- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Nevada Republican Party’s ability to run snag-free caucuses this year could go a long way in deciding whether the state keeps its spot near the front of the nomination calendar in 2020.

Shoehorned into the top tier of states in 2008, Nevada has always been a bit of a misfit, with less of a political history than the other three early voters of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The state’s early-caucus champion, Harry Reid, the Democratic floor leader in the Senate, is slated to retire at the end of the year, so officials in both parties are looking at options for the next presidential primary season.

“We could be on the firing line in terms of the next cycle if this one doesn’t come off well,” said former Nevada Gov. Robert List, a Republican. “I am not sure that that message has been delivered, but it is likely that can occur if this isn’t run really smoothly and professionally and with high levels of participation.”

The Nevada Republican Party handed ammunition to its detractors with messy caucuses in 2008 and 2012.

In 2012, the state party took two days before it was able to certify a winner, despite an embarrassingly small turnout.

James Smack, former vice chairman of the Nevada Republican Party and former member of the Republican National Committee, said the state party could have taken an even bigger hit but for problems with Iowa’s caucuses, where the wrong person was initially announced as the winner.

“It is important we get it right. If we get it right, I think we keep it,” Mr. Smack said. “If we have problems like we did in 2012, then there is a chance we may not be an early state come 2020.”

Changing the nomination calendar is a touchy subject, particularly in states that make tens of millions of dollars off of the visitors and attention. But with primaries turning into a nationalized affair, some are calling for bigger, more representative states to play earlier roles.

Iowa and New Hampshire, which have opened the nomination contests since 1976, are predominately white. That helped boost South Carolina, with its Southern location and large black population. Nevada was added in 2008 as the first state in the West and an early test of Hispanic voters.

But RNC Chairman Reince Priebus ruffled some feathers this year by floating the idea of an overhaul before 2020.

Indeed, Diana Orrock, an RNC member from Nevada, said the rules committee, on which she sits, is expected to consider a resolution at the party’s January meeting in Charleston that would establish a rotating primary schedule, giving different states from each region of the country a chance to host early contests.

Josh Putnam, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who runs the Frontloading HQ blog that focuses on campaigns and elections, said his understanding is that the resolution will be tabled until the RNC meets after the nomination race.

“Even when it is considered, the feeling among the folks I’ve spoken with is that it will go nowhere,” Mr. Putnam said. “One could speculate, however, that a natural offshoot of the discussion is whether Nevada should stay toward the front of the queue. How Nevada does in 2016 may greatly influence that discussion on the Republican side.”

“It looks like the RNC will move on this first,” he said in an email. “If Nevada survives that, then the Democrats will have less incentive to shift it out (assuming things have gone smoothly in the Silver State caucuses in 2016). But if the RNC pushes Nevada back in the line, Democrats will have something to think about.”

Ryan Call, former head of the Colorado Republican Party, said Nevada could be the most vulnerable of the early states for a number of reasons, including Mr. Reid’s pending departure from the Senate.

“The Nevada political climate I don’t think is reflective of the broader Republican Party, and as a state I don’t think the political party infrastructure has the organization, and we saw that in the last election cycle, where we saw they struggled to deliver the results in a timely way,” Mr. Call said.

He said Colorado has had a good case to make on why it should be moved up given its unique political makeup, but it hurt its chances by holding caucuses rather than a primary.

He said Iowa gets a pass because its caucuses are so ingrained and its voters take them seriously. But in states like Nevada and Colorado, the nonbinding caucuses draw far fewer people and are “not very reflective of the broader Republican electorate.”

Henry Barbour, a member of the RNC from Mississippi, said the party’s focus right now is entirely on this year’s race but that a shake-up in the 2020 nomination calendar might involve Nevada.

“The problems with vote counting in caucus states Iowa and Nevada last time was unacceptable and embarrassing,” Mr. Barbour said. “If that happens again, all bets are off as it relates to carve-outs.

“Iowa is well-rooted as the first caucus state, but Nevada is more vulnerable to another Western state making a play for its spot,” he said. “You never know.”

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