Upping the stakes in battleground state

Nevada, the Battle Born state, will be known as a battleground state until the presidential election in November.

That's why we're suddenly getting the full attention of the Republican Party right up to President George Bush, who's headed for Reno on Friday for a campaign speech at the Convention Center.

It's a bit flattering, as Nevada isn't usually on the radar screen of presidential aspirants. Though the electoral votes have grown from four to five with the population in Las Vegas, those handful wouldn't ordinarily warrant campaign visits - especially in the northern part of the state.

In 2000, Bush visited Lake Tahoe to raise money but made no public appearance. This time around, the faithful will be gathering to hear him. That's the biggest advantage to getting some presidential-candidate attention - the chance to focus on issues important to Nevadans.

Statewide, the sharpest issue is nuclear-waste storage at Yucca Mountain. The Republican Party made a significant departure at its state convention in Reno by adopting a platform that encourages Nevadans to negotiate on the issue, essentially saying the waste storage is inevitable and the state should work to get the best deal from the federal government.

So far, we've seen Bush's support team, including chief political adviser Karl Rove, defending the president's decision to go ahead with the Yucca Mountain project. They say he promised to act based on "sound science," then did so.

Would Bush be willing to take the next step? Would he back up the state GOP's stance by making some commitment on behalf of the federal government to cut a deal with Nevada for Yucca Mountain?

Now that would up the stakes in the nuclear-waste debate - and the presidential race. Instead of being on the defensive, perhaps the Republicans can put something on the table for Nevada voters to ponder.

We don't really expect it. After all, the statements from Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 campaign were similar. The "sound science" promise allowed Bush to approve the project and would have allowed Gore to knock it down.

But if the GOP is confident in its strategy, the opportunity is here to initiate a full-blown skirmish in a battleground state.


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