Four years ago, James Smack grabbed the microphone at the Nevada Republican Party Convention to lead a revolt by Ron Paul supporters.
That attempt to take over the convention failed when the GOP convention chairman shut the 2008 meeting down.
Today, Smack is acting chairman of the Nevada Republican Party and among the vanguard of Paul backers methodically taking over the state and county parties from within. They’ve been promoting both the Texas congressman’s ideas and his GOP presidential campaign.
“I’m a Republican first who happens to support Ron Paul,” Smack said. “I want to get a more libertarian, conservative voice in the party. I want to make sure we have a voice at the table.”
And a lot of votes. Paul delegates elected at county conventions across Nevada plan a show of force next month at the state convention, where they hope to be elected as delegates to the national convention. the state convention is scheduled for May 4-5 in Sparks.
“You need to take control when and where you can,” said Carl Bunce, chairman for Paul’s campaign in Nevada and main organizer of the effort. “It will come down to the people that show up.”
Ultimately, the Paul campaign wants to send as many Nevada delegates as possible to the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August to help fight for his nomination from the floor — if Mitt Romney hasn’t wrapped up the race by then by gaining the necessary 1,144 delegates to win.
Romney already is more than halfway there, racking up 666 delegates in primary and caucus contests so far along with pledged support from superdelegates, or elected officials. he is expected to easily seal the nomination by the end of May or early June, now that former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has suspended his campaign and Newt Gingrich remains weak.
In contrast, Paul has only 52 delegates so far and hasn’t won a single state. Yet his supporters in Nevada and several other caucus states — where on-the-ground organization counts most — are moving ahead with plans to stack the delegate deck on the way to Tampa. even if there isn’t a contested convention, his backers believe they can at least influence the GOP platform.
“Ron Paul and his supporters are not going to go down easily,” Bunce said.
Remember Warren G. Harding, goes the Paul campaign cry: the Republican came to the 1920 convention with the fewest delegates and won the nomination on the 10th ballot and the presidency.
As recently as 1976, neither President Gerald Ford nor challenger Ronald Reagan arrived at the GOP convention with a majority of delegates, but Ford won on the first ballot to avoid a fight.
Still, even Smack acknowledged there’s little real hope for a contested 2012 convention.
“I think the odds of that are pretty long,” Smack said, adding he will back whomever the Republicans end up choosing, including Romney. “I will wholeheartedly support the nominee without hesitation. And that’s going to be different than some people who are just in it for Ron Paul.”
At the state GOP convention in three weeks, Nevada Republicans will elect 28 delegates and 28 alternates to represent the state at the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention.
Half of those national convention delegates are supposed to be bound on the first ballot in Tampa to vote for Romney. That’s because he won Nevada’s GOP presidential caucus on Feb. 4 with 50 percent of the vote, and delegates were awarded on a proportional basis, giving him 14. After the first vote, delegates can vote for whomever they want.
Paul earned only five delegates with his third-place finish, with 19 percent of the vote, behind Gingrich, who was awarded six delegates for his 21 percent showing. Santorum came away with three Nevada delegates, finishing with 10 percent of the caucus support.
Bunce said those Santorum delegate slots are an easy target.
“Santorum supporters are anti-Romney, and they don’t have many places to go. I don’t see it’s a far leap for Santorum supporters to jump to Ron Paul.”
Paul supporters appear to have enough numbers, organization and enthusiasm heading into the state convention to fill at least half the delegate slots .
About 2,500 delegates and alternates to the Nevada convention have been elected statewide, the GOP says. At least 1,000 are expected to attend the meeting at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks.
The Paul campaign’s biggest delegate haul came during the Clark County Republican convention on March 10. his supporters won about 60 percent of the 1,382 delegates elected. Paul’s people also took over the county’s GOP executive board, winning election to 14 of 21 slots up for grabs.
On March 31, Paul’s people took over the Nye County Republican Party convention and elected all 75 delegates to the state meeting after the current Nye GOP leaders walked out.
On the same day in Douglas County, the Paul campaign laid claim to more than half of the 108 delegates elected.
In Washoe County, the most populous Northern Nevada hub around Reno, Paul backers won roughly one-third of the 634 delegates elected to the state convention, according to GOP insiders.
Washoe County GOP Chairman Dave Buell acknowledged the power of the Paul movement, which seeks more civil liberties and drastic reductions in government spending and interference.
“The way the party works is the convention itself is actually the boss of the party,” Buell said. “The chairman has very little control. It’s in the hands of the people who attend the convention. That means the Romney folks will have to work as hard as the Ron Paul people to get their representation.”
Paul plans to address the state convention just as he did in 2008 as a GOP candidate. the Romney campaign didn’t say whether their candidate would attend. four years ago, he spoke on behalf of the eventual GOP presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after dropping out of the race.
Behind the scenes, the presidential campaigns had been negotiating with the Paul campaign in hopes of reaching an agreement to allow each candidate to send its own elected delegates to the national convention. That way, Romney would be guaranteed 14 supporters, Gingrich six, Paul five and Santorum three, whether or not he remained a contender through the convention.
The talks fell apart last weekend, however, according to Dan Burdish of the Gingrich campaign and the Paul campaign’s Bunce, who said there’s no reason to strike any such deal.
“I was told they’re not going to work with anybody and they’re going to try and take all 28,” Burdish said. “If they’ve got their people there, they’ll try. They’re very organized. You’ve got to give them credit.”
Ryan Erwin, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign in Nevada, wouldn’t discuss it.
“I’m not going to comment on process stuff with conventions and delegates,” Erwin said in an email, adding the campaign is “more interested in beating Obama.”
No matter how many Nevada delegates Paul wins, they’re bound on the first ballot to follow the rules and at least half of the state contingent must vote for Romney in Tampa.
Besides the 28 delegates elected at the state convention, Nevada also sends three other delegates: chairman of the party and the Republican National Committee national committeeman and national committeewoman.
Maneuvers by the Paul campaign come as the Nevada Republican Party prepares to elect a new chairman, its third in two years, to replace Amy Tarkanian. she resigned after the Feb. 4 GOP presidential caucuses to help her husband, Danny Tarkanian, run for Congress.
The GOP central committee is scheduled to meet April 22 in Las Vegas to pick a new chairman. Two candidates are running: Washoe GOP Chairman Buell and Michael McDonald, a former Las Vegas city councilman who got caught up in government ethics scandals in the past decade.
McDonald was never indicted despite multiple investigations into allegations of bribe-taking by city and county officials. several Clark County commissioners went to prison.
In Southern Nevada, McDonald remains a popular figure in GOP circles . he also has support from many Paul backers.
Buell recently visited Southern Nevada promoting his successful efforts in Washoe County to make voter registration gains against Democrats, giving the GOP a slight edge.
The old Republican guard remains largely in charge of the GOP central committee of several hundred members that will elect a chairman next weekend.
“We still really don’t have the numbers to support a liberty-minded candidate yet,” said Bunce, who nonetheless said he thinks McDonald would do a good job and have a “take no prisoners” attitude when it comes to battling Democrats and supporting Republicans for office.
Paul backers are working to have more influence in the future by packing the new central committee, which will be elected at the state convention, too. it will run the party for the next two years.
Smack said he’s not running to become the new chairman of the state party because he has set his sights instead on the Republican National Committee, which sets GOP policy nationwide. Smack is running at the state convention to replace former Gov. Bob List as RNC national committeeman.
If Smack were to win, that would put the bank manager and former congressional candidate on the 12-member executive board of the Nevada GOP, which already includes several Paul backers.
“I firmly believe I can do at least as good if not a better job as List,” Smack said. “I’m not saying Governor List is a bad fundraiser, but he hasn’t been doing much for the party.”
List disputes the charge, noting he worked hard to elect Republicans in 2010 and is in a powerful position as chairman of the RNC’s budget committee.
“I feel I’ve made a difference and made a contribution,” List said. “With my presence, I think Nevada has a strong voice. I’ve served in public office and I know what it is to run a campaign.”
Heidi Smith, the RNC national committeewoman from Northern Nevada, faces competition for her position, too, but not from a Paul supporter. she said she doesn’t yet know whether the energy of the Paul supporters will hurt or end up helping Republicans in the 2012 elections.
“I can safely say, I believe they have taken over the party,” Smith said. “Here’s the thing — they’re organized. will they organize for the (GOP presidential) nominee?
“It would be nice, but we’ll see.”
Contact Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.
Following their previous tour in the summer and fall of 2010, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriters Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs are hitting the road again this summer as the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue. They will stop July 27 at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
The three hit-making artists will appear on stage together as one band to perform a show consisting of their signature mix of blue-eyed soul, rock, jazz and R&B.
Rolling Stone has described the show as “a loose blast through the stars’ hits (“Reelin’ in the Years,” “Lowdown,” “Takin’ it to the Streets”) and revved-up covers that had the crowd twisting in the aisles.”
Tickets will be $48, $68 and $88 and will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall box offices.
Tickets also will be available at findmytix.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.
Go to staugamphitheatre.com for details.
Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs
When: 8 p.m. July 27; doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: St. Augustine Amphitheatre, 1340C A1A South
Tickets: On sale at 10 a.m. Friday, April 20; $48 for 300 level; $68 for 100 and 200 level; $88 for seated pit