The Libertarians are coming.
Las Vegas will host its first presidential convention when the Libertarian Party meets here in 2012. Convening at the Red Rock Resort May 4-6, one of the country's largest third parties will pick its nominee for the White House.
The event promises to increase the election-year spotlight on Nevada, which also will hold the first-in-the-West Republican and Democratic caucuses on Feb. 18, after the traditional tests in Iowa and New Hampshire. The early contests will help winnow the presidential field in what's expected to be a highly contested Republican bid to challenge President Barack Obama.
Besides political theater, the Libertarian convention and its 1,000 delegates will provide a financial boost to Las Vegas. The meeting is expected to create a non-gaming economic impact of more than $700,000 from conventiongoers alone, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Members of the media and others attracted by the event will add to the projected spending.
The Las Vegas convention, which C-SPAN will televise, should make for an interesting political show. Unlike the main party meetings, which are choreographed crownings of the presidential nominees every four years, the Libertarians battle it out on the floor, with the best man or woman winning the nod.
"It should be a very interesting dogfight," said Wayne Allyn Root, the Libertarian vice presidential nominee in 2008 and a potential front-runner for the 2012 contest. "Everyone assumes I will be one of the leading candidates. But I haven't decided whether I will run for president."
In 2008, Root, 49, of Henderson initially sought the top-of-the-ticket spot, but said that during the convention in Denver he threw his support behind the eventual nominee, Bob Barr. The former member of the House from Georgia had quit the GOP to join the Libertarian Party in 2006.
The Barr-Root Libertarian ticket won more than 500,000 votes in 2008, or 0.4 percent of those cast in the presidential election. In Nevada, the Libertarians earned 4,258 votes, also 0.4 percent.
Now, the Libertarian Party has more than 6,800 registered members in Nevada, which is double the Green Party count but far less than the 49,000 members of the Independent American Party, the state's largest third party. Overall, Nevada has about 1.1 million registered voters.
Nationally, the Libertarian Party has more than 250,000 registered voters, or just under 0.15 percent of the roughly 170 million registered voters nationwide.
Despite its small numbers, Root said Monday that the Libertarian Party has a history of influencing the national debate since its founding in 1971. In fact, the Tea Party movement that has influenced Republican Party politics since last year is built upon many of the same ideas, including less federal government and taxes and more personal freedom and free markets.
"The Libertarian Party is the Tea Party," said Root, a former Republican and a proponent of the latest conservative movement. "On every single fiscal issue, we're like the Tea Party. Their views are exactly in sync with ours," although Libertarians are generally laissez faire on social issues.
An oddsmaker, Root writes books and a weekly column that appears in the opinion section of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also appears frequently on Fox News as a conservative commentator.
Root is an elected member of the Libertarian National Committee, the governing body of the Libertarian Party. The committee met in New Orleans last week to vote on the site of the 2012 convention with Las Vegas beating out San Francisco and Dallas, according to Root.
Besides Root, speculation about potential Libertarian presidential candidates is focused on Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former Reform Party Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican who could run in the GOP primary as well.
Third parties have rarely done well in U.S. politics, particularly at the White House level, although their candidates can have an effect on the outcome, often becoming spoilers in the race.
Independent Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, came closest to being a real contender in 1992, when he got 19 percent of the vote thanks to unhappiness with incumbent President George H.W. Bush for raising taxes. In the end, Democrat Bill Clinton won .
In 2000, Green Party contender Ralph Nader was the spoiler, taking several million pro-environment votes away from Vice President Al Gore, the Democrat who lost to Republican George W. Bush after a highly disputed recount in Florida in a race that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The main thing a third party does is it tries to move the philosophy of the mainstream parties," said Mark Peplowski, political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada. "They tend to be spoilers or they get the main parties to embrace or adopt an issue. Third parties can activate people.
"I don't think the Libertarian Convention will change the debate much in Nevada," he added. "But it might get some attention and some business and fill some hotel rooms."
Nevada, a low-tax, libertarian-leaning state with laws friendly to gambling and prostitution, should be friendly territory for the Libertarian Party, but it hasn't had much ballot box success.
Joe Silvestri, chairman of the Libertarian Party in Nevada, has lost four congressional races in a row, making failed runs for Congressional District 3 in Southern Nevada in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.
"I didn't have any money. We're perpetually underfunded," Silvestri said. "Hopefully, the convention will give us, even if it's brief, a spotlight and get some attention for who we are."
Silvestri attended a major Tea Party event this year but was disappointed, saying the Republican Party had clearly "co-opted" the movement.
"I've given up hope that the Democrats or the Republican Party will ever reform," he said. "They say one thing and do another. Most people are like abused spouses: They keep coming back for more."
The Republican Party plans to hold its presidential convention in Tampa, Fla., beginning Aug. 27, 2012.
The Democratic Party plans to start its convention Sept. 3 and choose a site by early next year. The four finalists are Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis, and St. Louis, Mo.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.