But the date change has also added hurdles for the state GOP to overcome, and could prove to be the contest’s doom.
Nevada Republicans announced last week they would slice five weeks off their planning schedule and move up their first-in-the-West caucuses to Jan. 14, a shift that has left organizers in this expansive, disorganized state struggling to close the workload gap. What’s more, the move likely will cost the state party half of its delegates.
Republican county-level leaders are scheduled to meet late Wednesday to discuss how they can hold the contest originally scheduled for Feb. 18 one month earlier than planned. There is still much to do over the next three months, but party leaders have largely been supportive of the move.
Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki said being an early contest state “is territory we need to preserve.”
“It is better for the state of Nevada and for people and our issues to have the profile of being one of the first states out of the box,” he said.
But organizers have not begun to train the staffers and volunteers needed to carry out the statewide, fractured caucuses, or launched a campaign to educate voters on how they can participate. Meanwhile, candidates are only trickling into this Western state, undermining the momentum party leaders had hoped to see.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Republican Rep. Joe Heck. “Certainly losing half our delegates if that happens is going to be a problem ... Nevertheless, we didn’t want to lose our standing in future races.”
Nevada is among several states that pushed up the elections to retain a coveted early contest slot in the presidential nominating process. Florida initiated the stampede by jumping to the front of the line with a Jan. 31 contest.
The new date not only means fewer planning hours for Nevada Republicans, it also leaves less time for GOP candidates to come here and excite voters, a shift that could depress turnout.
Education is key to a successful caucus because Nevada has a high resident turnover rate and many people are unfamiliar with the public caucus format, which requires voters to actively participate in selecting a nominee, compared to the more passive practice of casting a private ballot in a traditional primary contest.
Nevada GOP chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said she wants to get the base excited about the contest, but acknowledged the diminishing window.
“This has been a bit of a headache with the chain of events starting in Florida,” she said. “We are moving forward and upward and Nevada is going to matter.”
The GOP has something to prove. Republicans here bungled their first attempt at going early in the nomination calendar in 2008, and the newly elected party leaders don’t want to repeat old mistakes.
Nevada GOP national committeewoman Heidi Smith voted against the date change because she is worried Nevada will lose its national significance if the state contest is poorly organized.
“Here in the north, it’s been kind of bleak,” said Smith, a Reno activist.