After months of reassurance that they could play with the big boys despite a trail of mishaps, the Nevada GOP played all of its cards Saturday and lost big time in a messy, disorganized election that saw low turnout and complaints of voter fraud and unexplained ballots.
But the biggest tell that the volunteer-run caucuses didn't go as planned was that more than 24 hours after voters finished casting their ballots, no one officially knew who had won.
By late Sunday, only 89 percent of the votes had been tallied. The holdup was Clark County, the state's most populous county and home to the Las Vegas Strip, where officials stayed up until the wee hours Sunday counting ballots but still couldn't finish the task.
It's not getting a lot of press, since exit polling showed such a convincing win that Romney's victory isn't really in doubt. But the problems in Nevada stem for larger problems for the GOP; Romney's nose-diving approvals and an inability to get GOP voters to give a damn.
Turnout wasn't just low in Nevada, it was disastrously low. "Party officials frequently readjusted expectations, initially projecting 100,000 voters would show up, then 70,000, then 60,000, then 55,000 before some predicted late Friday that turnout would not exceed the 2008 results," AP reports. In the end, 44,000 voters made their way to the caucuses. While the story doesn't say it explicitly, you've got to believe that low turnout resulted in a low number of caucus volunteers. And so now the whole thing's looking like a debacle. Had this race been anything close to competitive, it would the big story this week, as Newt and Mitt battled a legal contest similar to Florida 2000.
Some mention is being made in the media of the low turnout in GOP primary after GOP primary, but I find it astonishing that this story is being missed:
It's not so much that Mitt Romney's favoribility is crashing, as it is that it's crashed. He's gone from 43% favorable/34% unfavorable at the beginning of the year to 29% favorable/46% unfavorable now. Mittens' favoraility is in Bush territory and heading toward Cheney's. This is not good. This is not good at all.
A lot is being made of Obama's numbers, but that same TPM polling average has him at 47% favorable/48% unfavorable. Compared to Mitt Romney, President Obama's as popular as free money.
Of course, it's been the PR beating Mitt's taken from Gingrich, combined with a series of gaffes on his own part, that have driven Romney's numbers down. He seems increasingly out of touch, as he struggles to explain his own low taxes while arguing that taxes on people like himself are too high. His comment that he doesn't really care about the "very poor" hasn't gone away, either. For a whizbang finacial genius, Mittens seems very, very bad at thinking on his feet. He seems at a loss as to what to do about his gaffes and mostly because it seems he doesn't actually understand why the statements are problematic. He comes across as out of touch because he is out of touch. He quite literally has no idea how hard things are for you.
There's a long way to go yet and Romney could turn these numbers around -- on the bright side for him, there isn't a lot of room for them to get any worse. But it's going to require Mitt Romney to reinvent himself once again and I'm not convinced this is a flip-flop he can make convincingly. It would require a change in worldview, not policy.
It'd take something close to a brain transplant.