If it’s spring it must be GOP presidential season in Vegas

When spring comes to Las Vegas, potential GOP presidential candidates gather.

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former President George W. Bush and several potential GOP presidential candidates are set to address an April meeting here of the Republican Jewish Coalition — a must-stop venue for Republican politicians with White House hopes.

Romney, who announced Jan. 30 that he would not make a third presidential run in 2016 after briefly considering the idea, is scheduled to address an April 23 VIP dinner on the opening Thursday of the coalition’s spring meeting.

On the closing Saturday of the meeting, April 25, potential White House hopefuls will speak to the gathering, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the coalition announced last week.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who flirted with a presidential bid before deciding to run for re-election, also is on that day’s speakers lineup.

Other previously announced speakers include possible White House hopeful Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, both of whom will address the meeting that Saturday afternoon. Former President Bush will speak to the group Saturday evening, helping to close out the conference.

Much of the April 23-25 meeting is closed to the media — including the addresses by Bush, Romney and Boehner — as several hundred of the nation’s top politicians, government officials, business leaders and campaign fundraisers and operatives gather to talk politics and policy, particularly U.S. backing of Israel as one of America’s closest allies.

Open to press coverage this year are the speeches by potential White House candidates and several other leaders, including Cruz, Pence, Perry and Portman, according to the coalition. Additional speakers might be added later.

Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson, a major GOP donor and staunch supporter of the Jewish state, usually attends the spring meeting, which is held at his Venetian on the Strip.

The coalition gathering serves as a testing ground for GOP candidates, particularly on how hawkish they are regarding the defense of Israel against its enemies in the Middle East.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our members to hear from leaders in our party talk about the most important issues facing our nation,” said Mark McNulty, a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition.

— Laura Myers

HARDY FLOATS ‘INLAND PORT’ IDEA

Frustrated with traffic tie-ups on Interstate 15 that choke visitors coming from and going to Southern California, Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., last week floated his vision of a potential solution.

“Why don’t we take federal land on the north side of (Las Vegas) and turn it into an inland port for railroad traffic?” Hardy said. Under this scenario, goods from California would arrive at terminals by rail and be loaded onto trucks that would continue east. And vice versa for freight headed the other way.

Hardy said his idea would reduce truck traffic that is a big cause of congestion on the only major highway connecting Southern Nevada to Southern California.

I-15 “is a huge trucking lane that everyone has to use to get to Interstate 70, to get to Interstate 80, to go across the nation,” Hardy said. “You look at this traffic, it is constant truck traffic.”

Hardy added truckers “hate going into L.A. themselves.”

The freshman Republican talked with reporters after a hearing Wednesday where he made a point to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the East Coast is not the only part of the country that suffers from bad traffic and could use some relief.

“Unless you’ve ever had to spend all day — sometimes close to 16 hours of traffic — driving from L.A. to Las Vegas, you’ve never experienced traffic,” Hardy told Foxx. Unlike highways in the East, there are not frequent exits on I-15 where motorists can escape the road, he said.

At the same hearing, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., urged Foxx to visit Las Vegas “to see for yourself the challenges we face.”

Hardy and Titus sit on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that soon will write a major updating of the nation’s highway programs.

“I’ve had ideas for years,” Hardy said. “Now I think I’m in a position to influence that.”

— Steve Tetreault

DID CHRISTIE BLOCK POKERSTARS DEAL?

Internet gaming giant PokerStars has been waiting for approval to launch operations in New Jersey since last year. Now, a publication is reporting Gov. Chris Christie is holding up the licensing as a favor to Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson.

BusinessInsider.com first reported the story, which has been picked up by the Press of Atlantic City.

PokerStars, which was acquired last year by Canada-based Amaya Gaming Group, has a partnership deal in place with Resorts Atlantic City to operate the casino’s online gaming presence in New Jersey. PokerStars also plans to build a $10 million poker room at the Boardwalk casino.

The company, however, has been unable to obtain a gaming license in New Jersey. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who sponsored the bill that legalized online gambling in the state, blamed the company’s inability to get licensed on Christie.

Christie’s office has denied the allegation. The governor is expected to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016 and has been courting support from Adelson, a billionaire who contributes heavily to GOP candidates and causes. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Adelson loaned Christie use of one of his private jets.

Adelson has emerged as the most fervent opponent to legalizing online gaming, vowing to spend “whatever it takes” to kill the activity.

— Howard Stutz

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Contact Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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