If you’re running for president in Carson City, you should …
Special to the Appeal
Be careful when you’re crossing the street. And just because the sun is shining in Carson City, don’t be surprised if there’s a blizzard blowing through Washoe Valley.
If the Democratic candidates for president had asked me for some advice on visiting Nevada’s capital today, those would have been my most practical tips. Of course, you didn’t ask me – but that’s not going to stop me from offering a few more carefully considered bits of wisdom.
(I would hope your campaign advisers already stuck you in front of a mirror to practice how to say “Nevada.” If you’re going to have to start that far back, well, nothing I say here is going to help.)
Anyway, we’re glad to see you here. As you may know, the Nevada Legislature is in session, which is the reason we shine up the stoplights and reopen a few restaurants in Carson City every other year.
Yes, politics is big here … for about 120 days (give or take a few special sessions) out of every 730. I just want to say how much I appreciate your coming at the same time as the state legislators. Otherwise, it’d be kind of like playing hockey during baseball season. We know how to do it; it just doesn’t feel right.
OK. Now for some serious political insight.
Nevada is a red state. Voted for Bush. Voted for Bush again. Voted for Clinton, but that was back before they color-coded the states for math-challenged TV viewers and when the Ormsby House was still open.
However – and this is the reason you’re here – Nevada was called a “battleground” state in both 2000 and 2004. We kind of like the sound of that, because we’re fairly ornery and it fits with our “Battle Born” nickname.
So there’s a chance, if you start early enough, that you can swing Nevada’s electoral votes into the blue column and win the presidency of the United States. And Lord knows you’ve started early enough.
But it’s not a very big chance. Oh, I know. Times have changed. The Democrats had a big sweep across the country last November, and that tide could carry into 2008.
You may not have noticed, though, that the sweep skipped right over the Silver State and landed somewhere south of Sacramento. Democrats grabbed four statewide offices, it’s true, but the congressional delegation didn’t budge. So much for conventional wisdom.
Here’s what you really need to figure out, though.
George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 21,597 votes in the 2000 election in Nevada. Four years later, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 21,500 votes.
Yep. In four years, the Democrats managed to get 97 votes closer to winning Nevada.
That might not mean much, except – and pardon me while a throw out a whole bunch of mind-numbing figures – during that four-year span, the total turnout of voters in the state grew by more than 200,000.
It’s true. Total turnout in Nevada went from 613,360 voters in the Bush-Gore election to 831,833 in the Bush-Kerry election. And the Democrats got 97 votes closer.
By comparison, None of These Candidates received 373 more votes from one election to the next. Without spending a dime, I might add.
That leads me to the advice given to every statewide candidate in Nevada: You can’t win without the rurals.
Let me explain. There is more to Nevada than Las Vegas. Few people in America realize this, but it’s an important distinction for politicians.
Kerry won Clark County (known locally as Las Vegas). So did Gore. Didn’t help.
Carson City, Churchill County, Douglas County, Lyon County, Elko County – heck, even Washoe County – went for Bush in both elections.
In fact, even if the Democrat had managed to pull even in those seven counties, he still would have lost the state by 10,000 votes.
And pulling even in those counties, well, it’s not likely to happen. Carson, maybe. Washoe, it’s possible. Douglas, Lyon, Elko, Churchill and the rest? In your dreams.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to put such a negative vibe on the whole early-caucus thing and spoil Nevada’s role in picking the next leader of the free world. We like the attention. We’ve never felt so important before. Coming to Carson City is a good way to start.
And I could be totally wrong. It’s been known to happen. I just wanted to offer a bit of practical advice while you’re in town, so it doesn’t come as a surprise later.
It’s kind of like my advice about crossing the street. You see, three out of four cars will stop for you. Unfortunately, there are four lanes on Carson Street.
One more thing: Please don’t say you’re so happy to be here in beautiful Carson Valley. It just gives you away.
• Barry Smith, a former editor of the Nevada Appeal, is executive director of the Nevada Press Association.