LAS VEGAS — Former pizza executive Herman Cain will boycott Nevada's Republican caucuses, adding his voice to a growing chorus of critics urging the western battleground state to delay its presidential nomination contest by just three days.
Cain is the fifth candidate to boycott Nevada's contest, joining former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in siding with New Hampshire in the fight over the order in which states will vote in the GOP nomination contest. New Hampshire traditionally holds the nation's first primary and critics of Nevada's Jan. 14 caucus date argue that cramming all the primaries together will limit the time voters will have to get to know the candidates.
GOP state chairwoman, Amy Tarkanian, told reporters that New Hampshire has the wrong target, urging the candidates to boycott Florida, which she says sent the presidential calendar in disarray. Florida Republican leaders decided to jump into the middle of the traditional early state contests and hold their primary on Jan. 31. Nevada responded by moving its original Feb. 18 date up more than a month.
The call to persuade Nevada to delay its caucus date began Wednesday, when New Hampshire's Secretary of State Bill Gardner threatened to hold the primary in early December to avoid shoehorning it between Iowa's caucuses, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 3, and Nevada's contest. Gardner suggested Nevada move its contest to Jan. 17, which would allow New Hampshire to hold its contest a week earlier on Jan. 10.
A New Hampshire conservative group on Friday joined the boycott call, demanding that the candidates turn their backs on Nevada if the caucus date isn't changed.
"I agree with them that Florida started the ball rolling on all of this, but Nevada's unwillingness to budge now that push comes to shove is what's really going to cause all of this to collapse," said Jennifer Horn, founder of We The People in New Hampshire. "There has to be time between each of those contests for the candidate to get into that state. It is hurting the process because it is taking away the ability of the voters to vet and get to know the candidates."
Nevada officials are dismissing the threats, saying that they are coming from second-tier candidates who weren't expected to perform well in the state's caucuses. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul plan to continue their months-long campaign efforts in Nevada, where they placed first and second, respectively, in 2008. Both have campaign events planned in southern Nevada next week. Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently set up a campaign staff in Nevada and is also expected to compete here.
The stakes are high for Nevada's state Republican party, which bungled its efforts to hold an early presidential contest in 2008 by drawing few voters and little attention nationally. GOP leaders are trying to avoid the same disorganization this time around. They've hired consultants with ties to the Republican National Committee to oversee the 2012 caucuses and Las Vegas will host two presidential debates, one next week and one in December. Huntsman on Friday said he would not attend next week's nationally televised debate, as part of his boycott.
Charlie Spano, Cain's field operations director in New Hampshire, said Friday that Cain will attend next week's debate in Las Vegas, but will skip the mid-January caucuses.
Buell, the state GOP treasurer, remains unimpressed.
"Our contest is Jan. 14 and that's the way it is going to stay," said Buell.