Maybe it’s because we’re the new kid on the block. Or maybe it’s just because too many stories about the Silver State tend to feature slot machines, legalized prostitution and/or Elvis impersonators. But for whatever reason, Nevada has fast become the Rodney Dangerfield of presidential caucuses.
How about John McCain’s latest bus tour, the “No Surrender” one, where he touted it as hitting the early states. The only problem was his version of the “early states” included only Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Or when the Los Angeles Times recently commissioned a series of polls on the early states they apparently forgot their next-door neighbor. And then there is our favorite, when the Des Moines Register’s David Yepsen wondered if people could take the Nevada caucus seriously as it was the “land of gamblers and brothels.”
It wasn’t always supposed to be this way. When Sen. Harry Reid helped push his home state’s formerly insignificant Democratic caucus to second-in-the-nation status, it was hailed as a sign of voter diversity and a new prominence for western states. Indeed, just the idea of large campaign staffs and constant visits from Democratic presidential candidates spurred Nevada Republicans to defy their national party and hold their own event on the same date.
But all that was before delegate-rich states like California, Florida and Michigan decided to get in on the action and moved their dates up too. Suddenly the January 19 spot wasn’t quite as special and the big two (Iowa and New Hampshire) of the “early four” began to flex their considerable muscle.
Faced with the prospect of a huge February 5 primary schedule and the established bragging rights of winning in Iowa, New Hampshire and even South Carolina, campaigns began to shift their people around. Both John Edwards and Chris Dodd have moved Nevada staffers to Iowa, while other Democrats keep it bare bones at best. Even Hillary Clinton, who has won the few Nevada polls that have been taken, has just three campaign offices in the state, compared to 19 in Iowa.
Perhaps more disheartening is that even the lure of a debate isn’t enough to attract candidates. When the Brookings Institution recently announced two presidential forums in Reno, they issued invites to the top four candidates of each party. For Democrats, only Bill Richardson bothered attending (though organizers were able to snag the uninvited Joe Biden who happened to be in the area that day). It was worse for Republicans, as all failed to show. Adding insult to injury was the fact that even an invited Ron Paul, he of the single-digit polling numbers, decided to take a pass on the event.
Granted, there have been a few bumps in the road on our part too. A practice caucus held in August was memorable more for the fact that the host, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, had difficulty explaining exactly how it works and one participant telling the reporter a primary “would be easier, and more people would probably turn out.” Meanwhile, Nevada Republicans have yet to even acknowledge their caucus/straw poll on their own website.
“I think the national media is paying about as much attention to Nevada as the candidates are, and vice versa,” says Hugh Jackson of the Las Vegas Gleaner. “I don’t think anybody knows how important Nevada will end up being to the process. So the candidates have to keep one toe in the water here, but at the same time I think it’s hard for them to justify spending too much time here compared to Iowa and New Hampshire and, to a lesser degree, South Carolina. And if they’re not here, the national media ain’t here.”
Still, with four months to go, there are hopes the tide will turn for the Silver State.
Reid has recently stated that “people are talking about what happens if you win or lose Nevada, it’s part of the mix now.” And Nevada State Democratic Party chairperson Jill Derby has vowed to “do whatever it takes” in keeping the state’s caucus in the first three, leaving open the possibility of moving their date up.
Others think it is just a matter of time.
“National media was hot on the caucus after it was announced,” notes Ralston Flash publisher and Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston. “Not so much now with all the leapfrogging. But if we are second or third, the candidates and the national folks will come.”
But what about the media’s perception of Nevada?
“Nevada image also plays a role,” says Ralston. “We are like Rodney Dangerfield.”
The lack of respect isn’t lost on Carson City activist Chuck Muth.
“I don’t see the media changing its portrayals of Nevada anytime soon. Too much of what happens in Las Vegas leads off newscasts. The O.J. Simpson story in a Vegas casino/hotel this weekend is a perfect example,” says the Citizen Outreach founder. “But frankly, why should we care? We live in the best state in the nation, so screw ‘em.”