Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2014

Currently: 81° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

If Santorum sustains momentum, Nevada offers opportunity

State has libertarian bent, but has supported ‘family values’ candidates before

Image

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, speaks at his caucus night event at the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston, Iowa, on Jan. 4, 2012.

Local reaction to Iowa caucus

KSNV coverage of the local reaction to the results of the Iowa caucus, Jan. 3, 2012.

In the final week of the Iowa campaign, when it was finally Rick Santorum’s turn to surge against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, it was socially conservative, often evangelical, Christian voters who pushed him to within eight votes of a victory.

Assuming Santorum rides that momentum through the early primary states to Nevada’s Feb. 4 caucuses, he’ll find here a more libertarian Republican voter and a state suffering more under the recession than Iowa. Voters here are more concerned about jobs and the economy than the traditional family values — opposition to abortion, contraception and gay marriage — that Santorum has emphasized in his campaign.

Exit polls in 2008 found only a quarter of Nevada GOP primary voters were evangelical Christians. But that’s not to say politicians like Santorum haven’t had success in the Silver State. In fact, the best and most recent example is one of the former Pennsylvania senator’s friends in Congress — John Ensign.

Santorum won a third of Iowa’s evangelical Christian vote, 58 percent of those who consider abortion the most important issue and more than a third of those who consider themselves “very conservative,” exit polls show. That voter profile — evangelical and very conservative — made up about half of caucusgoers in Iowa.

Nevada, meanwhile, is home to a more libertarian strain of Republican voters, who sway more on questions of fiscal restraint and limiting government intrusion than abortion or other social issues.

“He might appeal to some of our transplants from the South, but most of our transplants are from California,” said Grant Hewitt, a Las Vegas Republican consultant.

However, those issues do appeal to a slice of Nevada voters. The state leans libertarian, but is still home to networks of social conservatives who coalesce around abortion, gay marriage and other related issues.

Ensign shared positions similar to Santorum on social and religious issues and was popular with voters until a scandal surrounding an extramarital affair led to his resignation last year.

In fact, until the scandal, Ensign had one of the best political brands in Nevada. His career — two terms in the House and two in the Senate — proves a social conservative can succeed in the state. While also an anti-tax conservative, Ensign never downplayed his position on social issues.

As Santorum campaigns in Nevada, he may face questions about his role in the scandal that brought down Ensign. The husband of the woman Ensign had the affair with, Doug Hampton, emailed Santorum asking for help and indicating he was set to go public with the details.

Santorum forwarded that email to Ensign, a move that reportedly prompted Ensign to admit to the affair to his staff and issue a pre-emptive apology. Santorum has yet to respond to questions about that email.

As Santorum’s newly hired Nevada staff builds a strategy for him, it is intent on making strong use of the networks of social conservatives in Nevada, including anti-abortion groups, family values networks and others.

“It’s a strong movement across the board,” said Zac Moyle, Santorum’s Nevada consultant. “There are more anti-abortion and social conservative groups here than people realize.”

Indeed, a candidate like Santorum could drive more turnout from those groups, which could have an impact on the overall voting pool.

Four years ago, Romney — who did not seek to appeal to evangelical Christians — had the leading turnout effort in the state.

Don Nelson, head of Nevada Life, one of the networks Moyle hopes to engage, said Santorum is a very appealing candidate who would do well in Nevada. “He’s an outstanding presidential candidate,” Nelson said.

But he was quick to add that he believes Romney is also strongly anti-abortion despite questions about Romney’s past positions on the issue.

Moyle said his campaign will work to earn support from voters who supported candidates who have dropped out of the presidential race. Retired businessman Herman Cain, for example, had staff organizing in Nevada. Moyle sees an opportunity to reach out to those precinct captains and others who may be looking for a candidate other than Romney.

“Voters have been longing for someone else,” Moyle said. “It is very clear from every poll that has been run that a significant chunk of voters are looking for just that. We will go out and find those voters who are already longing for another candidate and tell them, ‘Your candidate is here, and his name is Rick Santorum.’ ”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 5 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Well said, Frank. Santorum won't be a factor in Nevada, as he will have already lost badly in New Hampshire. If he makes it to South Carolina, (a big IF), he will lose there too and drop out. Romney's machine will open Santorum's closet, and the mass quantity of skeletons will come tumbling out!

  2. Enjoyed the article.

    The modern day Tea/Republican Party, the way it's composed of nowadays, is completely unable to get a bunch of people together to all agree on a candidate.

    A long list of possibles have just went past...and quickly disappeared or decided not to run. Trump, Christie, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich. To name a few. And not one of these clowns can pass even the most mundane and disinterested media "vetting" scrutiny. They ALL got baggage that makes them unappealing and unelectable.

    Neo-conservatives won't agree with me, but it's simply the Tea/Republican Party is at odds with itself. They want someone that is unattainable and don't exist. They want someone that would either be a villain and/or a superhero in a comic book. Even a conservative Jesus Christ wouldn't suit their purposes. Because just from uttering his first name that leaves him out because he may be an illegal immigrant of Hispanic origin.

    The composition of that party has basically shoved moderates to the side of the road and is constantly looking for ultra-conservatives that can't agree on anything. Crazy is cool in the modern day Tea/Republican Party. And it's not a choice, IT'S REQUIRED.

    What's inevitably going to happen is they are going to have to get used to "Mr. 25 Percent" (Romney). They are going to have to look past his flip flops and all his other shortcomings. I mean, c'mon, Mr. Excitement (Senator Cain) endorsed him, so he must be okay.

    The faster they run away from Romney as the conclusion to their pick problem, the quicker they are eventually going to end up with it.

    Because all the other candidates are all going the route of proving they are not Romney and that they are further right than each other. The problem with that is they come off like nutballs.

    Santorum is somehow in some incredible twist of events now the flavor that is not Romney. And he is already becoming a disappointment that won't make it past New Hampshire.

    I predict they will keep going through a process that never ends. Perhaps it will last all the way up til the last possible moment.

    Then, they will throw up their hands and go, okay, yeah, let's do it, Romney, gee, hope it works, guess we have to spin him as the savior of American mankind, c'mon, people, we gotta sit down and figure this out, it's gonna take ALOT of work to make this happen....

  3. Correction of my last comment: When referring to "Mr. Excitement," I meant to type Senator McCain, not Cain.

    In the immortal words of that well respected politician and esteemed Governor of the Great State of Texas... "Oops."

  4. Santorum has no chance against Romney in Nevada. We have a very large mormon population that would love to see the first mormon president. This is one of the few states that Romney's religion will work to his advantage.

  5. Dig into this guy and you'll find someone who is not quite right in so many ways. Immerse yourselves into what this guy did with the child he and his wife lost. It was disgusting and no doubt damaging to his surviving children. It was so disgusting I don't want to explain it here. It should be easy to find,...and here's a tip,...it concerns his view on abortion and what they did instead.

    His misguided views on abortion and birth control would have killed his own wife had his policies been law. What they did with the baby that didn't survive,...should have cause them to lose those who did.

    Poke around and learn about the real Santorum