Photo By DENNIS MYERS Nevada followers of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, seen here visiting Reno, are complicating Mitt Romney’s life.

Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been hit with a substantial Nevada impediment before even putting the nomination in hand.

The Clark County Republican organization is riven by disputes among its members who include Republicans and sometime Republicans, with Ron Paul supporters in control.

A strong Romney general election effort is essential if he wants to win Nevada. While he may expect to do well in Washoe and the small counties, any Republican is expected to win a substantial minority in Clark—which contains three-fourths of the voters—in order to win the state.

Paulists now control both the state and Clark County GOP central committees, the formal governing bodies, and regular Republicans have set up their own organization and are recognized by the national party.

After the state Republican convention in Sparks, when the Paulists took all the elected national convention delegates, there was an expectation in the party that they would seek to work with all elements of the party. But no congenial relationship resulted, at least in Clark, where several party officials have resigned after finding the Paulists difficult and belligerent toward the national party. Longtime Republicans have moved their efforts into a sort of party government in exile to give the Romney campaign cooperative local contacts. And the Washoe County Republican organization is considering taking on an enhanced role to supplant the state party, including registering with the Federal Elections Commission.

Clark County Republican chair Dave Gibbs and vice chair Woody Stroupe resigned on May 23, whereupon the Paulists changed the locks on the party headquarters and said they would be devoting their local efforts to electing “genuine” conservatives. It is unknown who that includes or whether it includes whoever the party nominates for president. It did make clear that the support of the Republican county organization for Republican-nominated candidates is not assured.

Clark GOP precinct organizer Matthew Yarbrough and press aides Bobbie Haseley and Michael Chamberlain followed with their resignations. Secretary Cindy Lake, a Paulist, moved up to acting chair.

The Paulists were able to win the support in state and county Republican conventions that they could not win in the Republican presidential caucuses in February. By doing a better job than caucus winner Romney at turning out their people, the Paulists took control of both the state and Clark County GOP central committees, an outcome deplored by national party officials.

On May 12, the Romney campaign together with local Republican loyalists and the Republican National Committee set up a “Team Nevada” office in Las Vegas to circumvent the Clark County Republican Party and the Nevada Republican Party.

Mouse roars

On May 15 by a two-vote margin out of 366 votes cast, the Clark County Republican Central Committee called on Republican National chair Reince Priebus to resign because he has been cooperating with the Romney campaign since Romney became the apparent nominee.

The Clark folks said they were upset that Priebus set up joint fundraising operations with the Romney campaign. This kind of cooperation when there’s a clear frontrunner has been a common practice in both Republican and Democratic parties. But the Clark Paulists felt Priebus should remain neutral because there is still technically an active nomination race, and Romney is not yet the official nominee. However, Paul national campaign official Jesse Benton later said the Paul campaign did not share the Clark Paulists’ concerns with the RNC/Romney joint efforts. In fact, he said, the same RNC offer had been made to the Paul campaign.

One Paulist who did not want to be named said the Ron Paul people in Clark County were retaliating, not provoking. “It’s really not true that the Team Nevada thing happened because of us picking fights with the regulars. Just look at the timetable. We didn’t have time to alienate anyone. They were planning to bypass us before the state convention was over. And we didn’t go after Preibus until they opened their headquarters. They went after us, not the other way around.”

The state convention was in Sparks the weekend of May 4-6. The Team Nevada headquarters opened six days later.

At this writing, candidate Ron Paul, who once left the GOP to run for president on the Libertarian line, currently has 119 of the 2,286 delegates to the Republican National Convention in the latest Wall Street Journal tally. This is 5.7 percent of the total, with 1,144 needed to nominate. Romney has 1076 delegates, 47.06 percent of the total, just 68 votes shy of the nomination. Moreover, Paul is in fourth place, behind the now-inactive candidacies of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. In the Texas primary, Romney is expected to clinch the nomination by the time this edition goes to press.

Lake, the new acting chair of what remains of the Clark County Republican Party, issued a statement: “After months of turbulence and instability following the Executive Board elections held at the Clark County Republican Convention, the CCRP Executive Board is now able to concentrate on the task of developing a consistent, accessible message that will allow the party to take a large role in electing genuine conservative candidates to office. The CCRP Executive Board is looking forward to working together with Republicans across Clark County towards increasing Republican registration, building a strong, robust party, and achieving electoral success in the November elections.”

It’s hard to imagine any of this being good news for Romney. His Clark campaign will be run without the most fervent members of the Republican organization.

It’s normally possible to calculate a percentage that a Republican needs coming out of Clark County in order to win statewide. But political analyst Fred Lokken said it’s difficult to make that judgment this year because Romney is in trouble in Republican Washoe County. “Washoe could go Democratic,” Lokken said, his tone of voice indicating he was surprised to hear himself saying such a thing.

If that happened, Romney would be hard-pressed to win the state without something close to a tie in Clark.

“I have a hunch Obama’s going to play well in the state of Nevada this year, and there’s a real question whether the Republicans will be all out for Romney,” he said. “Romney has an enthusiasm problem in Nevada. He’s got to structure a separate organization without much preparation. I haven’t heard that he’s really on the ground in Nevada yet.”

Lokken said he considers it essential that Romney energize Latinos because so many sectors of the GOP—the Paulists, the tea partiers, and non-tea party conservatives—are lukewarm toward him.

“I think the Hispanic vote has reached the point where it could be the deciding factor,” Lokken said. “And Romney has got to get them. Otherwise I don’t think he wins the election in November. … I think it’s Obama’s state to lose.”

But winning that group is complicated for Romney at a time when Republican candidates up and down the ballot are beating the drum on immigration issues.

Four years ago, the Obama campaign was hitting on all cylinders in Nevada and racked up a 55 percent win to John McCain’s 43 percent. But Barack Obama was a rock star then, running in the shadow of the Wall Street meltdown and the Bush bailouts. He does not enjoy those advantages this year. A dreary economy dogs his steps and even Democratic loyalists have been dismayed by some of his policies. But his problems are nothing compared to Romney’s. The Democratic Party in Nevada is united around him. The state GOP is not united around Romney, though that could change after the national conventions.

Lokken said the consequences are substantial. Voters in 43 states appear to already be firmly committed to one candidate or the other. That leaves seven states—Nevada among them—that are still soft enough to be reached by a candidate.

“A solid win in the West is very important for Romney,” Lokken said.

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Dennis Myers

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...