Republican Contenders Take Pitches To Nevada

Republican candidates are campaigning across the state ahead of Saturday's caucuses. The state looks much different than it did four years ago — today it leads the country in home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and unemployment.

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In Nevada, it's caucus eve. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are all campaigning there, while Rick Santorum has already moved on, looking ahead to some Midwestern contests.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has this roundup of the year's first contest in the West.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Four years ago, when John McCain was on the path to the presidential nomination, Nevada went in a different direction. Mitt Romney took first place in the state's caucuses, and Ron Paul came in second. Romney appears to be on the path to a similar performance tomorrow.

MITT ROMNEY: There's some shot that I might become president.

SHAPIRO: Nevada today is a very different place from four years ago. The state leads the country in home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, and unemployment. Romney told a roundtable meeting of business owners in Reno that he'll fix those problems by shrinking the government.

ROMNEY: If I'm the president, I will see what you do as being a very good thing, a patriotic and good thing, which is employing people.

SHAPIRO: Romney has hardly mentioned Newt Gingrich since this week's win in Florida, focusing solely on President Obama instead. Newt Gingrich took a different approach speaking in Las Vegas.

NEWT GINGRICH: I want to pit paychecks against food stamps. And I want to say I want every American to have a paycheck. We now know from Governor Romney, he joins Obama. Obama is big food stamp.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: He's little food stamp. But they both think food stamps are OK.

SHAPIRO: Ron Paul has been campaigning in Nevada since before Gingrich and Romney even arrived in the state. At a massive ballroom in Reno last night, he delivered his libertarian message to chants and cheers.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: We have an army of people now who are willing to lead the charge for personal liberty and getting the government out of our lives, off our backs, and out of our wallets.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: Paul's diverse audience included a special guest of the campaign.

TAMMY PARKER: My name is Tammy Parker(ph). I'm the feature bunny at Dennis Hof's World Famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch right here in Carson City, Nevada.

SHAPIRO: The Bunny Ranch is a legendary brothel just outside of Reno. Tammy Parker wore an impossibly tight hot pink dress and hair so blonde, it was almost white. She says she's always been very political.

PARKER: Yes. You know what? The Bunny Ranch girls – we vote in the bloc. We're all registered Republicans and we will be at the caucus on Saturday voting for Ron Paul.

SHAPIRO: All right. Thanks for your time.

PARKER: Thank you. Pendent for Paul.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Elko, Nevada.

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