A Republican caucus event timed to accommodate observant Jews who wouldn't break Sabbath devolved into a fracas about religion and politics and made for a feisty conclusion to Nevada's presidential nominating process.
Hundreds of people who crowded into the Adelson Educational Campus in Summerlin witnessed repeated clashes between local Republican party officials and would-be caucus-goers who resented being required to affirm their religious beliefs before being allowed to participate.
The disputes overshadowed the intent of the caucus to choose a Republican nominee for president, especially because former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney already had been declared the winner in Nevada before the evening event started.
"This is a fraudulent event," Evan Donoghue, 29, shouted at party officials who briefed the waiting crowd on the religious rules. "You are letting all these people know you are a religious bigot."
Donoghue eventually gained access to the caucus but only after several skirmishes with security guards, party officials and even Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, who was volunteering at the event.
OTHERS JUMP IN
The dust-up prompted others to jump in.
"You want to take him out, take me out, too, you son of a bitch," Alan Kaplan, 83, yelled toward Hambrick while the assemblyman was blocking Donoghue's path.
Kaplan, who said he attended the night caucus for religious reasons, said he didn't think it was fair to exclude others.
"I fought in Vietnam, I didn't fight for assholes like that," Kaplan said.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was the surprising winner of the sundown caucus, which critics once said was tilted toward Newt Gingrich by way of billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Gingrich supporter for whom the school where the caucus was held is named.
Adelson briefly attended the caucus and cast a ballot, but he didn't speak to the audience and declined to talk to reporters.
PAUL WINS SUNDOWN CAUCUS
But Paul supporters, many of them signing declarations stating they needed to attend the evening event because religious obligations prevented them from caucusing earlier, won the day. Paul won with 183 votes, Romney was second with 61, former House Speaker Gingrich was third with 57, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was last with 16.
From the beginning it appeared the crowd was heavy with Paul supporters.
Laurie Drum of Las Vegas was one of the first people in line to enter, more than an hour before the event was scheduled to begin.
"I've done a lot of research on the different candidates. I've been reading a lot," said Drum, who cited Paul's economic platform.
A series of robo-calls to potential caucus-goers may have contributed to the chaos surrounding the event.
Several people said they received calls stating that if they missed an earlier caucus for any reason, they could show up at the sundown caucus.
"It said if you couldn't vote today to come out here and you could vote," said Ed Klapproth, who missed caucusing at his precinct because he was volunteering at another.
The unusual nighttime caucus at the Adelson Educational Campus was noteworthy in part because the location is named for Adelson, the chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Miriam. They gave $10 million to a political action committee supporting Gingrich.
"Ron Paul tried to hijack this thing even though Adelson created it," said Phil Hoffman, 47.
GOP MOVE CALLED 'FANTASTIC'
Jacob Hafter, an Orthodox Jew who ran for attorney general, attended the event and praised local party officials for holding it.
"I think it is fantastic the Republican party decided to be inclusive of religious Jews," Hafter said, noting the crowd that was filling a 350-seat auditorium and spilling into an overflow space. "We were worried there would be more press than attendees, and that isn't the case."
Jordan Ross, party whip for the Clark County Republican Party, said party officials aren't planning on verifying that people who signed declarations were truthful about their religious practices.
He said the most important part of the document was a portion stating the attendee hadn't already caucused earlier in the day.
"That was the key," Ross said. As for the religious declaration?
"It is operating on a certain level of honor system," Ross said. "They make the declaration, we take them at their word."
Once the caucus event started, Paul supporters were louder than those backing Romney, Gingrich or Santorum.
Still, backers of other candidates got to have their say.
Ron Mackey, 63, who retired from the Air Force, drew applause for his support for Gingrich and denouncement of President Barack Obama.
"I'm a black man, and I'm a conservative, get that guy (Obama) off Air Force One, and Gingrich can do it," Mackey said.
Contact Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.