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GOP leader wants to preserve Nevada’s February caucuses

The head of the Nevada Republican Party said Friday she still wants to hold the GOP presidential caucuses in February despite Florida’s move to jump ahead with a Jan. 31 primary.

Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said she doesn’t want Nevada to be penalized and lose half its delegates by moving its caucuses to January in violation of the Republican National Committee rules. She said Nevada would still be the first state in the West to vote in early February 2012.

“We just want to make sure that Nevada’s voice is fully heard,” Tarkanian said in an interview. “I think losing our delegates is just not worth it.”

Tarkanian held a telephone conference call with members of the GOP executive committee Friday evening to discuss her proposal. She told them she wants to preserve Nevada’s projected 28 delegates to the presidential nominating convention by sticking with the RNC rules.

No final decisions were made, but the group seemed receptive to the idea, one insider said.

Tarkanian and other GOP leaders planned today to talk again with Republicans leaders of three other early voting states and hold another executive committee call to decide the matter.

Now, Nevada’s GOP presidential caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 18, which is before Iowa and New Hampshire and after South Carolina. The four states were all allowed by the RNC to be the first voting states with all others required to hold voting later to stretch out the nominating contest.

GOP leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina all said that if Florida moved its primary, their states also would vote earlier to maintain their pole positions in the 2012 nominating calendar. Tarkanian, too, had said Nevada would move its caucus date with the other early states, but she said Friday the idea of losing half the state’s precious delegates made her shift her thinking.

“From my discussions with the other three (early voting) carve-out states, they feel it’s important enough to move up and lose some delegates,” Tarkanian said. “But Nevada doesn’t have as many delegates, and I think it’s most important to have a voice and be first in the West.”

Under RNC rules adopted last year, any state that holds a binding presidential vote before Feb. 1 will be penalized, including Florida, which will lose half its projected 99 delegates. Iowa’s traditional first-up caucuses aren’t binding, so the state won’t suffer any delegate penalty.

In setting a new date, Tarkanian said she wanted to ensure Nevada holds its caucuses ahead of most states so the party meetings could shift from Feb. 18 to closer to Feb. 1.

Heidi Smith, a GOP national committeewoman from Nevada, said she thinks Florida ought to be penalized beyond losing half its delegates. Smith is on an RNC committee that plans to meet in January and that could impose further punishment, including by giving Florida the worst hotels in the host city of Tampa and poor positions on the convention floor.

“I think the penalties need to be severe,” said Smith, who suggested GOP presidential candidates should snub the Florida contest as most did in 2008 when the state violated the RNC calendar rules. “At this point, anybody who wins Florida, I’m thinking twice about voting for them.”

In 2008, Nevada’s GOP caucuses weren’t binding. But party leaders decided to increase the stakes and participation in 2012 by making delegates’ presidential picks binding to the convention. Nevada also will award delegates on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all to boost competition.

The Nevada Democratic Party criticized Florida for disrupting plans by the two main political parties to establish a presidential nominating season designed to make more states count.

“Florida’s announcement today risks the integrity and intent of the presidential nominating calendar and is a blatant violation of the rules agreed upon by the national committees of both parties,” party Chairwoman Roberta Lange said Friday in a statement.

Lange said Nevada Democrats probably would move up the date of their presidential caucuses to sometime in January in reaction to Florida moving its primary to Jan. 31.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.

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