County gatherings test organizations
There are three stages to the selection of Nevada’s delegates to national presidential nominating conventions. It starts with precinct meetings, known generically as caucuses. That is the stage at which the first tally is taken of presidential candidate preferences.
It ends at the party state conventions, where the national delegates are actually selected.
In between are the county conventions. They’re the dreariest of the three, and the easiest to overlook—and they can affect presidential candidate fortunes. Whoever won the precinct meetings must get his or her people out again to the county conventions to hang onto that victory. And second or third place finishers in the precinct meetings get another chance. Plus, the candidates fortunes outside of Nevada can affect what happens inside.
Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in the Nevada precinct meetings. But by the time of the state convention, Obama had scored so many victories he was starting to look inevitable, and he picked up more delegates than he had earned in the Nevada precinct meetings.
In 2012, Republican Newt Gingrich—propped up by Nevada billionaire Sheldon Adelson—managed a second place finish in the Nevada precinct meetings. By the time of the state convention, he was out of the race.
This year in the precinct meetings, Democrat Hillary Clinton repeated her Nevada win and Donald Trump triumphed in the GOP.
At the Washoe Democratic Convention at Lawlor Events Center, it was clear from the beginning that Bernie Sanders had gotten his people out. He won Washoe and the small counties in the precinct meetings while Clinton won Clark County. He held onto Washoe at the county convention. And as the day wore on, word arrived from Las Vegas that he had done a better job of getting his people out in Clark County, too. It appears that Sanders took Nevada away from Clinton, at least in this round.
Candidate supporters were firm in their advocacy.
Business owner Scott Lambert: “I feel like Bernie represents the return of the elder to our circle of leaders. He’s a man who has true depth to his character and true integrity. And we need our elders to be our mentors, and we’ve kind of lost that in our culture.”
Teacher and Clinton supporter Patrick Rossi: “I think it’s time that he have some progressive leadership that has talent and dedication toward helping the American people to get us onto the right track.”
There was tension between the Clinton and Sanders forces. But it was not the kind of thing that threatened to rupture the party.
Across town at Grand Sierra Resort, it was another matter. The Washoe Republican Convention often seemed on a knife edge.Faith and pragmatism
Republican conventions are always more sedate than Democratic conventions. Here, the delegates were less demonstrative for their candidates. Where the Democrats wore candidate T-shirts and buttons, very few Republicans wore evidence of their candidates. The most common were stickers for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Heck. There were few presidential buttons or shirts.
There was simmering below the surface. The first time a speaker mentioned Trump, his faction broke out chanting his name. It was so unusual for a Republican convention that people in the outer hall rushed into the convention hall to see what the fuss was.
Former Nevada Assembly speaker Bill Bilyeu grimaced.
“They’re like the Pat Robertson people were,” he said. “And the Ron Paul people.”
Both Robertson and Paul had scored well in Nevada in earlier years, but it’s difficult to make a case that the state GOP benefited from it. The Paulists succeeded in taking over the party organization and then sat out the general election campaign so that party traditionalists had to set up a separate campaign to aid presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
At last weekend’s convention, the platform—a statement of party positions—was at issue. The libertarian Paulists had managed to get anti-abortion language out of the state platform in 2012. Now, at the Washoe County level, delegates battled over a plank calling for mandatory ultrasounds before abortions. Planks also opposed marriage equality and included climate change denial. Young and libertarian delegates considered the platform a way of “fighting the last war.”
Trump and Cruz supporters tended to talk about belief and Kasich backers talked about who could win. “I believe he’s the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton,” said Kasich supporter Stephen Roy.
In both parties, insurgents have difficulty understanding why traditional party people oppose them, and it’s not always issues. The truth is that when presidential campaigns are over, supporters of candidates like Trump and Sanders usually disappear. Their season using the political parties as vehicles will be over, and the traditionalists will then have to keep the parties going.