WINNEMUCCA – Nevada Republican Party officials, seeking to put 2018 state losses behind them and set a glide path for nominating President Donald Trump for a second term in 2020, re-elected their incumbent chairman and other party leaders Saturday and formally took the party out of holding a presidential caucus to choose its candidate in February.
The Silver State’s GOP thus becomes the latest state party to all but formally endorse the sitting president more than a year before the election, though central committee members stopped short of nominating him outright. That vote, per Republican national committee rules, won’t happen until February, state leaders said Saturday.
But by opting against a caucus, a move favored by the Trump campaign in Nevada and elsewhere, state Republicans do avoid a contest that could sow division and would cost the party money, but whose outcome would not be much in doubt.
Republicans in South Carolina and Kansas voted to forgo their states’ primaries earlier Saturday, and Arizona Republicans were expected to follow suit as well.
“We have an incredible incumbent who’s very strong,” Douglas County’s Amy Tarkanian told fellow delegates as party faithful debated the move. “And I think it would be a slap in his face if we did not pass this.”
The measure was approved on a show of raised hands. Those who spoke against it said skipping the presidential caucus would sharply curtail participation and enthusiasm for other caucus contests, which will continue as normal.
“It is not only about money. It’s also about the individual’s right to go to the (caucus) and cast a vote,” said Clark County delegate Mary Beganyi. “You want to elect Republicans? Engage Republicans.”
Meeting Saturday in Winnemucca, the county seat of strongly-Republican Humboldt County in Northern Nevada, far from Democratic strongholds in the south, party officials also backed the full slate of incumbent leaders, all Trump stalwarts who enjoy the similar backing of the president.
Chairman Michael McDonald, who has served since 2012, easily won a three-way race with 57 percent of the vote, or 205 out of 362 votes cast, beating back opponents who sought to blame him for the party’s losses in 2016 and 2018.
Trump lost the state in 2016, and Republicans suffered steep losses in 2018 up and down the ballot, including races for U.S. Senate, three of four U.S. House races, and the governor and attorney general races. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske remains the only Republican statewide elected official.
McDonald defeated Mesquite Councilwoman Annie Black, who received 102 votes, and former Clark County GOP chairman Dave McKeon who won 54.
The caucus opt-out had the backing of the chairman and leadership.
“Caucuses are expensive,” McDonald said during a break in the meeting. He noted that county party organizations had their eyes on reversing 2018’s losses in state legislative races and wanted to “focus on and put the resources where they’re needed.”
In Nevada, Democrats hold a 73,000 active registered voter advantage over Republicans on the strength of their 165,000-voter lead in Clark County, where 71 percent of Nevada’s voters reside. Republicans have a registration advantage in the state’s other 16 counties. State active-voter registration is 38 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican, and 22 percent nonpartisan according to August figures from the secretary of state’s office.
by Thomas Mitchell
The Nevada Assembly voted 23-17 this past week to cut the impact of your presidential vote by at least a third.
Assembly Bill 186 would have Nevada join something called the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” Instead of awarding Nevada’s six electoral votes — one for each representative and senator in Congress — according to how Nevadans vote, those six electoral votes would be awarded to the president and vice president team that wins the popular vote nationally.
One could say this cuts the value of Nevada’s votes from six to four, since the votes nationwide would be proportional to population. Or one could say it negates our votes entirely since it matters not how we vote.
Not a single Assembly Republican voted for the bill and five Democrats had the good sense to reject this attempt to emasculate the federalist system on which this country was founded.
If only three state Senate Democrats have the temerity to buck their party leadership and reject AB186 it would fail.
An email to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office asking whether he would sign or veto the bill should it pass did not garner a response.
Backers say the compact would become a reality if it is adopted by states possessing a combined 270 electoral votes, or a majority of the 538 electoral votes. A similar bill passed in Colorado earlier this year, giving the proposal 181 electoral votes, just 89 votes short of becoming binding.
A similar measure passed the Nevada Assembly in 2009 on a party-line vote but failed to come up for a vote in the state Senate.
The instigation for the current push is the fact that in 2016 Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote by 304 to 227, though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million.
If the National Popular Vote had been in force in 2000 Nevada’s then four electoral votes would have been enough to flip the election to Al Gore, even though George W. Bush won the popular vote in Nevada by 49.5 percent to 46 percent, winning every county except Clark. Bush won the electoral vote 271 to 266, but lost the popular vote by 540,000.
Janine Hansen, state president of the Nevada Families for Freedom, mentioned just such a scenario in testimony opposing AB186.
“There are three dangers I’d like to mention with the National Popular Vote,” Hansen testified. “One is the National Popular Vote will potentially betray the voters of our own state. If our state voted for candidate A and the National Popular Vote winner was candidate B, our votes would be stolen from our desire and given to the National Popular Vote winner, betraying the voters in this state. I think there would be a lot of angry voters if they found out that that’s what happened.”
Hansen also noted there is no national authority for determining the accuracy of the National Popular Vote.
In his testimony, Jim DeGraffenreid, vice chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, pointed out Nevada is currently a battleground state, getting significant attention from national candidates. He said the state’s first-in-the-West caucuses provide opportunities for all Nevadans to participate.
“The Electoral College exists because the Framers of the Constitution believed that each state should matter in selecting the president,” DeGraffenreid testified. “It is designed to protect the smaller states like Nevada. To suggest that a state should disregard its own voters and instead follow the will of voters in some other state is the exact opposite of what the Framers intended.”
He said the bill could make Nevada voters irrelevant.
The Founders created the Electoral College and the U.S. Senate to assure the smaller populated states were not relegated to powerlessness in a one person-one vote system. The states were meant to be sovereign and to hold the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government.
The National Review pointed out in a recent article that using 2016’s turnout stats a candidate could have won 54 percent of the vote in 48 states, losing only California, New York and D.C., but if an opponent won 75 percent of the vote in just those three locales, a 451 to 87 electoral vote landslide would have turned into a popular-vote defeat to 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent — even though the voters in 48 states rejected that candidate.
Should Nevada surrender its presidential votes to California and New York?
A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.