Suddenly, everybody has convention fever.
Back in August, when the idea first surfaced, very few were taking the idea of a Republican National Convention here seriously. At the time, it was just Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, chatting with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, local officials and Las Vegas business leaders about the idea.
Since then, it’s really taken off: An official host committee formed, headed up by Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki. Gov. Brian Sandoval has come out in support, as have the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman wants it. Even Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has said it would be good for business.
Some high-profile Republican consultants are now attached to the project, which will kick off as the host committee prepares a response to the RNC’s request for proposals. For the first time in its history, Las Vegas looks to have a real chance to land a political convention and show the world it does hospitality like no one else.
So, where’s McDonald — the guy who started the push? And where’s the state Republican Party in the mix?
Nowhere, it seems.
McDonald says he has a hard time communicating with the governor, about the convention or anything else for that matter. Sandoval — the titular head of the Republican Party — doesn’t return calls or emails from the chairman of his own party, McDonald said. That might have something to do with McDonald easily beating back an attempted coup in late September, handily defeating a Sandoval-backed candidate for party chair.
After that defeat, Sandoval said he’d focus on his own re-election and other lawmakers’ campaigns. That seems to be a repeat of what happened in 2012, when establishment Republicans simply created a new organization called Team Nevada and worked around a party dominated by more libertarian-leaning supporters of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Since then, some elements of the party have done little to show they’re ready for prime time. Sandoval has had to issue statements rebuking the Assembly minority leader for saying 2014 would be a “great” year for Republicans because voter turnout among traditionally Democratic constituencies such as minorities and young people tends to drop in off-year elections. Then, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler caused a firestorm by saying he’d reluctantly vote for slavery if his constituents favored it. Finally, the Washoe County Republican Party chairman hosted a radio show in which some panelists lamented societal declines allegedly brought about by women entering the workforce.
But McDonald hasn’t created any of those controversies, nor is he associated with the Paul wing of the party. Why is the governor boycotting him? (I asked, and Sandoval’s campaign manager wrote some words in an email in reply, none of which addressed the question.)
There are some legitimate reasons McDonald and the state party can’t be involved in the convention effort. The host committee is a 501(c)(3) and can’t engage in anything political. Having a member of the state party involved would be a bad idea legally, according to a lawyer with knowledge of the convention planning process. Also, having high-profile elected officials such as Krolicki leading the bid gives it a boost.
“In a perfect world, this is a great opportunity for everybody to come together,” said Ryan Erwin, one of the Republican consultants affiliated with the effort. Krolicki, for his part, agrees: “This is going to take everyone,” he said. “We all need to be working together to make this happen.”
McDonald says he’s willing and able to help, and so are members of the state party. But right now, they feel sidelined and ignored by their leaders. And no matter your political affiliation, it would be a shame to see Las Vegas’ best chance ever to land a political convention tripped up because of the internecine feud inside the Nevada GOP.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.