Coming from a family that set down roots in the rocky Las Vegas soil almost 70 years ago, I have heard my fill of silly analogies, reckless comparisons, and idiotic assumptions about my state, my city, and the people who are from both. The political season is fertile ground for such poppycock, and the Republican Caucus held Saturday has made pointless pundits bloom like desert wildflowers after the rain. I won’t try and fight all of the myths about my hometown in one post (although I was sorely tempted), but I do want to point out a few truths about the politics of the Silver State.
Nevada was born on Halloween, and it is truly a nightmare for pundits and pollsters alike. For years the state’s bi-polar character was to blame; a solid red state with a deep blue population center in Las Vegas, and a population completely at home with both an economic reliance on federal programs and a singular resentment towards any attempt at control coming from the general direction of the D.C. government or New York media. Nevada, and Las Vegas in particular are deeply entwined in the defense business, but the state’s natives have long fought over the large share of public land, and how it is governed. Nevadans prize their independent streak, and it is fair to point out that many of us raised in Nevada’s public schools believe that Nevada joined the Union in 1864 because Lincoln needed us, not the other way around.
But today’s politics are far, far more complicated, and the 2012 election cycle is showing that complexity to the nation. Below are a few factors to consider, when considering what will be the last swing state to close its polls this November.
- Las Vegas is a large Democratic stronghold; but as the major population center in a state with half its mortgages under water and the largest unemployment rate at the end of 2011, is vulnerable to opposition politics.
- Las Vegas is a large Democratic stronghold; but as a home to a large population of wealthy seniors (and the businesses that cater to them) is vulnerable to the one demographic with whom President Obama has consistently struggled.
- Las Vegas may be a large Democratic stronghold under conservative threat, but the area’s burgeoning Hispanic population still seems poised to vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats and Mr. Obama (despite the President’s record-setting deportations).
- Despite the President’s record-setting deportations, folks in Las Vegas who have experienced cultural loss or who have experienced economic hardship, both of which are often blamed on immigration, might be convinced that the Democrats are soft on the subject.
- Despite the shifting demographics in the Las Vegas metro area, the rest of Nevada remains culturally and economically libertarian (not traditionally conservative). The right third party populist message would represent a real threat to the traditional parties in the state, especially in the 15 counties that don’t contain Sin City.
- The Las Vegas area represents the southern-most stronghold of the Mormon Church in the lower 48 states, with all of the influence, reputation, money, and power that one might find among the prominent Catholic families of Boston. For the L.D.S. to have a member in good standing of their faith running for President is a very, very big deal. Mr. Romney will almost certainly drive turnout this cycle in this state, regardless of national conservative enthusiasm, a fact which should not be ignored.
The Big Game may be today, but the most important game goes all year. The final whistle won’t sound until November.
The Rational Middle is listening….