02/03/2012 01:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

All That Glitters Is Not Silver: How Nevada and the West Got Short-Changed

One of the major untold stories in this wacky election season is how far off plan the Republican presidential primaries have gotten.

The Republican Party planned to copy what the Democrats did in their 2008 election cycle. Stage four early contests, spaced out over time, with one state from each of the major regions, with each of the selected states small enough that prior fame and big money on the part of some competitors would not overwhelm a candidate's ability to break through.

In the process, the candidates would be forced to learn about regional issues that were not part of the usual Beltway/East Coast "national" media lexicon, and develop a way to appeal to voters in key regions.

In the 2008 cycle, with the firm backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who represents the Silver State, the Democrats elevated Nevada into the First Four, along with traditional one and two Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina, as a way to get their candidates ready to compete in the West, a growing area targeted for competition.

In January 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, shown here at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, joined with other national party leaders in announcing the early Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses and discussing the party's new Western strategy

It worked.

The first forum, in 2007, with the Democratic presidential candidates took place not in Washington or New York or even Iowa or New Hampshire, but in little Carson City, the capital of Nevada. Hosted by George Stephanopoulos, who memorably mispronounced Nevada in the process, drawing hoots from the crowd, it drew much of the East Coast-based national political media away from their usual haunts.

Las Vegas went on to host some stirring debates between the Democratic presidential contenders.

And on the day of the 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada, no less than former President Bill Clinton personally lobbied caucus-goers in a raucous display inside one of the voting gatherings in a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

His wife, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, narrowly defeated Barack Obama in Nevada, helping her hang on after finishing third in Iowa. It was all very dramatic.

By the time the Democratic National Convention took place that summer in Denver, Colorado, the Democrats knew how to run in the West, and Obama made big breakthroughs in the region which helped him sweep to his electoral college victory over John McCain.

I went over all this in my October 2008 piece on the Huffington Post, "Democrats: The New Western Strategy Is Paying Off."

The Republicans decided to get in on the action, and designed a similar system for this year's presidential nomination contest.

But things went off-track early on.

Nevada is reduced to a sideshow spectacle in the Republican presidential race. Mitt and Ann Romney were thrilled to be on hand Thursday in Las Vegas, Nevada to receive Donald Trump's endorsement. This event took place at Trump's resort casino and hotel on the Vegas Strip. You already know what it's called.

First, with the notable exception of Rick Santorum -- who actually won the Iowa caucuses, not that most of the media, spun to distraction by Mitt Romney's campaign, grasped that in any timely fashion -- most of the candidates spent little time campaigning in Iowa. Instead, they campaigned in TV studios.

Which did have the effect of ultimately creating a frontrunner who was not a candidate of a big money campaign, Newt Gingrich. But when Romney, the longtime putative frontrunner who never got above 25% in the polls with his positive message, reacted in Iowa, he didn't do it with positive personal campaigning. He did it with an unprecedented tidal wave of negative ads.

Meanwhile, Nevada was totally ignored. Why? Because Florida decided to break the rules and jump the queue.

Did Florida get a lot of thoughtful, personal campaigning tending to the unique needs of that complex state?

Why, no. What it got was, yes, an unprecedented tidal wave of negative ads to take down, again, Gingrich, who had flourished in South Carolina with a lot of personal campaigning.

In furtherance of the party's Western strategy, then Senator Barack Obama accepted the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in this address at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado.

Finally, it's Nevada's turn. And what is the signature moment of the Nevada campaign?

The circus sideshow endorsement of Romney by Donald Trump. Who, of course, is not a Nevadan at all. But does own a casino there, naturally named after himself and which naturally was the site of his Romney endorsement.

Just a day after Romney said that he's not concerned about poor people. (I know that is taken out of context. But the context, in which Romney relegates poor people to the welfare system, is hardly better.)

Which is just about perfect for lovers of the absurd. But not at all for getting in touch with the actual issues of the West.

It's really too bad, because Nevada is far more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire and presents a set of challenges on economic, energy, environmental, and social policy that any party interested in governing had best be accustomed to.

But not this time.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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