Friday, Aug. 29, 2008 | 2 a.m.
With Republicans descending on St. Paul, Minn., to nominate Ariz. Sen. John McCain, his organization must be wondering what kind of support he’ll find in Nevada now that the national party has deemed the state party inept.
A Republican National Committee panel said this week it was “deeply troubled by the ineptness of the state party” in selecting delegates to the national convention. The state party, it said, used a “flawed, inadequate and unacceptable” process.
The upbraiding stems from the fallout from the party’s failed state convention in April. Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican, flooded the convention and essentially out-organized the party establishment, which sought to rally delegates behind McCain. The Paul insurgents won a key procedural vote on the rules, but their boisterous presence created significant delays, causing the convention chairman, Bob Beers, a state senator from Las Vegas, to recess the convention without selecting delegates.
The Paul group selected its delegates in June, but the state party fell far short of a quorum for its follow-up convention in July. The state party’s executive committee appointed its own slate of delegates.
Republican activist Mike Weber, with the help of Paul supporter Wayne Terhune, filed an official challenge with the national party, whose contest committee recommended this month that neither group’s slate should be seated. Both sides objected and argued their cases on appeal before the committee in Minnesota on Sunday.
The committee upheld its ruling Tuesday, then laid into the state party for failing “to demonstrate that it accomplished any of the tasks required of it.” It also chastised the party for officials’ treatment of the Paul supporters.
The committee recognized Nevada’s right to send 34 delegates and 31 alternates to the convention, recommending a list of delegates that largely mirrors the McCain slate put forth by the state party. Committee officials said the action “should not be interpreted as an endorsement of, or support for, the conduct of the state party.”
Tell that to Weber and the Paul supporters.
“I’m very disappointed that they chose not to deal in justice but issued an inside-the-Beltway power move on this,” Weber said. “This decision is not a just decision ... and the party is going to have to pay the consequences for that.”
As Terhune put it, “They said it was illegal but then rubber-stamped it.”
The mounting frustration could result in Republicans defecting to third party candidates, such as Libertarian Bob Barr. Weber, a one-time McCain supporter, said he’s looking around. Terhune, a die-hard Paul fan, is looking, too.
Paul himself is fomenting that frustration. He’s planning a rival convention in Minneapolis. The message, according to his Web site: “The power brokers are convinced that they can maintain control with no serious challenge. They have it wrong! We will challenge them on all fronts — in every state and at all levels of government. Individual liberty must be our goal.”
Paul spokesman Jesse Benton condemned the Republican National Committee’s decision. “We don’t know why the party feels the need to use dirty tricks,” he said. “Republicans should be concerned how these activists new to the party have been treated.”
Benton said the 1.2 million voters who supported Paul in the primaries, many of whom were new to the political process, could be a potent force in November, but “a decision like this makes it difficult to think they’ll be energized to vote for Sen. McCain.”
And that could be a problem for McCain in Nevada, where recent polls show the presidential contest tied. Paul won 15 percent of the vote in the state’s Republican caucus, placing second behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. McCain finished third.
The national party’s ruling threatens to alienate an energized group of ready-made foot soldiers at a time when the state party is struggling to keep pace with Democrats. Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters by 60,000 and the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama has invested heavily in the state. By month’s end, the campaign expects to have 20 field offices and 75 paid staffers statewide. The McCain campaign, on the other hand, has seven offices across the state. Spokesman Rick Gorka has declined to offer specifics, saying staffing is “adequate.” Obama, he has said, is too liberal for Nevada and thus must spend the resources to convince voters otherwise.
Still, some Republicans worry that the Democrats’ advantage poses a considerable threat to the party, which let its organizational machine languish after four straight successful election cycles.
University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik said Republicans lost their edge after 2002. “The Republican Party went into a nose dive,” from which only now it’s seeking to recover, he said. The chaos of the state convention, he said, made clear “McCain has to do it himself; he cannot rely upon a smooth-running state- and county-level machinery.”
Republican consultant Ryan Erwin said: “A good candidate can survive a lacking party structure. A lacking candidate cannot survive a good party structure.”
The state Republican Party would not comment for this story. Other Republicans sought to temper the obstacles facing McCain in Nevada.
“Obviously, we have our challenges. We have our work cut out for us,” said Robert Uithoven, a veteran Republican consultant and informal adviser to the McCain campaign here. “We’ll work through it. For Republicans right now it is a more difficult time. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Democrats haven’t won anything yet.”
He said the committee’s decision about delegates would have little to no effect on Election Day results. Still, he noted the party is reaching out to Paul’s supporters in an attempt to unify behind McCain.
Erwin, a former executive director of the state party, said the state convention was more of an administrative than tactical failing. The party, buoyed by Romney’s caucus operation, will come through when it comes to turning out voters, he said. The race will be tight.
As Uithoven put it, “We will be judged — and I’m happy to be judged — as individual Republicans on Nov. 5.”