A potent choice

There have been complaints from Nevadans about the presidential caucuses. They argue caucuses should be replaced with a primary. Some of this was seeded by the Republican Party, which tried and failed to push a primary through the Nevada Legislature because it made it easier for them to control the party and kept everyday folks from seizing control. When they failed to get a primary, they turned to poisoning the dialogue against the caucuses. Other opponents of the caucuses are better motivated.

Complaints are manifold. In an essay on the CNN website, Truckee Meadows Community College instructor Paul Davis argues that “it is time for Nevada to step aside” from its early berth, in part because in 2012 Newt Gingrich received 21 percent of the vote in the Nevada caucuses but received no Nevada delegate votes at the national convention. (Gingrich had withdrawn from the race and endorsed Mitt Romney by the time of the convention.)

On our letters page this week, a caucus-goer complains that time was used up in reading letters from party big shots instead of debating issues, a complaint heard at several caucus sites. But the letter writer and all the other complainants had the option of making a motion to set the correspondence aside and move to platform discussions. Everyone is there to participate, if they choose.

Nevada currently enjoys something other states would kill to get—an early berth in the presidential race. All over the country, people are complaining about not having enough of a say. “As the presidential primaries are reaching their crucial moments, voters in Indiana are left on the outside looking in,” wrote a columnist in the Indianapolis Business Journal. “Late date means New Mexico likely a non-factor in presidential primary” reads a headline on the website of an Albuquerque television station.

This newspaper was once among those who thought Nevada caucuses were a mistake (“Kill Nevada’s early caucuses,” RN&R, Jan. 31, 2008). We did not believe—and still don’t—that permanent early berths for the same select states in election after election are a good idea. Those berths should be rotated among the states.

But the political parties—particularly the Democrats—have long since given up doing something about Iowa and New Hampshire. That being so, we are less inclined to see Nevada give up its slot. Moreover, with the third set of caucuses in both parties having had an impact on the two parties’ races, this state’s place in the presidential process is becoming established in the political landscape. Moreover, in those years when Nevada held presidential primaries, turnout didn’t exactly make the state proud.

The revolutionary generation of the 1700s attended day-long town meetings once or twice a year. Today folks don’t want to attend caucuses for a couple of hours every four years to choose a president. Small-D democrats should be made of sterner stuff.

But all groups should be aware of something the Republicans failed to mention during the legislature. Nevada can have clout with its early berth in the presidential race, or it can have a primary. It likely can’t have both.

In 2007, two caucus states—Iowa and Nevada—and two primary states—New Hampshire and South Carolina—were permitted to hold presidential nominating events in February. All other states had to wait until March. It gave those four states enormous influence.

If Nevada gives up its caucuses, it will probably have to give up its early slot and the clout it represents. Colorado, another caucus state with very similar demographics, is just waiting for the chance to replace Nevada.