Ohio stole Nevada’s thunder
November 3, 2004
Thanks to Ohio and a bunch of befuddled TV networks, Nevada was denied its rightful place Tuesday night in the re-election of George W. Bush as president of the United States.
Nevada put Bush over the top for electoral votes shortly before midnight, yet you wouldn’t have known it from the television talking heads or colorful charts.
In fact, when I woke up on Wednesday morning and turned on the TV, several networks were still showing Nevada as “too close to call” – more than eight hours after the state’s count was wrapped up.
We were watching things pretty closely in the Appeal newsroom, because we needed to finish the front page by 1:30 a.m. in order to get newspapers on your doorstep by 6 a.m.
So as soon as it was clear Nevada had swung for Bush by a good 20,000 votes, I expected the TV people to declare him the winner and give Nevada a nod as the state that gave him the necessary 270 electoral votes.
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But it didn’t happen. They kept talking about Ohio and provisional ballots and challenges by John Kerry’s lawyers. All the while, it was clear there weren’t enough uncounted ballots in Ohio to change the outcome.
What was going on?
At the Appeal, we got an updated story from the Associated Press bureau in Las Vegas saying Nevada had voted for Bush and appeared to have given him the necessary margin.
The national AP story – the one that led Page 1 of Wednesday’s edition of the Appeal – said essentially the same thing: “President Bush prepared to declare re-election victory in the wee hours of Wednesday and Democratic rival John Kerry refused to concede.”
The story talked about the Ohio situation, of course, but I had no doubt the election was over. We went with a big, bold headline: “BUSH TO DECLARE VICTORY.”
After sleeping a few hours, I checked the network news shows and nothing had changed. Kerry hadn’t conceded, and Bush hadn’t given his victory speech. The talking heads kept repeating there weren’t enough provisional ballots in Ohio to change the outcome. What galled me most, though, was the ones still showing Nevada as undetermined.
I thought it was a slap in the face to the thousands of poll workers and election officials from Secretary of State Dean Heller to Carson City Clerk Alan Glover (who was again first with the numbers, before 9 p.m.) who had conducted an almost flawless general election.
High turnout, a huge test for the new touch-screen voting machines, a close and bitter battle, the eyes of the nation turned to Nevada … and Nevada delivered right on time.
But millions of people across the country didn’t know it. Millions of people wondered “What the heck is going on in Nevada?” I heard some of the network people saying essentially the same thing.
And yet they knew. Every one of those news organizations subscribes to the Associated Press. Every one of them knew the results were long available from the Silver State. There were only seven precincts uncounted when the AP stories started moving at midnight. There was no doubt.
Why would the TV anchors sit on the news?
Well, first because they were gun-shy from 2000, when they called the election for Al Gore, then for George W. Bush, then decided they didn’t know what was going on. It was oh, so embarrassing.
This time around, none of the TV networks wanted to make such a blunder. So they waited. And waited. And waited.
And even when they knew, they waited some more. Even to the extent of misleading people about what had happened in Nevada. Or pretending that they couldn’t do the math in Ohio.
The second reason is that the focus is so much on the messenger – the media – these days, they all knew the first one to make “the call” would be making news themselves.
I was watching Fox News Channel, because I figured if anyone was willing to say President Bush had been re-elected, it would be Fox. But they were prattling like everybody else. Finally, a bulletin went up mid-morning Wednesday: Kerry had called Bush to concede. Then the rest of the ceremony was played out.
It was a close race, yes. But it wasn’t nearly as close as 2000. And in terms of total popular vote, it wasn’t as close as Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960, Nixon vs. Humphrey in 1968 or Carter vs. Ford in 1976.
The holdup wasn’t Nevada. It wasn’t even Ohio, except for the speculation that somebody might sue.
Nevada was a battleground state. It went for Bush, and in the timing of election night, it was the state that put him over the top.
I guess once you’ve gotten a taste of national political attention, you crave more. The nightly (recorded) phone calls from major politicos and occasional celebrities, the visits from presidential candidates and spouses, the mention of Nevada in every polling story, the constant barrage of TV commercials telling us how important we are.
It’s kind of tough being ignored again.
Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at email@example.com or 881-1221.