultimately support him. McCain desperately needs Nevada and other vulnerable states in the Mountain West, as his travel schedule seems to attest.
The campaign wouldn’t confirm any of this; a spokesman deflected questions to the state and national parties.
Robert Uithoven, a prominent Republican consultant in Nevada and informal adviser to the McCain campaign, concedes that state Democrats hold edges in enthusiasm and money. But he doubts that will translate into votes in November, pointing to opinion polls that demonstrate a tight race between McCain and Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
His theory will be strengthened if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, an immensely popular figure among Mormons and business conservatives, is selected as McCain’s running mate. Unlike McCain, Romney campaigned here before the January caucus and could more easily tap into the state party’s machinery.
A McCain-Romney ticket, political observers predict, could generate the excitement the state party could not with its convention.