Long lines

Photo By DENNIS MYERS Eric and Midge Redli, right, waited in line at Dilworth Middle School to be admitted to their Republican precinct meeting.

“You must have a government-issued photo I.D.,” Tom Dickman said at Sparks Republican caucuses held at Dilworth Middle School. “A Costco card will not work [laughter]. No one can vouch for anyone.”

This is a relatively new ritual. For most of the past 150 years of statehood, no one needed identification to attend a Republican—or Democratic—caucus. No one, after all, would try to crash a precinct caucus. The real problem was getting people to attend at all.

But that was before Republican leaders developed the technique of preventing low income people who don’t have identification and would probably vote Democratic from voting in real elections. And the GOP caucuses must now set the example.

Most of the people attending the caucuses at Dilworth Middle School in Sparks never heard Dickman’s remarks. He was speaking in the front hallway, which held only a few dozen people. Most of the participants were outside standing in a long line.

This school has a footnote role in Republican history. In the early 1960s, GOP strategist Karl Rove attended seventh, eighth and ninth grades at what was then Dilworth Junior High School. Rove might not have felt comfortable at these caucuses because so many of the participants wanted a candidate who could appeal to the moderates Rove did so much to drive out of the party. An ABC News survey of Nevada caucus-goers indicated that the quality they cited most in a candidate was an ability to defeat Barack Obama. Among the 44 percent of caucus participants who felt that way, 74 percent voted for Mitt Romney.

Eric Redli, who is retired from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, attended the Dilworth caucus with his wife Midge. He went to his first caucus four years ago.

“The first time, I was curious to see what the process is,” he said.

This year, he and his wife attended to support Romney.

“Mitt Romney’s got the tools, the moral character, the core values to get us out of this mess, and being a CEO of companies and so on, he knows what to do,” Redli said.

“He’s run companies for 25-plus years, he’s created jobs—and that’s the biggest issue. He’s created jobs. Nobody in Washington creates jobs.”

Romney and Ron Paul had volunteers at the site from out of state to distribute literature and give sales pitches, which freed their in-state supporters to attend their caucuses.

“Well, you know, we got to get the constitutional message out for Ron Paul,” said Paul backer Scott Macintosh of Pacifica, Calif.

“We’re out here to put the flyers out and give people free information. We got a super flyer here, a lot of info about Ron Paul, the only veteran in the race. You know, things like that, that people … well, might not get from the mainstream media.”

Helen Sealey, a local resident, was working for Gingrich, who was running on a shoestring in Nevada and had no money to bus volunteers in. She caucused after proselytizing for her candidate.

“I just really think he’s the guy to put us on the right track,” she said. “I really like him. I heard him talk. I’m totally convinced.”

There was some sentiment for a presidential primary election at Dilworth. According to our interviews of participants, those who want a presidential primary are those who attend the caucuses only in presidential years, suggesting they are less interested in the Republican Party organization. (Caucuses are held for party business in every even-numbered year.) Those who attend caucuses in non-presidential years tended to be happy with the existing system.

The special election held in 2001 to fill a vacant U.S. House seat in the Northern Nevada district cost $536,000. The secretary of state’s office is trying to work up an estimate for a statewide presidential primary. Secretary of State Ross Miller said he expects it will come in somewhere around $1-2 million.

One man at Dilworth wore a white T-shirt that read in part, “We the people want a real American President…” Just italics were not enough—italics and underlining were combined.

What was most interesting about the Dilworth caucus-goers was that the participants had virtually no interest in the matters that so occupied journalists. They didn’t care whether Nevada made a splash nationally, whether advertising money helps the state economy, or even whether the candidates visited Nevada personally. They treated the caucuses as earnestly as an Election Day, as a step in choosing a president, and they took the role seriously. Each vote was cast as though it would determine the nomination.

The long count

Photo By Dennis Myers Participants at Dilworth checked a diagram to find where their precincts were meeting in the school.

Romney finished slightly lower statewide than in 2008, 50.1 percent compared to his earlier 51.1 percent showing, though he had fewer opponents to split up the vote this time around. And he had essentially the same dynamic as in 2008—only one active opponent, Paul. Gingrich and Santorum tried to slap together late Nevada efforts, but Santorum spent only $12,000 on cable-only television advertising. Gingrich spent nothing. Romney spent $371,000. Personal appearances were the main sign of Gingrich and Santorum campaigns. (Among Mormon voters, who made up 26 percent of the GOP caucus-goers, Romney received 91 percent compared to 95 percent in 2008.)

Paul, who matched Romney nearly dollar for dollar in TV ads ($350,000) in Nevada and poured everything but the kitchen sink into the state, gained only 5 percentage points over his 2008 showing (18.7 to 13.7 percent)—and in the process lost the second place he won in ’08 to Gingrich. Romney’s opponents had begun verbally hedging their bets on Nevada before the caucuses began, but it was less than credible coming from Paul. He had thrown everything into winning what he considered the receptive territory of the Silver State, appearing personally time after time over the months. If he could not win Nevada among Republicans, it’s hard to imagine where he could win a primary or caucus, much less what state he could carry in a general election—and if Dilworth was an indication, winning against Obama is vital to Republicans in choosing a nominee.

Dickman declined to provide the Dilworth results, but individual caucus-goers interviewed indicated that Romney did well among the precincts represented at the site. “Ours went for Romney,” one said. Statewide, 32,864 people caucused.

If the Nevada Republican Party’s decision to report its vote count through Twitter and Google was designed to show how the private sector can count votes better than government election offices, it was a fiasco. The caucuses were held on Saturday. By Sunday morning at 9, only 70 percent of results had been released—and those were five hours old. Not until about 2:30 Monday morning was the count complete—and it reported Romney’s percentage incorrectly, depriving him of a tenth of a percentage point.

Thr delay led to some bad journalism as some writers extrapolated from misleading early returns. The first returns showed Paul in second place, leading to a Huffington Post article under the headline, “Ron Paul Poised To Finish Surprisingly Strong In 2012 Nevada Caucus.”

After Gingrich moved into second place, he held at 26 percent for a while, producing inflated coverage of his showing. He finally dropped to 21.2 percent.

The slow count allowed one fringe figure, South Dakota Constitution Party leader Lori Stacey, to post an article on the DC Examiner site accusing the Nevada Republican Party of a “corrupt system” without any substantiating evidence except the delay. At another Examiner site, a Mark Wachtler ran an article headlined “Paul camp cries fraud over Nevada Caucus results.” The article contained no information supporting the headline and no quotes from anyone representing candidate Paul.

The Nevada party’s decision to release its results on Twitter allowed people to post some acid comments alongside the partial returns. One read, “We’ve seen developing countries where folks lining up to vote with purple thumbs do better.” (The comments were later purged from the site. They were recovered and can be read on our Newsview blog.)

“I don’t know why they didn’t just post them on the state Republican website,” said one GOP state legislator. In fact, the final results were posted on the state website, not Twitter or Google. But the state’s website has usually been fairly stale. It did not have caucus information until very late in the game and well after the Washoe County Republican site.

Final numbers 2012 Nevada Republican caucuses

Romney

50.1 percent

16,486 votes

Gingrich

21.1 percent

6,956 votes

Paul

18.7 percent

6,175 votes

Santorum

9.9 percent

3,277 votes

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.