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GOP committee to spare Nevada

Nevada Republicans will not be among the states punished by party leaders for moving their presidential nominating contests to dates before Feb. 5, the Republican National Committee chairman said Monday.

Five states are scheduled to lose half their delegates based on the committee’s interpretation of party rules, Mike Duncan said in a conference call.

But Nevada’s contest is technically a nonbinding straw poll that does not assign delegates to presidential candidates.

Several state parties have moved their presidential primaries into January to be among the influential few who are the first to vote, though the national party frowns upon it.

“Nevada’s process is not a binding process; that’s the difference between Nevada and some of the other (state nominating) processes,” Duncan said. “They (Nevada) have something in place where they have a vote, but it does not … bind the delegates to a particular candidate.”

Under Monday’s recommendation by the RNC’s executive committee, the five states losing half of their delegates would be New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming. All except Wyoming, which plans a nominating convention, are scheduled to hold primaries rather than caucuses.

To go into effect, the executive committee recommendation must be approved by the full RNC when it meets in late November.

Nevada and Iowa Republicans plan to hold caucuses in which partisans gather to elect delegates, then participate in a statewide straw poll on their presidential preference.

Although most of the caucus delegates will be elected based on which candidate they favor, they are not required to stay with that candidate.

The Iowa Republican caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 3, and Nevada’s are Jan. 19.

The RNC determination could set Republicans up for the kind of intraparty fight Democrats have been waging, with state parties pitted against each other and the national party.

Already Monday, South Carolina Republicans were considering suing the national party over the decision. Florida Democrats have sued the Democratic National Committee, which voided all of the state’s delegates based on its planned Jan. 29 primary.

Duncan said the RNC was just following the rule, adopted at the 2004 convention, that states hold their nominating contests between Feb. 5 and July 28, with no exceptions. “This will come as no surprise to any of the states involved,” he said.

Nevada Republican officials lauded the decision not to penalize the Silver State.

“With the help of our legal counsel … our delegate selection plan was carefully crafted to ensure all RNC requirements were met,” Nevada GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden said in a statement. “We are excited about moving forward with our caucus and look forward to a successful national convention next year.”

The states’ delegate counts will come into play only if one candidate does not sweep to inevitability based on the first few contests, which is a more common scenario than a “brokered” convention in which delegates choose a nominee on the floor of the summit.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for September 2008 in St. Paul, Minn.

Nevada has been allotted 34 delegates and will receive three bonus delegates for having a Republican governor, senator and two U.S. representatives, for a total of 37.

Even after being cut in half, Florida’s delegation would be 57 strong, Michigan’s 30. South Carolina would get 24 delegates, Wyoming 14, and New Hampshire 12.

Washington pundit Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said the candidates are not likely to change their strategies based on the counts.

The early contests are more important for their symbolic value and the momentum they bring, he said.

“In this day and age, a candidate gets momentum (from the earliest contests), the nominee becomes clear. Pretty soon no one else can raise any money, and the nominee is decided very early,” he said.

The traditional importance of the New Hampshire primary is too strong for the candidates or media to ignore it, while the South Carolina primary has significance as a test of candidates’ strength in the South and with social conservatives, Rothenberg said.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.

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