Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 | 2:06 p.m.
Florida voted today to move its primary to Jan. 31, launching Nevada, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa on an effort to reclaim their first-in-the-nation presidential primaries and caucuses.
How serious are they about staying on top? New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said in a statement: “We cannot rule out the possibility of conducting the primary before the end of the year.”
If New Hampshire makes good on Gardner's threat, Nevadans could be looking at a caucus date of Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, which are both Saturday's in late December.
The Nevada GOP has linked its caucus date to New Hampshire’s primary: Nevada’s caucuses will take place the Saturday following whichever Tuesday that New Hampshire decides to hold its primary.
It’s not an idle possibility: Gardner officially changed the candidates’ filing period to October to allow a 2012 primary to take place in 2011. (The move sort of steals a little of Nevada’s thunder, since the period overlaps with when all the GOP candidates were expected to be in Las Vegas for a debate and conference.)
Nevada GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian isn’t pleased with any of the latest turn of events: not only do they present the state party with new procedural hurdles, but if Nevada moves up too early, even following New Hampshire's lead, it could risk being penalized much like Florida.
“We’re a battleground state, but obviously Nevada is a smaller state, and I don’t want to lose our delegates,” Tarkanian said today.
“The bottom line is: We want to follow the rules. Rules are made, we will follow the rules,” Tarkanian said. “But we want to have a voice. So if they expect us to stick to the rules, I really don’t have an answer” as to what Nevada will do.
Tarkanian is in regular touch with the other early state party and caucus officials, and with them, will be discussing next steps with the Republican National Committee this afternoon.
The RNC is sticking to its guns on penalizing any state that goes before Feb. 1 by taking away half their complement of delegates.
The first opportunity the Nevada GOP would have to untie its caucus date from New Hampshire’s primary is at their next executive meeting, Oct. 22, when they gather to vote on the issue of same-day registration.
With the state only projected to have 28 delegates, Nevada may elect to go early and keep its influence rather than its small complement of convention votes. But even if they do, the spectre of rushing the process by a month or more leaves the question of whether the party would be ready to stage the event.
They say they are “ready to go” and will “be up and running” -- so Tarkanian told the Las Vegas Sun earlier this week -- but not all conservatives are convinced.
“They may say they’re fine, but historically, they weren’t that organized,” said conservative blogger Chuck Muth. “Last time [in 2008] they were late in getting started, and this time they haven’t even adopted the rules.”
The Nevada GOP won’t be voting on whether or not to allow same-day registration at its caucuses -- a provision which would let them bring more people to the polls -- until late October. That meeting is also the first likely opportunity the state party would have to rewrite its rules untie the caucuses from New Hampshire's primary date, but even that option comes with pitfalls: states are supposed to submit their final contest dates to the RNC by Saturday.
The GOP caucuses are a Republicans-only affair -- no registered independents allowed -- so the rule change could boost attendance, especially in the southern part of the state. The GOP hasn’t registered many new voters in Southern Nevada since last year’s midterm elections: Republicans only added about 4,000 new voters to the rolls in the two congressional districts that make up the bulk of the southern portion of the state, while Democrats have piled on about another 10,000.
Last year, caucus turnout was about 30,000 -- a paltry showing that gave Mitt Romney’s well-organized army of volunteers a leg up in the competition. His campaign remains the best-organized in the state this time around.
“Whether the caucus is tomorrow or in January isn’t terribly relevant to us,” said Romney’s Nevada campaign director Ryan Erwin. “We are engaged, we are well-prepared...I’m sure that we are more organized than the other campaigns.”
But if an early start favors Romney, that might not be the best thing for Nevada. Rick Perry’s strong poll numbers in Nevada had suggested there might be a showdown in the Silver State -- creating tension that could both up Nevada’s profile on the national map and bring more contenders to the state.
If Nevada now has to compete for campaign attention with South Carolina, a conservative stronghold, and Florida the most delegate-rich swing state (before its loss-of-delegates punishment is meted out at least), plane fare and flight duration alone make the decision for most of candidates a simple one.