Candidates Snub Nevada, Despite Earlier Caucus

Nevada moved its caucuses up to January next year in the hope of drawing candidates to the state and attention to Western issues. But the state has been all but ignored by the major candidates.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

And now to Nevada where there's been a lot of buzz and excitement since the state's caucuses were moved up to January, joining Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Voters in Nevada had hoped to bask in the glow of presidential candidates' attention in the coming months.

But as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, Nevada is a long way from becoming the New Hampshire of the West.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?

INA JAFFE: There are probably been more Elvis sightings in Nevada for the past few months and glimpses of real-life presidential candidates.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been here the most. He's made more than two-dozen appearances, twice as many as the frontrunners. But that's not much compared to Iowa where Richardson's made more than a hundred campaign stops.

In a recent evening in Boulder City, Nevada, however, Democrats weren't feeling slighted. They packed a hotel lobby to see him. Gary Rogers(ph) couldn't have cared less if the candidates are going to New Hampshire and Iowa more than they're coming here.

GARY ROGERS: They're coming here 15 times more than they ever had before. And, you know, when you've been a Nevadan for years, then you were always left in the dust. It's pretty neat.

JAFFE: Richardson talked about ending the war in Iraq. He talked about health care and education. But he also focused on the kinds of issues that we're supposed to get more attention when a Western state got in to their January mix.

BILL RICHARDSON: Issues relating to water, issues relating to public lands and how we're going to protect our wilderness (unintelligible), our ecosystems.

JAFFE: He's hoping that being a Westerner will give him a leg up here.

RICHARDSON: Nevada is very important to me. I got to do well here and I need your help. I need you to be part of an underdog campaign that'll change this country. The West is going to rise again.

JAFFE: And Democrats want to build on some recent gains there. So the national party picked Nevada with it's ethnically diverse population and strong labor movement to join the exclusive group of early voting states. It took Nevada Republicans awhile to move their caucus too. And it seems as if many of their presidential candidates haven't quite noticed.

Fred Thompson, for example, has never campaigned in Nevada. Rudy Giuliani has been here three times as has Mitt Romney. Like his rivals, Romney doesn't even have a campaign office in the state. Though he will soon, says Bryan Erwin(ph), a senior advisor to the campaign.

BRYAN ERWIN: We have multiple headquarters coming. But quite frankly, we've actually had a really good positive response from volunteers. And they have been making phone calls from home.

JAFFE: But that's a relatively lonely experience compared to the community gatherings of Iowa or New Hampshire. Still, it's not surprising that it's been so quiet here, says political analyst John Ralston.

JOHN RALSTON: I mean, listen. This is our first time. So no one's going to take us seriously yet. And plus, I really do think there is the overlay here of the attitude toward Nevada that you see - all the old stereotypes, the wild west, sin city of Las Vegas. You can't take them really seriously. Because of the lunacy of this process, I still think there's a decent chance Nevada has a say.

JAFFE: But to have an impact, says Rolsten, there have to be a really good turnout - many times more than the few thousand activists who've shown up in the past. The parties are working hard to make sure that happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MOCK CAUCUS)

JAFFE: This is a mock caucus known as a mockcus - one of many run throughout the state by the Nevada Democratic Party. Two-dozen men and women came to a Las Vegas neighborhood park on a recent evening for this workshop on caucus technique. Not wanting to show favoritism to a particular candidate, the caucus then supported their favorite pizza.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MOCK CAUCUS)

Unidentified man: Pepperoni is the best pizza for a variety of reasons. It's delicious. It's amazing. Pepperoni.

JAFFE: There are a lot of people here who's never been to a caucus before but swore at the end of this evening they would show up at the appointed hour next January. Of course, it'll be much more serious when they're caucusing for candidates instead of pizza. Unlike politicians, pizza never lets you down.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Las Vegas.

SEABROOK: You know, I'm very frustrated with there being so many presidential candidates, like that's really bothering, you know. There shouldn't be so many, there's too many. It's like a reality show. It's like "America's Next Top President."

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