Nevada GOP brimming with optimism on way to Philly

PHILADELPHIA - Nevada Republicans head for the national convention Sunday confident their newfound unity will bring a wave of GOP victories in the Silver State this fall, from the top of the ticket to the bottom.

''I am more optimistic this time than I have ever been since I got involved in Republican politics in 1989,'' said Ryan Erwin, executive director of the Nevada GOP.

''Never have I seen the party on a national level so united to take the White House,'' he said.

President Clinton won Nevada the last two elections but GOP leaders say opposition to Vice President Al Gore's environmental stands combined with the popularity of Texas Gov. George W. Bush will put the Western state back in the Republican column where it usually is.

Two years ago, Kenny Guinn became the state's first Republican governor in 12 years and former Republican Rep. John Ensign came within 428 votes in a recount statewide of unseating Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

Now, the GOP views Ensign as its best chance nationally of turning a U.S. Senate seat from Democrat to Republican as he faces Ed Bernstein in a bid to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan and give Nevada its first Republican senator in 12 years.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., is a lock in Nevada's 2nd District. And in the 1st District covering Las Vegas, state Sen. Jon Porter is making a run at Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who the national GOP includes on its list of vulnerable incumbents.

''We have an opportunity of a lifetime,'' past Nevada GOP Chairman John Mason said.

''For the first time in a half century we have an opportunity to elect a Republican president and a Republican Congress,'' he told delegates at the state convention.

Bob Seale, the new chairman of the state party, worked as state treasurer under past Democratic Gov. Bob Miller. He said Guinn's election has given Nevada's GOP a big boost.

''It was always a point of jealousy for me to recognize that (Miller) was in a spot to make things happen for the Democrat Party -- things you can't do when you don't have the top dog there,'' Seale said.

''Having the guy at the top makes all the difference in the world,'' he said.

Seale was among those who appealed to both the party faithful and the growing number of activists of the religious right to put aside their differences on things like abortion.

''I think there has been some divisiveness in the party in the past. But a lot of that has grown over. In many respects we are closer,'' Seale said.

''There are some issues that are not as hot as they once were. Abortion is not as divisive as it used to be,'' he said.

Beverly Willard of Carson City, who heads Ensign's campaign in Douglas County, was elected national committeewoman, replacing longtime Nevada GOP veteran Barbara Vucanovich with a theme of unity.

''We need to bring this party together. Everybody needs to stop going off on their own one or two issues,'' she said.

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lynette Boggs-McDonald, one of two blacks among Nevada's 17-member delegation, considers herself a ''moderate'' and thinks the party is moving back in that direction.

''The party seems a little more balanced in its ideals. In the past, we may have shot ourselves in the foot trying to be too rigid in our positions,'' she said.

''I would say definitely it seemed in prior conventions that the religious right had too much influence on what the agenda was and the platform positions. I'm anticipating many more voices of Republican ideals.''

Porter agrees.

''I think we made mistakes in the past. I'm the first to admit we have not gotten our message out very well,'' he said.

''We really do care about families, children, women and minorities. In the Legislature, my areas of passion are children's issues and education and what do we do about the environment,'' he said.

''I really believe Republicans are working together and trying very hard to send a different message than they have in the past,'' Porter said.

Nevada Democrats have a different outlook.

''I think it is much easier for the Republicans to be unified because they are a much less diverse group of people,'' said Rory Reid, chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party and son of Sen. Reid.

''The Democratic Party is a much bigger tent, so sure, there are going to be fights in our family. But I think the party is rallying around Al Gore and I don't think there will be much controversy at our convention at all,'' he said.

Sen. Reid believes Democrats are more united than they were when they rallied to elect Clinton in 1992. He says they have ''a real shot at taking control of the Senate and winning the presidency because we are right on the issues.

''The economy is on fire,'' the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate said.

''We were running deficits of $3 billion a year and now we are running surpluses. We have low inflation and the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the nation.

''We have created 20 million new jobs and have 300,000 fewer federal employees than when Clinton took office,'' he said.

Erwin sees similarities to the race eight years ago as well, but expects a different outcome.

''Democrats find themselves much in the same position as Republicans did in 1992. There is no reason to come out to vote. They don't have an exciting person at the top of the ticket,'' Erwin said.

''Democrat or Republican, whether you like Al Gore or not, he is not exciting.''


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