Miracle in Vegas

On Saturday night, as CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Nevada caucuses was wilting from lack of anything to cover (candidates had yet to appear, vote totals were both low and unchanging, commentators had nothing to say), the network decided to air the one caucus still ongoing: the post-Shabbat Vegas caucus that the state GOP had set up to accommodate those observant Jewish Republicans who couldn’t turn out till the sun set.

But the caucus was unbearable. Under caucus rules, the moderator was compelled to call on anyone who raised his or her hand to speak, and an inordinate number of Ron Paulistas, when duly recognized, droned on about the apocalypse to come now that we no longer peg the dollar to gold. (Of course, we ceased such pegging during Richard Nixon’s presidency, so the apocalypse has been a long time comin’.) When one speaker finished, another rose to repeat the previous speaker’s points—so much so that the event’s moderator politely suggested that if prospective speakers had nothing new to contribute, they might consider not speaking. He was roundly ignored.

The actually interesting aspect of the caucus, however, went unreported until The New York Times ran a story on it in Monday’s paper. Turns out that to be admitted to the caucus, caucus-goers had to sign a legal declaration, under penalty of perjury, that they’d been unable to attend a daytime caucus because of their “religious beliefs.” Basically, they had to swear that they were either observant Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Not surprisingly, this raised the hackles of many who sought entry. What had begun as a way to ease the inclusion of those not able to attend had become an imposition of a religious test to the right to vote in the caucus: a real First Amendment mess.

To complicate matters more, it’s clear that Ron Paul’s Vegas campaign urged its followers to show up at the caucus, sensing correctly, perhaps, that given its unique timing, the caucus would draw more media attention. And show up they did, not just by the evidence of the CNN broadcast, but by the final vote: Paul, 183; Romney, 61; Gingrich, 57 (one of whom was Sheldon Adelson); Santorum, 16. Paul had a disappointing night in Nevada—he finished third after outspending and out-organizing second-place finisher Gingrich by a wide margin—but his backers absolutely dominated this one caucus.

But as someone who watched that caucus on CNN, and someone who’s covered the Paul campaign in New Hampshire (which, with Nevada, ranks as one of the three states with the lowest rate of church attendance), I can tell you this without fear of contradiction: The vast majority of Paul’s people are not observant Jews. Or, at least, they weren’t until this particular caucus.

But there are only two ways to interpret the caucus vote. Either Paul’s people converted on the spot (and let’s remember that the master of the wham-bam conversion was an earlier Paul), or the observant Jews in attendance, who entered the proceedings with a disproportionately Likudnik take on Israeli security, suddenly morphed into Ron Paul, Israel-so-what? isolationists.

Either way, a miracle from scripture.

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