Nevada GOP moving presidential caucus to January

Nevada Republicans decided Saturday to move up the GOP presidential caucuses to January to preserve the state’s early voting spot, although it will cost the Silver State half its delegates at the national convention.

The GOP executive board voted to go ahead with plans to hold its caucuses on the Saturday following New Hampshire, once that state decides a new date. It will be after the traditional first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

Nevada moved its caucus date from Feb. 18 in response to Florida’s decision on Friday to hold its primary Jan. 31, in an attempt to jump ahead of the four early voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Under Republican National Committee rules adopted last year, any state that holds a binding presidential vote before Feb. 1 must forfeit half of its delegates.

In Nevada’s case, that means half of the state’s 28 delegates can’t participate in the presidential nominating convention in the summer of 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian had considered moving the caucuses to the first week of February to avoid the delegate penalty while still holding the first vote in the West ahead of Colorado.

But Tarkanian and the executive board meeting by phone Saturday evening deter­mined it was more important to hold the nation’s third presidential vote than to hold onto a full slate of delegates.

The thinking is that the earlier Nevada has its caucuses to choose a White House favorite the more it can influence the outcome of the GOP nominating contest. A win or strong showing could give a candidate momentum while a weak finish could weed the field.

“We think the convention has become a bit of a formality,” said former Nevada Gov. Robert List, an executive board member who voted to approve the move. “Our nominee will be decided by then. Forfeiting a few delegates is not nearly as important as preserving the very important role Nevada has now as an early voting state.”

Tarkanian held out hope Nevada could work something out with the RNC to allow all of its delegates some role at the convention.

GOP Committeewoman Heidi Smith was the only member of the executive board who voted against moving the caucuses to January. She said it wasn’t worth losing delegates or violating the rules.

Florida will lose the most delegates with its original total of 99. South Carolina has 50 and New Hampshire 23. Iowa has 28 delegates, but won’t be penalized because its caucuses are not binding.

Republicans from Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are pushing the RNC to further punish Florida for ignoring the rules and shaking up the calendar, which it also did in 2008. Sanctions could include poor convention space and hotels.

Presidential candidates also could snub Florida, although that’s unlikely given its importance and boost it gave last time to the GOP nominee: U.S. Sen. John McCain.

In discussions with the RNC earlier Saturday, GOP leaders in Nevada had discussed possible rewards for following the calendar rules, perhaps getting preferential treatment on the convention floor or invitations to special VIP events. But the RNC was noncommittal, which may have helped influence the state’s decision.

The Florida move will mean changes, too, for Nevada Democrats who had been scheduled to caucus on Feb. 18.

The head of the Nevada Democratic Party, Roberta Lange, said Friday the party plans to move its presidential caucuses into January as well so the state remains the third to vote nationwide behind Iowa and New Hampshire. President Barack Obama faces no serious Democratic opponent.

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

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