Nevada Republicans predict tight presidential race

PHILADELPHIA - Nevada Republicans don't expect George W. Bush's sizable lead in the polls to hold up through Election Day, but they're confident his tax plans, education reform and ''compassionate conservatism'' will carry him to victory in Nevada and across the country.

''Absolutely, it will tighten up,'' Ryan Erwin, executive director of the Nevada Republican Party, said.

''Al Gore is a skilled politician. This is a guy who will do anything to become president, including reinvent himself every week. I think it will be a tough race.

Senior members of the party agree.

''I think it's a horse race in Nevada,'' said state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio of Reno.

''I think it will be a horse race in most places. The polls are probably right at this time. But that will close when we see the spotlight on the Democrats.''

Nevada GOP Chairman Bob Seale of Las Vegas said he was caught by surprise when Clinton carried the state the last two elections.

''Nevada is conservative and has always been conservative,'' he said.

''I think our voters are tired now of the whole lack of moral direction, lack of a moral compass,'' he said.

''They want to restore dignity to the White House,'' added State Assemblyman Greg Brower of Reno. ''And people like what George Bush and the Republicans want to do with the budget surplus - return it to the taxpayers as much as possible.''

Cathy Mcclean, secretary of the Nevada GOP, said she fears the anti-abortion plank in the national platform will keep some Democrats and independents from voting Republican.

''Clearly the American women who vote are pro-choice. It was women who elected Clinton,'' she said.

But she doesn't expect any Republicans to defect on account of abortion.

''Pro-choice people tend not to be one-issue people. I am pro-choice, but I am a proud Republican. We are not going to abandon the party just because we lost on one issue,'' she said.

Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada admits Gore has his work cut out for him.

''I think Bush has done a good job of consolidating his base,'' said Bryan, who is retiring at the end of this year.

''He has had the benefit of having his groups come together and he is reaching out to the political center after having had to reach far to the right to beat John McCain,'' he said.

Gore, on the other hand, ''has some work to do in this area, particularly with Ralph Nader and the Green Party,'' Bryan said.

''There also is some dissidence in organized labor. That is a base that ordinarily would be solidly behind Al Gore. I think ultimately, they will come back to him,'' he said.

Several Nevada GOP delegates said the appeal to minorities could prove crucial in their state, where Hispanics are an integral part of the fastest growing state population in the country.

''He definitely needs to continue to resonate the message that the Republican Party is trying to be more inclusive,'' said state Sen. Maurice Washington of Sparks, one of two blacks in his delegation.

''If I was a Democrat, I would be worried,'' he said. ''I think we have a great ticket and with Bush on top, I think we cover in Nevada.

The ticket includes former Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev., who is running against Democrat Ed Bernstein for Bryan's seat. Republican State Sen. Jon Porter of Henderson is challenging Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in the district covering Las Vegas.

''Nevada will be very, very Republican,'' Porter predicted.

But Bernstein said Thursday he doesn't think Nevada voters will buy the message that came from the Republican convention.

''It is a big masquerade. It's almost laughable how untrustworthy these positions are,'' Bernstein said.

''For years and years they have voted in favor of special interests instead of real people,'' he said.

Bernstein said Democrats will prevail once the issues move to the forefront, ''like the importance of Supreme Court selections and environmental issues that are so important in Nevada.''

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