If only Nevada had more time.
We need another week or three of campaign ads to help fund tight local broadcasting budgets. We want a whole month of national media and campaign staffers’ slamming in and out of our hotel rooms, signing checks in our restaurants, and meeting in our coffee shops. And we would gladly welcome more than the three days that remain for the four presidential candidates to make their case to undecided caucusgoers, many of whom are facing the worst financial times of their lives.
But our caucus looms and more time, alas, is a luxury we do not have. Nevadans have therefore been challenged to try to catch a quick glimpse of the candidates as they do a 72-hour amazing race from newsroom to conference center to strip mall to local brewery.
Rick Santorum was here Tuesday to do a television interview and then meet with a group of about 100 tea partiers, but yesterday spent the entire day in Colorado. He will be back in Nevada today, but then heads to Missouri tonight. The choice to short us on time, along with the lack of pandering on Nevada issues — he said in that TV interview that he is not only against Web gaming, but also has concerns about the spread of terrestrial gambling, and he offered no new housing-market solutions — removed any doubt that his visit to Nevada was more obligation than strategy. If he earns more than 5 percent here on Saturday, it will be a surprise.
Newt Gingrich, in contrast, yesterday met with Reno residents at a local pub and rapid-fired every piece of red meat he could produce. From promising that he would never bow to a Saudi king to proposing a 15 percent flat tax to saying he would get rid of the EPA to accusing President Obama of trying to drive religion out of private life, Gingrich ran the gamut and back again. He then encouraged roughly 150 enthusiastic attendees to rush out, talk to their friends, and use social media to get out the vote Saturday. A fair number of tea-party and anti-Romney types will surely vote for him, but all Newtonian predictions are meaningless and Gingrich’s fundamental challenge here is not his lack of appeal to the conservative base. It is, rather, the existence of one Ron Paul, which forces Newt into a tough race for second place.
The Ron Paul Revolution, a rapid-response force to be reckoned with here in the libertarian-loving Silver State, drew 1,000 attendees to a Tuesday-night rally at a hotel and conference center. Since arriving, Paul has already appeared on television, attended a Hispanic activist breakfast, held a couple of press conferences, and published an impressive opinion piece against taxation on service-employee tips in the Las Vegas Sun. He knows Nevada, and there is plenty more of the same for the rest of the week in what appears to be an extremely fast-paced and aggressive schedule. Paul’s campaign team predicts a win, but that is an unlikely consummation, devoutly as they may wish it. He will in all likelihood do better than the 14 percent he earned here in the 2008 caucuses. Just how much better is anyone’s guess, but 20 percent is probably attainable.
As for Mitt Romney, he has so far this week held an event at a Las Vegas company known to generously support Republicans, and continued to run plenty of television ads. He is planning to hold a big rally in Reno today. He will be at a rally in Las Vegas tonight, then one in Reno and one in Elko, and then back to Las Vegas tomorrow. He plans to spend caucus day in Washoe County, Nevada’s other urban center. Busy man. And the truth is, he probably didn’t need to do even half that to win here. This is, after all, Romney Country, where the former Massachusetts governor in 2008 took home 51 percent of caucus votes. He knows he can again rely on many of the Republican faithful and can especially count on Mormon turnout. Nevada’s Latter-day Saints make up 7 percent of the population, but 2008 exit polls showed they showed up at 25 percent.
Unless some unforeseen miracle — or disaster, depending on your point of view — occurs, Romney should decisively win Nevada. By how much doesn’t matter, although pulling off an easy win where he is presumed to have one in the bag would probably quiet some worried whispers about electoral enthusiasm. He won’t repeat 2008, but something in the low to mid-40s is certainly possible, though he could do slightly worse if Paul or Gingrich can cut into his market share.
But whom Nevadans choose this Saturday, and by what margins, matters far less than the numbers all Nevadans watch with bated breath. Statistics measuring phenomena such as statewide unemployment, taxable-sales and gaming revenues, and foreclosures — not political bumper stickers — are the real causes for optimism or pessimism here. And no matter whom the nation elects come November, the best most Nevadans can do is place their bets not on politicians or policy but on the one thing that will in the end correct the statistical mess we so lovingly call home:
— Elizabeth Crum is the publisher of the Nevada News Bureau and a conservative political commentator. She co-hosts The Agenda, a half-hour political talk show in Las Vegas, on KSNV-TV.