Elko, Nev.—Marla Criss did not really care about politics before 2008. Then she learned about Ron Paul.
Today, she's the chairman of the Elko County Republican Party.
Criss, who's been chairman since 2010, was elected as a Ron Paul delegate to the controversial 2008 GOP state convention in Reno. She walked away from the experience determined to make changes after what she saw happen there.
"We were appalled by what happened at the convention four years ago, so we got involved at many levels and worked to make the party much more responsive to the regular people," she said.
Criss, along with other Paul supporters, worked their way into the local party infrastructure by attending its meetings and running for positions. Criss spent two years on the party's executive board before running unopposed for party chairman.
"We kinda took it over," she said.
After taking power, the Paul supporters rewrote the party bylaws. "We worked to really open it up to more than just one group that always did it. We got a lot more young people and different people involved," she said.
Criss emphasized that they did not do this just for Paul supporters but for the county as a whole. During our interview she wanted to make it clear that when she supports Paul, she's doing it as Marla Criss private citizen, not Chairman Marla Criss. "The county party and its officers cannot endorse candidates in an official capacity," she said.
Paul is making a campaign stop here tomorrow. Criss hopes he'll draw a bigger crowd than when he stopped here in 2007. The organization Elko's Paul supporters built in 2008 is still largely intact, and volunteers have been making phone calls and interacting with voters. "We've had a few sign waves downtown, that was good. We've been in parades. Given away about a thousand Ron Paul balloons at a parade," Criss said. Though they are not performing traditional canvasing.
When asked about how many Paul supporters have gone through caucus training, Criss said she didn't know, but speculated that many already went through the training in 2008.
Paul is popular here because "there is a real independent libertarian streak in this area, everyone wants to be left alone," she said.
As the party chairman, Criss declined to speculate on the outcome of Saturday's caucus, saying only that she hopes there are enough ballots and paper for everyone that attends.