Guy W. Farmer: Searchlight was Ground Zero in Senate fight
They threw a big political tea party in Searchlight (of all places) last weekend, even though the “guest of honor,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), was a no-show in his hometown. But the party went on without him.
Crowd estimates ranged from 7,000 to 9,000, more than eight times the permanent population of the hardscrabble desert town. The undisputed star of the “Showdown in Searchlight” was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Queen who called on voters to defeat Sen. Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama in upcoming elections. “You’re fired!” she declared, and asked her favorite question: “How’s that hopey changey stuff workin’ out for ya?” – a folksy message that resonated with her conservative audience.
Reid, who was attending a fundraiser in nearby Las Vegas, welcomed the crowd to Searchlight.
“I’m happy to see so many people come to my hometown … and spend their money in these tough economic times,” Reid said in a statement. He urged visitors to drop by the Searchlight Nugget, owned and operated by 86-year-old Verlie Doing, the Southern Nevada soul sister of 80-something Bruno Selmi, who runs Bruno’s Country Club at Gerlach in Northern Washoe County. The main difference between them is that Ms. Doing still will sell you a 10-cent cup of coffee. Only in Nevada.
Several Nevada Republicans campaigned at the Tea Party event, including Gov. Jim Gibbons and three leading Reid challengers: former state legislators Sue Lowden and Sharron Angle, and businessman Danny Tarkanian. Angle, of Reno, who is running on a very conservative no-tax platform, as is Gibbons, had the most to gain by going to Searchlight to confront her well-financed, Las Vegas-based opponents.
Early last Saturday dozens of Reid supporters gathered in front of the Nugget to support their favorite son. They displayed “Welcome to Reid Country” signs along the highway and a few of the more enthusiastic partisans egged Tea Party buses as they went by. For their part, Tea Partiers erected a huge billboard that read “Will Rogers Never Met Harry Reid,” a play on Rogers’ comment that he never met a man he didn’t like.
Last weekend’s lively Tea Party demonstrated that Nevada will be a battleground state in November as Republicans try to take back both houses of Congress. But although all three major GOP Senate candidates are currently running ahead of Reid in the polls, the scrappy ex-boxer from Searchlight will be tough to beat in the fall. Count on it.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has never visited Searchlight, but he’s been to Gerlach.