SEBELIUS: If you want this job, you must be crazy


I’ve known Robert Uithoven for a long time. I just don’t recall the exact moment when he went insane.

But I’m definitely concerned for Uithoven, who has worked as a Republican political operative, lobbyist and strategist in Nevada for years. Why the concern? He’s considering running for the most thankless job in politics: the chairmanship of the Nevada Republican Party.

Uithoven said he’ll make a final decision by today on whether to challenge current party Chairman Michael McDonald, a former Las Vegas councilman who I also suspected of temporary insanity when he confided that he’d decided to seek the chairman’s job nearly two years ago. All things considered, McDonald’s done a good job at the helm, considering half the crew constantly wants to maroon the other half and sail off in the other direction.

Uithoven worked for then-Rep. Jim Gibbons, but was among those key aides defenestrated from the Gibbons inner circle after the congressman became governor in 2006. (Gibbons’ disastrous tenure is attributed in part to losing key advisers after the election to palace intrigue.) These days, Uithoven is most often associated with work for Las Vegas Sands Inc., run by Sheldon Adelson. His relationship with Adelson — and his service on the board of the conservative Keystone Corp. — make up one part of his appeal: The ability to raise badly needed funds.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could make some significant changes and help the party,” Uithoven said. “The results just aren’t there.”

Contrast that with Nevada Democrats, a party run by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Democrats here are better organized, have raised more money and have registered about 96,000 more voters than their GOP counterparts. Uithoven says he fears Nevada could turn from battleground to blue if something isn’t done. “I think I could do better,” he says.

McDonald, however, defends his tenure, noting the party was in even worse shape when he took over. “Everybody knows I’ve been working hard in the last 18 months,” he said. “I’ve been traveling the state. I’ve been talking with all factions of the party.

Those factions include what we’ll call Establishment Republicans, more moderate figures who aren’t opposed to all taxes and are willing to compromise to get what they want. On this side are Gov. Brian Sandoval, Rep. Joe Heck, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, for example. On the other side are what we’ll call the Liberty Movement Republicans, fans of figures such as former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who believe compromise with Democrats leads to more government and more spending. They’re anti-tax, anti-regulation and willing to stand up and speak out against even fellow Republicans who don’t fall in line.

McDonald belongs in neither camp, having cultivated friends and supporters on both sides. Uithoven, more ideologically conservative than McDonald, is also a pragmatist. But he suffers from his affiliation with former Chairwoman Sue Lowden, who infamously shut down the 2008 Republican state convention when it appeared Liberty Republicans were about to take over. (Uithoven was finance chairman at the time.) That injury has never been forgotten, and it animates the more libertarian wing of the Nevada Republican Party to this day. Then again, Lowden has lent her support this time around to McDonald, who has tried to emphasize a “unity” theme for the party.

Since both camps distrust each other — and consider their intra-party rivals every bit as much the enemy as the Democrats — presiding over the party is one of the most difficult and thankless chores in politics. That’s why no matter who stands for election, the first question always must be: Are you sure you’re not nuts?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.