After a tumultuous year that saw two of its top officials resign and its presidential caucuses overshadowed by infighting and disorder, acting Chairman James Smack said Friday that he will not seek to stay in his post and will instead challenge former Gov. Bob List in the state’s Republican national committeeman race.
The leadership shake up comes as Ron Paul supporters are again trying to take over the state GOP convention in May in an effort to secure more delegates for Paul’s presidential campaign. Mitt Romney won Nevada’s presidential caucuses in February and is poised to take the majority of the state’s delegates, which were awarded proportionally.
Smack’s decision not to run for chair leaves Washoe County GOP Chair Dave Buell and former Las Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald to compete for the title.
Smack said that he and List have had disagreements about the party’s limp fundraising efforts and that he would run for the post whether or not List stepped aside. Meanwhile, List said he had only heard rumors that Smack was running. He said he was surprised by Smack’s decision to challenge him.
Nevada Republicans elect three national committee people: a man, a woman and the state chair. The victor in that contest will be the party’s fifth chair in two years.
Buell is the party’s former treasurer and is a longtime GOP activist. McDonald is also well known, but his candidacy is somewhat tainted after various ethics and criminal investigations. He was not charged.
Former GOP Chairman Chris Comfort resigned in March 2010. His successor, Mark Amodei, resigned in May 2011 to run in a special U.S. House election and won. The next chair, Amy Tarkanian, resigned in February after she said she was pushed out of the party because her husband is running in a contested House primary for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Smack was then promoted from vice president.
Since Smack took over, he and List have had disagreements about fundraising. List said the party has struggled to attract donors because of the uncertainty.
“Right now no one is going to want to give money to the state party,” List said.
It’s been a difficult year for the Nevada GOP, which is trying to help national Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate and White House and stay in power in the U.S. House.
The state’s Feb. 4 caucuses became somewhat of a national joke after party leaders changed the date several times and then took two days to release the results.
Last month, the Nye and Douglas county conventions dissolved into a mess of accusations and ill will after Paul supporters and other Republicans fought over who could serve as a state delegate.
Paul supporters said they came away with all 75 state delegates from Nye County and more than half of 108 state delegates from Douglas County. But local GOP leaders said the results are void because Paul backers violated party rules and state law, prompting them to leave before the election.
In Clark County, more than half of the local party’s 1,382 delegates are Paul backers.
Paul supporters tried a similar coup in 2008. Romney also won Nevada’s caucuses that year, but after John McCain became the Republican front-runner, GOP leaders abruptly shut down the state convention in Reno when it appeared Paul would take most of Nevada’s delegates to the national convention.
In all, the state convention will elect 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.
Under party rules, Nevada’s delegates are bound on a first ballot to vote according to the caucus-winning percentages. Romney earned half of those delegates because he finished with 50 percent of the caucus vote.
But delegates could switch to other candidates if a contested convention leads to more than one ballot. That’s what Paul supporters want to see happen.
“They will make some noise, but I think the situation is pretty well under control,” said Smack, who has endorsed Paul.