Nevada Democrats recasting America’s playland as heartland
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS – Forget the lore of Bugsy Siegel and the frolics of Paris Hilton.
Nevada – long the wild child of American culture – is being repackaged as utterly ordinary.
With its new, early presidential caucus next January, the state is attempting to lure presidential candidates to unfamiliar terrain. And state Democratic Party leaders are banking that the best way to do that is to emphasize strip malls over the Strip.
So it is that the list of Las Vegas “hot spots” compiled by the party includes two bagel shops, two breakfast joints and a sandwich shop in a strip mall. Anywhere that reality TV star Hilton may have placed a high heel didn’t make the cut.
The list was included in a welcome packet sent to presidential campaigns in advance of today’s candidate forum in Carson City, the first of the race. And it’s part of a broader attempt to emphasize Nevada’s heartland over its playland.
The 44-page document includes notes on the practical and historical: a list of union hotels in Las Vegas (42) and the drive time from the airport to downtown Reno (eight minutes), for example.
There’s no mention of Bugsy Siegel or legalized prostitution in rural counties. The state’s storied gambling history is dismissed in a single sentence.
“We wanted to make certain they know there’s a lot to the state outside of the Strip,” said Jean Hessberg, the state party’s caucus campaign director. “If that’s the only thing folks focus on, then they would miss messages that are really important to the campaign.”
The ability to project those messages is part of what won the state its new caucus date of Jan. 19 – a week after the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and before the New Hampshire primary.
Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., state leaders pitched Nevada to national Democrats as representative of the new West, an opportunity to put growth, sprawl, water, public lands, retirees, Hispanics and unions on the candidates’ agendas.
Reid argues that winning the state’s caucus will be key to winning a handful of swing states in the region. He’s repeatedly hailed the move as a victory for working families.
That is relatively new territory for a state whose working girls get far more media attention.
Nevada, particularly the southern part of the state, has made a killing by billing itself as risque, not representative. The state tolerates legalized prostitution in 10 counties, and embraces gambling in nearly every corner of all 17. Slot machines can be found in supermarkets and gas stations.
Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the move to, well, normalcy, is a combination of outsiders bringing their ways with them, and Nevada pushing its ways out.
“With the acceptance of gambling nationwide, clearly we’re not out there as far as we were,” said Herzik, a Republican.
He said the state’s political swings bolster its representative status. Nevada voted for Bill Clinton twice and George Bush twice, though by narrow margins both times.
“Nevada for years was the bad boy of American society, but it has shown to be a mainstream player,” he said.