Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Two states down, two to go until the Republican presidential primary battle reaches Nevada. Here are five questions to be answered as the campaign trail winds west:
Will it be a two-man race by the time we get to Nevada?
Can we get away with answering this one with a “maybe”?
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has come out of Iowa and New Hampshire positioned to have the nomination sewn up by February.
But as Republican consultant Greg Ferraro put it, “South Carolina is a war zone.”
South Carolina, and to some extent Florida, is the place where a true “conservative alternative” to Romney could emerge, or be nixed altogether. If former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum or Texas Gov. Rick Perry can win South Carolina, they will have life moving forward.
Regardless of what happens in those states, Texas Congressman Ron Paul will most certainly battle on, bringing the fight to Nevada.
UNR political scientist Eric Herzik said Nevada will either be the test for whether an evangelical conservative can play well in the West or it will be another skirmish of declining relevance between Romney and Paul.
Both Romney and Paul have been working Nevada for four years. Who has the stronger organization?
The answer won’t truly be known until Feb. 4.
Romney’s team has already proven they can win Nevada. They did it in 2008, and Romney has many of the same people in place this go around. He’s made frequent campaign stops here to keep the troops energized.
Paul also has paid attention to the state. His team placed a distant second to Romney in 2008. But his team doubled his 2008 showing in Iowa and tripled it in New Hampshire. It’s possible they do the same in Nevada.
Herzik sums it up: “Romney has the stronger organization. Paul has the more impassioned organization.”
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman took Romney on in the closest thing he had to home turf: New Hampshire. Could he come to Nevada with “favorite son” status?
The better question is probably whether Huntsman will make it to Nevada at all.
The Huntsman campaign strategically chose New Hampshire as the place to make their one stand. New Hampshire allows unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary, which significantly broadens the voting pool beyond GOP stalwarts who want a more conservative candidate.
If Huntsman does make it to Nevada, he may benefit from some neighborly name recognition. He’s raised money in the state and has the help of Caesar Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman.
Will Sheldon Adelson’s money play in Nevada?
The national media has been abuzz about the $5 million that Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson gave to a super PAC supporting Gingrich. The money will make it possible for Gingrich to compete in South Carolina and Florida.
But because of the expensive media markets of South Carolina and Florida, it’s unlikely the money will stretch as far as Nevada.
Still, Adelson could be an important ally to Gingrich in Nevada.
“That would be a friendship any Republican would want to have in Nevada,” Ferraro said.
Could Paul grow the Republican Party as President Barack Obama grew the Democratic Party in 2008?
In a story Wednesday, the Washington Post noted Paul drew substantial support from New Hampshire voters who did not want Romney as the nominee and from those who were dissatisfied or angry with the Obama administration. The Post built the argument that he could be a formidable third-party candidate.
But exit polls also show Paul could be a force in growing the Republican Party, an argument he often makes on the stump.
In New Hampshire, he won handily with voters who had never voted in a Republican primary and among those who considered themselves independent or undeclared.
In Nevada, those voters make up a key swing group. Obama won that demographic four years ago and in the process swelled the ranks of the Democratic Party.
Paul could do the same for Republicans. Unless, of course, he runs as an independent.