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Gov. Brian Sandoval and other senior Nevada Republicans are directing a wholesale overhaul of the state party as the GOP moves to organize an advanced voter-turnout operation capable of reclaiming the Silver State from President Barack Obama in 2012.
That effort begins with preparation for Nevada’s Feb. 18, 2012, Republican presidential nominating caucuses, with the first test coming in late October, when the state GOP will host the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. High-ranking Nevada Republicans are pushing the state party to mimic state Democrats and adopt same-day voter registration for the caucuses, and they view the WRLC as a trial run for its ground-game operation.
“I believe that Republicans have a lot of momentum,” Sandoval told Roll Call in a telephone interview from Carson City. “We all agree that it’s incredibly important that Republicans in Nevada do well in terms of showing that they can match or exceed what the Democrats have done in the past. It’s self-evident that it is going to be an extremely hard-fought campaign.”
Nevada Republicans were outhustled at all levels in 2008, when the Democrats carried the state for the first time since 1996. Democrats repeated the feat in 2010, when — despite some success on the midterm ballot for the GOP — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid overcame long odds to win re-election.
In the other marquee race this cycle, Rep. Dean Heller (R) is hoping to benefit in his run for the open Senate seat.
Obama won Nevada with 55 percent of the vote in 2008, topping the 2004 performance of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) by 7 points, improving on President George W. Bush’s total by 5 and beating President Bill Clinton’s 1996 finish by 11. Last November, Sandoval won in a landslide, and now-Rep. Joe Heck (R) narrowly ousted then-Rep. Dina Titus (D). But Reid won with 50.3 percent, which Republicans attribute to a superior ground game and a better-functioning state party.
Nevada Republicans say they have made strides toward being competitive in 2012. Compared with spring 2007, when the party had only a few thousand dollars in its federal account — and the aftermath of the 2008 elections, when it employed just two clerical workers — the organization currently features five full-time political staff and has $335,000 in the bank to use for federal activities. But Sandoval and others say their party’s resurgence begins with the presidential caucuses.
Nevada Republicans only began planning for the 2008 caucuses in October 2007. Preparation for the 2012 caucuses began in 2010. To encourage the full field of GOP presidential candidates to turn Nevada into a regular early-state campaign stop on par with Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and generate the grass-roots enthusiasm that could follow — the rules have been changed from the 2008 winner-take-all system to the proportional awarding of delegates.