- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2016

Donald Trump is predicting he could run run the table in the rest of the GOP primaries, and he’s got a leg up in Nevada, which holds its caucuses Feb. 23 and appears likely to go big for the billionaire businessman and former casino owner.

The tycoon’s larger-than-life personality has set him apart from the field, carving out a new type of campaign. That’s proved to be a solid match for the Nevada GOP, which itself has struck out in new directions, stripping pro-life and anti-gay-marriage provisions from the state party platform, and electing a pro-choice Republican as governor.

Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, says Mr. Trump’s “tell it like it is” approach to politics plays well in Nevada.

“It is flash. It is bombast. And come on, we have Las Vegas as our major city, which is all about flash and bombast,” he said.

In South Carolina, Mr. Trump is locked in a hard-fought battle with Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ahead of Saturday’s primary.

The Nevada caucuses are just three days later, leaving little time for a fight in Nevada itself.

That means the candidates’ appeals to evangelical Christians, who make up 65 percent of South Carolina’s GOP voters, will have to suffice for Nevada, where far fewer voters are religious conservatives.

For his part, Mr. Trump has scheduled rallies Monday in Las Vegas, where he owns a hotel overlooking the iconic strip, and Tuesday in Sparks. In the meantime, he touted a poll this week showing him with a 26 percentage point lead over his closest rival, Mr. Rubio.

“Maybe I don’t even have to go there and campaign,” Mr. Trump said this week, according to the New York Times.

Less than 35,000 people turned out for the Nevada Republican caucuses in 2012, which Mitt Romney won in a landslide thanks to a solid ground game and strong support from Mormons, who make up only about 5 percent of Nevada’s overall population but were 25 percent of participants in that caucus, according to exit polls.

Low-turnout caucuses tend to reward well-oiled campaigns, meaning Nevada will test whether the Trump campaign learned a lesson from the Iowa caucuses, where he led in polls but finished second to Mr. Cruz.

The sense of urgency was evident earlier this month when Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, urged voters in a Facebook post to register to vote, directing them to Nevada Secretary of State’s online voter registration application.

Ed Williams, chairman of the Clark County GOP, said Mr. Trump’s appeal is tied to his “outsider” status.

“He is perceived as a non-politician, someone who is not a career politician,” Mr. Williams, who is uncommitted in the race, said. “At this point, he is probably getting the biggest boost from that.”

“I think part of it is just a real resentment about where the country is going under this president and a determination to just turn it upside down — and Trump represents that more than anybody,” said former Nevada Gov. Robert List, a Republican who is backing Mr. Rubio.

Despite lingering questions about the accuracy of polling in the state, Mr. Williams, who was elected as the county GOP’s first openly gay chairman last year, said his sense is that Mr. Trump is a front-runner.

“We have gotten many, many, calls from Democrats and independents, calling in to figure out how to register Republican because they want to vote for Trump or another candidate in the field,” he said. “The underlying reasons is that they seem to be they are fed up with the progressive policies coming from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”

There also a strong libertarian streak that runs through the GOP primary electorate in Nevada, which could bode well for Mr. Trump’s recent criticism of the Bush administration over the Iraq war.

“Mainstream Republicans, that is not what they believe. But with the Trump supporters you’ve clearly seen they are not wedded to the Republican Party orthodoxy that the war in Iraq was great until Obama brought the troops home,” Mr. Herzik said.

Also, when it comes to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, Mr. Herzik said voters oppose it “because they don’t want to pay for anything” — not because of opposition to abortion.

That could dent Mr. Cruz, who has made his pro-life credentials a major part of his appeal in South Carolina.

On Thursday, Mr. Cruz sought to pivot in Nevada, releasing an ad knocking Mr. Trump over his opposition to transferring public land from the federal government to the states, a hot-button issue out west.

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