Raising doubts, Richardson shifts Nevada staffers to Iowa

Nevada was supposed to be Bill Richardson’s big opening, the state where the Western candidate would stake his hopes for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But now the New Mexico governor has moved 10 Nevada field staffers to Iowa, raising doubts about his effort here and further underscoring that while Nevada’s presidential caucus has its place, Iowa is where the most intense battle for the Democratic nomination will be fought.

Richardson’s campaign on Tuesday characterized the move as a way to train Nevada staffers in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, then bring them back to Nevada with the experience they’ll need for the Jan. 19 caucuses.

“This was the plan,” Richardson spokesman Josh McNeil said. “These folks are local people we hired here who are going to learn how to run a caucus. They’re going to come back experts in the process, but also local Nevadans who know the state. When you put those two together, they can be leaders” in the Nevada organization.

McNeil said more staffers were coming to Nevada to fill the gap and on balance staff levels would stay about the same, with “around 30” organizers. Richardson’s last campaign-finance report, for the period ending Sept. 30, listed 54 individuals on the Nevada payroll at one time or another.

One of the staffers now moving to Nevada is the national director of Mi Familia con Bill Richardson, his grass-roots Hispanic group, McNeil said.

If the training move was such a positive for Richardson’s campaign, it was not one the campaign chose to formally announce. Richardson previously criticized a similar move by rival John Edwards, who shuffled some staff from Nevada to Iowa and other states in August.

At the time, Richardson issued a statement questioning Edwards’ commitment to Nevada. “Though other campaigns may waver, I remain committed to campaigning in Nevada,” he said, adding, “My growing staff in Nevada is there to reach out to voters one by one. … To ignore Nevada is to ignore its diversity, its strength, and the tremendous value of the West to our party and to our country.”

McNeil stood by those remarks. “We’re talking about two different time frames,” he said. “That was months ago. This is a final push in Iowa to get training for our staff to come back and work here.”

Edwards’ campaign has since beefed up its Nevada staff, adding about two dozen, which it said last month amounted to tripling its ranks. Earlier this week the Edwards campaign announced it was moving three national staffers to Nevada, including a new state director, who previously served as the campaign’s Western regional director, and a labor adviser, Chris Chafe, who was previously a top official at UNITE HERE, the parent of Nevada’s powerful Culinary union.

It wasn’t clear to what degree that announcement was an attempt to paper over the departure of Edwards’ previous Nevada director, Bill Hyers, to run a U.S. Senate campaign in New Hampshire.

Chafe’s credentials could be a boost to Edwards’ attempt to woo Culinary. But it’s not the first time an Edwards staffer in Nevada has decided a better opportunity lay elsewhere. In August, field director Preston Elliot left to take a job with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Richardson has spent more time in Nevada than any other presidential candidate, 18 days, and has stressed his credentials as the regional candidate and the only Hispanic in the race. But he has failed to break into double digits in polls here.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Richardson was widely seen as banking his campaign on a win or near-win in Nevada. “I don’t think there’s any question he has not done as well in Nevada as he hoped to,” he said.

“It’s surprising,” Sabato said. “You would think, with being the Western candidate and so many Hispanics in Nevada. But apparently not.”

Sabato, who advocates a constitutional amendment reforming the presidential nominating process, said it’s not surprising that candidates, including Richardson, continue to spend many times more time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire than any other state.

In the pileup of unpredictable January contests, it’s not clear how much effect Nevada will have, he said. “Nevada obviously is not the Mount Everest of the contest, but it could still play a role,” he said. “It’s an unknown. It could provide an opening for a candidate other than Hillary Clinton if she wins Iowa and New Hampshire, or it could finish off everybody else.”

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

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