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July 22, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

What really happened inside the GOP caucus

Image

Paul Takahashi

Clark County Republican Party officials and voters count ballots during a special “sundown” caucus at the Adelson Educational Campus that capped off the Nevada GOP presidential caucuses on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012.

Nevada Caucus Count

Volunteers count and record caucus totals at Clark County GOP headquarters Sunday morning. Launch slideshow »

Special Evening Caucus at the Adelson School

Clark County Republican Party officials and voters count ballots during a special Launch slideshow »

GOP Caucus in Clark County

John Metzguer, center, and Leroy King, right, both of Henderson, sign in for the Republican presidential caucus at Green Valley High School in Henderson on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Launch slideshow »

At about 10 p.m. on the evening of Feb. 4, all of the GOP presidential campaigns agreed to release unofficial results of the Republican presidential caucus to a ravenous Fourth Estate.

All but one, that is. Carl Bunce, the head of Ron Paul’s operation in Nevada, objected.

All around him at the small county headquarters near downtown Las Vegas were open boxes of ballots, folders strewn about on tables where mostly elderly vote-counters were sitting, and sign-in sheets from caucus locations were missing.

“It was chaos in there,” Bunce recalled. “It was a rat’s nest.”

Indeed, the scene was more reminiscent of a Marx Brothers movie than the supposedly serious execution of counting votes to help determine the next leader of the free world. But because of the objections of the Paul folks, who had threatened lawsuits in the weeks leading up to the caucus if unofficial results were released, Clark County Chairman Dave Gibbs declined to send tallies, readily available from each caucus site, to the state to release. Those results would have closely mirrored the actual numbers, which would not be released until more than 24 hours later — a day and a half after most caucus results had been tallied on site. By then, the winner already was obvious — Mitt Romney — and so was the loser — the Nevada Republican Party.

•••

Whatever you have heard, whatever you have read about the GOP caucus disaster, it was worse. I come to that conclusion after talking to some folks who were eyewitnesses to this embarrassing bit of history. Despite Republican National Committeeman Bob List’s game efforts to put a good face to the world — we released certified results sooner than Iowa! — this was a comedy without a laugh track, one that makes the Keystone Cops look like the Mossad.

And while much of the blame is now going to the Paul campaign for raising roadblocks, and while some of the Texas congressman’s supporters live in an alternate universe, that is not even close to a fair assessment of why this all went awry. “This is a huge fumble on behalf of the Republican Party,” said one high-ranking official who saw what happened.

The seeds for the weekend nightmare were sown weeks before the Feb. 4 event. The Paul campaign, which had skillfully infiltrated the executive board and other levels of GOP hierarchy, was already threatening to sue over what Bunce later told me were “chain of custody (of ballots)” issues.

“So the decision was made that they would just do a hand count (on Caucus Day) rather than release anything,” one insider confided.

Said another about why Gibbs kowtowed to the Paul folks on caucus night: “No wonder Gibbs was so nervous about (releasing unofficial returns) caucus night. He had already been threatened with this lawsuit. I still think they were bluffing and he should have stood against this nonsense.”

Gibbs, who seems like a well-intentioned fellow to me, has consistently maintained that he wanted to get the results right. But what people may not realize is that all the site managers had been trained before the caucus to call in numbers before bringing the ballots for certification, a process that typically takes place weeks after an election, just so unofficial results could be released. Indeed, most were being released in real time as folks at the caucuses were putting them out on Twitter and several people were tallying them. Nate Silver, the statistics whiz who blogs for The New York Times, early on extrapolated from what I put out on Twitter that Romney would get 60 percent in Clark County – he got 58 percent.

The point is: They had the results to release and didn’t because the party officials were frightened of lawsuits. If they had released unofficial results early Saturday evening after the so-called Adelson caucus had begun and, as they had promised, they would have closely matched the actual, certified results.

As the day progressed, state party officials, national folks who were in town or the caucus and others thought everything was going swimmingly. The rural results were streaming in on Twitter and on a slick Google map the party had erected. Everyone was all smiles at the de facto state headquarters, a k a The Venetian.

Until early evening, when they realized something was wrong. Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian dispatched people down to the Charleston Boulevard headquarters, including her husband, Danny, the congressional hopeful, to see what was going on.

What they came upon was the scene Bunce described and validated by others. Gibbs had left to go to the Adelson caucus, which had now threatened to become – and did become – a similar spectacle.

The Paul folks had done not one, but two robocalls, including one from the congressman’s granddaughter, to urge his supporters to flood the caucus, which they thought could not be restricted to those who had religious reasons for not voting earlier. (The party’s so-called “declaration” is laughable and bereft of any legal force – I have posted it on my blog — and couldn’t even spell declaration correctly.)

Inside the county headquarters, Woody Stroupe, Gibbs’ lieutenant who had already made a name for himself saying voting “is a privilege not a right” and had assailed the secretary of state for stacking the deck against the GOP in the state, was … in charge.

Bunce, who is a reasonable and smart guy, not one of the Paul crazies, described what he saw that evening.

“They (the counters) were like zombies,” he told me, and others echoed that description of earnest volunteers, many of them military vets, but long in the tooth and already sitting there too long. “There was a complete lack of process. I asked, ‘Why don’t we get new volunteers in there?’”

Bunce said he objected to releasing unofficial results because of the zoo-like atmosphere, but Gibbs could have overruled him. It wasn’t just about a media starved for results and already ridiculing the count on Twitter. The party’s credibility, after hyping the event, was at stake.

But, Bunce insisted, “I just didn’t see the rush to get out into the Twitterverse.”

I think he’s wrong about that and unofficial results should have been released. But you can see why he was wary.

Gibbs eventually decided somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 a.m. to stop the count as his minions were exhausted. Bunce, worried about that chain of custody, insisted on a security guard to revere the integrity of the ballots. By the next morning, they were still counting relatively slowly, but a committee eventually resolved ballots in a “Trouble Box” (there’s a metaphor for the caucus) and only 20 ballots were discarded.

Eventually, the Paul folks relented and let the count progress. It still took until late Sunday evening and final numbers were not posted, which showed the remarkably low turnout of 33,000 voters (8 percent), until early Monday morning.

Bunce, who had been hoping for a low turnout, said his people “just didn’t turn out,” and added, “There were no real signs of voters fraud, only a lack of process.”

But the Paul folks are not done. Delegates to the state convention “are the real game,” Bunce told me, and he claims to have twice the numbers the campaign did in 2008 when the Paul army forced the shutdown of the state convention. (Mark your calendars for May 5.)

“We run the party,” Bunce told me, adding, wryly, “unfortunately.”

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  1. They run a caucus like they run a government - badly

  2. Wow -- the picture on this article reminds me of what comedymeister Seth MacFarlane said -- "The two symbols of the Republican Party: an elephant, and a big fat white guy who is threatened by change."

  3. Wow. Thanks for the article, Jon.

    You just answered a question.

    What does a Democrat do to get the message out there to disrupt the Tea/Republican Party radical agenda here in Nevada?

    The answer is resoundingly....

    NOTHING.

    Just let them do normal political stuff and, inadvertently, screw it all up beyond belief, fracture their whole party and destroy themselves in the process.

    Letting blind hate be the guiding light ain't gonna work. That, coupled with only seeing the end result and not willing to go through the process to get there, seems to be the downfall of the Tea/Republican Party here in Nevada. When you want to go from A to Z, but ignore everything in between on the path to get there, they deserve everything that happens to them. Rhetoric runs their actions, not policies.

  4. Another thing...

    In that picture, it appears the ballots are being held and transported around in a CostCo box.

    The Ron Paul people should just go ahead and sue CostCo too by alleging those are specially made boxes that magically make ballots disappear. You put the ballot in there and it don't come out. Something like that....

  5. Is the guy sitting on the right at the table sleeping?

    A Costco box! lolololol

  6. Why is it that in response to virtually ANY CRITICISM of their beloved 'party'...

    Republicans come back with something akin to "I know you are, but what am I?" which usually includes a reference to either Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy.
    In other words, Junior High stuff.

    How about taking a crack at responding to the criticism? Is it valid?

  7. We were always the party of business and common sense, since 2000 we have become the party of stupidity, unfunded spending - right along with the DEMS, and, international adventurism when it was not needed (sometimes it is).

    Since 2008, the party has been hijacked by the nut jobs and worse. And as for Mitt, I have in my life never experienced such as disingenuous say anything to get elected lout as he is (my mistake, forgot about Al Gore who is only slightly worse). What does it all mean? Another four years of Obama! T

  8. What really happened inside the G.O.P. caucus? Apparently there has been a record amount of bribing going on in this state, Iowa and Maine probably more. And the Ron Paul fans no exactly What I am talking about.

  9. What I want to know is why those two guys at the table are in violation of Federal Law? See Title 4 of the U.S. Code, Section 8, Subsection D. So much for "patriotism."

  10. This is as bad as the "hanging chad" Florida debacle.

    Anyone remember Kathleen Harris? then Sec. of State for Florida, who made the call? After the election (fraudulent) of Bush, she ends up with a job in D.C. -

    Republicans never learn - they just keep doing the same things over and over and over and over again - WIN AT ANY COST no matter how foolish, dumb, or dumber they look. And, the people who continue to vote them in NEVER cease to amaze me.

    read this and weep:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_H...

  11. If Democrats did a caucus, Harry Reid would just tell everybody what the numbers are and they would all have to just fall in line with his corruption.

    That's how the D's roll in Nevada. Lunatic Harry pronounces it.

  12. @sgtrock

    as usual, you missed the point

  13. Sorry, but I keep going back to that picture.

    Call to caption, the guy holding the blue paper loudly proclaims....

    "And the next vote is for...um....John Ensign? Is he still running for something? I thought he went back to being a veterinarian and injecting medicine into cat's butts with hypodermic needles...."

  14. I don't get it why is this of any interest to ANYONE except GOP members? Not being one I fail to see why this is of ANY interest at all.