Which way now? | NevadaAppeal.com

Which way now?

Sen. Bill Raggio, for decades one of the Nevada Republican Party’s most influential leaders, Friday called on the GOP to move away from the extreme right.

“My party is going to have to change,” he said. “It’s gone too far to the right.”

Raggio’s comments come days after the Republicans received one of the strongest rebukes by voters in half a century. Not only did the party lose the White House and numerous congressional seats nationwide, Nevada Democrats took control of the state Senate, and gained a veto-proof majority in the Assembly.

Raggio said this election is a clear warning to the GOP that extreme positions and intolerance in the party won’t attract a majority of voters.

“The Republican far right message does not sell,” Raggio said. “We have to keep our core principles firm but I’m not going to be an extremist. I’m a conservative in the Reagan mold but I’m not going to be an extremist.”

He said party officials have to step back and “get a good handle on what went wrong.”

“Otherwise we won’t win another election and there are some big ones coming up in two years,” he said.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert of Reno, however, said the party will “work its way back.” And while two losses gave the Nevada Senate a Democratic majority, she pointed out that the GOP only lost one seat in the Assembly this election.

But she said “we definitely need to bring our party together in a unified message.”

Raggio wasn’t alone in his assessment of what happened to the state party this election cycle. Two of Northern Nevada’s most respected political analysts, University of Nevada, Reno’s Eric Herzik and Truckee Meadows Community College’s Fred

Lokken, reached much the same conclusion,

But they split on whether the GOP can turn things around by the next election.

“The Republicans have several fractures in their party,” said Herzik. “They have no apparent leadership, both national and even within the state. They couldn’t manage their own convention. They were called inept by the national party.”

He said the party infighting and “these litmus tests about being a real conservative” are causing serious divisions. He said the intolerance on social issues and tax issues are damaging the party’s ability to attract the wide spectrum of voters needed to win elections.

“Instead of bringing people into the tent, they’re throwing people out of the tent,” he said.

Herzik pointed to Sharron Angle’s challenge of Raggio, attempting to paint him as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and the similar challenge to Assemblyman Ty Cobb, one of the most conservative members of the legislature, which siphoned off 7 percent of the vote in that district to an Independent American.

If it continues, Herzik said, “the party is going to get small and you don’t win a lot of elections if you’re small.”

Lokken said the Nevada GOP was in complete disarray this election cycle, unable to get fundraisers going, get a registration drive going or get the vote out.

“Is this leadership capable of changing? I don’t know,” he said. “The Republicans have to figure out who they are.”

He said he is inclined to believe the situation won’t change much by the next election. Even if the state party pulls itself together, Lokken said it’s not all in their hands. He said partly it depends on how Gov. Jim Gibbons handles the economic crisis.

If Gibbons is perceived as refusing to respond to the needs of the state, “he’s risking looking like he’s really controlled by this small element ” that he’s taking advantage of this opportunity to just make government smaller because of his philosophy instead of the best interest of he people.”

He said he believes Gibbons “has it in him,” but isn’t sure how the governor will respond. “I don’t see it yet.”

And he said because the governor is Republican, the party has a strong prospect of getting the blame if things aren’t better by 2010.

The other element, he said, is how the Democrats ” both nationally and in Nevada ” handle themselves during the next two years. If the Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress turn the economy around, it will boost their prospects both in the state nationally. The same, he said, is true if Democrats who now control both houses of the Nevada Legislature perform well.

“I’m under the assumption it’s going to stay for a while. I see it as a pretty serious shift,” he said.

Herzik said it’s too early to tell if the shift toward the Democrats will evaporate in two years or stay. He said much of the youth vote was drawn by Obama’s charisma and he isn’t certain they’ll be back in two years when the ticket here is led by Sen. Harry Reid.

“I’m reading all over that this election was a realignment,” he said. “Well, who realigned? A lot of people liked Obama but they sure didn’t show up for Jill Derby.

Responding to reports many young people appeared to finish voting in less than a minute ” indicating they may have voted for Obama and ignored the rest of the races ” he said: ‘If that’s the case then, no, these people won’t come back.”

“This could easily be a one-and-done,” he said.

Obama won 55 percent of the vote in Nevada, which is better than the 52 percent he received nationwide. It’s also the first time since 1964 that a Democrat had won a majority of votes in the Silver State. Even though Bill Clinton won Nevada in 1992 and 1996, the best he managed was 43 percent.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.