Last year, Republican candidates engaged in what was occasionally called the Sheldon Adelson primary, meeting with the deep-pocketed casino mogul to win his backing. Several of them met with Adelson last April, but other than occasional rumors about his preferences, Adelson has remained uncommitted. Instead, Adelson bought Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in a move that had media outlets concerned over the independence of its reporting.
Today, the story lines converged as the LVRJ issued a presidential endorsement ahead of the Nevada caucuses scheduled in less than three weeks, the first such endorsement of the Adelson era. Or do the story lines have anything to do with each other at all? In their endorsement of Marco Rubio, the editors explicitly deny that Adelson had any influence on their decision:
After much consideration, the Review-Journal is endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio for Nevada’s first-in-the-West Republican caucus on Feb. 23. The RJ met with Sen. Rubio on Oct. 9, two months before the announcement of the newspaper’s sale to the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. The Adelsons have detached themselves from our endorsement process, and our endorsement of Sen. Rubio does not represent the support of the family.
How credible is that? Well, as the saying goes … money talks, if not exactly endorses:
Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have not yet made public contributions to any of the super PACs flanking the 2016 presidential candidates. But they offered one indication of one White House hopeful who intrigues them: each gave the $2,700 maximum to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in mid-November.
In an email, Adelson adviser Andy Abboud said the donations should not viewed as a sign that the Adelsons had settled on a single contender to get behind, adding they had given to “several” candidates. In March, they maxed out to Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has since dropped out of the race.
According to Open Secrets, the Adelsons also maxed out to Rubio, but in January 2015 at the very beginning of the 2016 cycle. At the same time, both dropped $5,000 into the Rubio-supporting Reclaim America PAC, which is chump change for the two superdonors. Graham’s donations came a couple of months later, all of which took place prior to the closed-door sessions last April. Since then, or at least through the end of December, the Adelsons have done nothing in the presidential primary except to goose Cruz’ hard-money fundraising in mid-November as noted by the Washington Post this week. A subsequent check of FEC data turned up nothing else, either.
With that settled, let’s go back to the substance of the endorsement:
Sen. Rubio agrees that the federal government owns too much land within Nevada’s borders — more than 80 percent — and doesn’t actively and appropriately manage that land. He believes the lack of privately owned land in Nevada and across the West greatly limits economic opportunity, and he supports transferring some federal land to private ownership. “There’s no need for Washington to hold that much land,” he told us.
On immigration, Sen. Rubio backs a reasonable approach to fix a broken system, while noting that legal immigration deserves just as much attention as illegal immigration. Among other reforms, he wants a merit-based system of legal immigration to replace today’s family-based system.
Sen. Rubio also recognizes that entitlement reform is a must if Medicare and Social Security are to avoid insolvency. “If we deal with them now, we don’t have to change them for current beneficiaries,” he said. And on economic policy, Sen. Rubio understands that everything a presidential administration does influences the economy. Tax reform and simplification (for both corporations and individuals) are just one part of his pro-growth agenda, which includes dialing back burdensome federal regulations, an energy policy that allows America to lead the world in oil and gas production, and a health care policy to replace Obamacare and give Americans the ability to tailor health insurance plans to their needs.
Electability is also in Sen. Rubio’s favor. Mr. Trump and Sen. Cruz, the leading GOP candidates at this point, have liabilities in November, when everyone has the chance to vote. Sen. Rubio has the ideas and the charisma to bring independents and moderates under the GOP tent.
Frankly, with Rand Paul out, one might assume Cruz would be the most likely candidate to benefit. Nevada’s conservatives have a libertarian bent to them, and Cruz has positioned himself between Paul and Rubio on their favorite issues. There hasn’t been much polling in Nevada up to now, at least not as captured by RCP, which doesn’t have enough data points to produce an average. The only poll listed in the last three months (Gravis) puts Rubio in third place behind Trump and Cruz, but this obviously comes before much of Cruz’ late momentum and well before any of Rubio’s.
The LVRJ endorsement might provide a spark for Rubio, especially given the extensive explanation offered in the state’s largest newspaper. But the real test will come on Tuesday in New Hampshire and then in South Carolina on the 20th. If Rubio scores big in both contests, he might have enough momentum to win Nevada’s caucuses, too. If not, this endorsement probably won’t matter.