Saturday morning I woke up feeling sure of three things about the Nevada caucuses.
1) Mitt Romney would win by at least 15 points. Supporters of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich would battle it out in precinct rooms around the state as they strove to help their candidate win second place. And either way, Rick Santorum would come in last and probably not hit double digits.
2) Things would go wrong at various sites — Democracy can be messy and caucuses are no exception — and the Nevada Twittersphere would light up as the media and engaged politicos strived to find something to talk about in the midst of a foregone conclusion.
3) We would know the results by the eleven o’clock news and go to bed having survived and perhaps even enjoyed four days of madness.
As the saying goes, two out of three ain’t bad.
#more#Mitt Romney has won a decisive victory, earning 50 percent of the vote and 14 national convention delegates. He owes it to carry-over support from 2008, his hard-working and well-organized volunteers, high Mormon turnout, the money he could afford to spend on television ads, and momentum coming off his Florida win and the recent debates in which he performed quite well. His speech Saturday night sounded the most presidential of any he’s given so far, and I thought, “Yep, for better or worse, there’s our nominee.”
Ron Paul earned a very respectable 18.7 percent of the vote which translates into five delegates, and Newt Gingrich grabbed 21.1 percent which earns him six. Paul has worked hard here and can also thank his great campaign team, tireless volunteers, and near-rabid supporters for keeping the dream alive. He is now happily campaigning in Minnesota and Colorado. Gingrich can be thankful his relative success depended more on overall debate performances, some leftover love from the ’90s and super PAC television ads than it did on either his local or national team (whom, from what I could see, did very little work here). However, if he continues to be as petulant and whiny as he was when he spoke Saturday night, no team in the world can help him.
Santorum didn’t stand a chance in libertarian-leaning Nevada where his positions on numerous issues — including web gaming and Yucca Mountain — separate him from the majority of the Silver State populace. Sweater vests are out of fashion here, and tea-party energy that might have helped has vastly diminished since former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s big loss to Senator Harry Reid. The former senator from Pennsylvania did well to finish just under 10 percent.
And then there were the expected dust-ups, screw-ups, and beam-me-ups. L.A. Times reporter Ashley Powers was kicked out of a precinct room even though she had press credentials from the Clark County Republican party. Associated Press reporter (and also credentialed) Michelle Rindels stood by while a caucus-goer warned a room about her. “She might look friendly,” he said, “but AP is run by Marxists.” A Clark County site manager with a box of ballots in his care stopped by his house “for a soda” and told an observer/critic with questions to “go to hell” when he arrived at GOP headquarters. And latecomers to some caucus sites bitterly complained that they were disenfranchised because voting had already begun and they were turned away.
In addition, the special evening caucus held at the Adelson School for religious observers who could not vote during the day was borderline chaos, including shouting matches and accusations of further disenfranchisement and/or attempted cheating by people who had already voted elsewhere earlier that day. Calls for a primary election next time around were heard from all corners, but the state is reluctant to do that because it would cost between $1 and $2 million to put one on.
However, all of that was forgotten due to the unforeseen and extended delay in getting Clark County’s ballots counted. As the hours rolled on, impatience turned to incredulity turned to sarcasm turned to apathy. By the time we got the results late last night, I’m not sure anyone here or anywhere cared about them all that much. More than 24 hours after we had all expected to tweet the final results, we finally knew who came in second and third and by how much — for that was the only outstanding question. It was beyond silly, and if I had the energy I’d write an inside-baseball post that would have you rolling in the aisles. Or crying, depending on your point of view.
On the ballot, the loser here was Rick Santorum. But in political terms, the biggest loser was and is the Republican party in Nevada and Clark County, both now a national laughingstock.
Another thing that had Nevada GOP leaders calling for a primary rather than a caucus in the future was the low turnout. In Washoe County, for example, just 6,700 Republicans attended the caucuses although the party had predicted more than twice that. Caucus participation across the state was about 35,000, about 10,000 less than participated in 2008.
— Elizabeth Crum is publisher of the Nevada News Bureau and Co-host of The Agenda on KSNV-TV in Las Vegas