Republican presidential hopefuls are taking some time off from Iowa and New Hampshire on Saturday to focus on Nevada, site of the first-in-the-West presidential caucuses Feb. 23.
What is primarily attracting the candidates, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to the Silver State is a unique event: a "Basque fry," in which the candidates will, as Las Vegas Review-Journal political reporter Sandra Chereb put it, "woo voters and test their gastric nerves with a Basque heritage dish of lamb testicles."
The Basque fry, which will be held at the bucolic Corley Ranch in Douglas County, is the brainchild of State Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Morning in Nevada, Laxalt’s political action committee, will sponsor the event, which is already sold out with more than 1,800 tickets for candidates and staff, reporters and party activists.
"Nevada comes fourth in the nation in the presidential contest, right after the Iowa caucuses, and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries," Laxalt told Newsmax. "So I started thinking a few months back, 'How can we get the candidates for president to come out here and meet with everyday Nevada voters?'"
What Laxalt came up with was the barbecue featuring the dishes of his ancestors, the Basques, an indigenous European ethnic group whose homeland stretches from the Pyrenees to the Bay of Biscay.
Actually, treating politicians and press to lamb testicles and other Basque delicacies is a Laxalt family tradition. The attorney general’s grandfather, former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, had Basque barbecues as fixtures of his campaigns throughout his career.
When he was in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s, the elder Laxalt hosted an annual Basque lamb fry at the Georgetown Club, and close friend Ronald Reagan attended all but one of them throughout the eight years of his presidency. The exception was 1986, when Reagan was busy ordering the bombing raid on Libya.
Along with Walker and Cruz, three other presidential hopefuls are committed to attending the Saturday event: Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, and former New York Gov. George Pataki. Also speaking at the Basque fry are former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and Nevada Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck.
Heck is the leading Republican candidate in 2016 for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.
"The major difference between the barbecues grandpa put on and ours on Saturday,” Laxalt told us, “is that in his day, the presidential candidates were never a factor. Nevada picked its national convention delegates late in the game. Now we’re going fourth with our caucuses and they are noticing us."
What impressed the attorney general most is how far people are traveling to attend the fry.
"When you have folks who drive 500 miles from outside Las Vegas to come up to this ranch beneath the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you know the event is going to be a hit," he said. "And since we were sold out in six weeks, the candidates will get to test their appeal to a lot of people who will participate in the caucuses."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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