LAS VEGAS — Call us crazy. Our friends and families certainly do.
This morning we hit the road for another week on the ground of the presidential three-ring circus — er, campaign.
Our first stop is in the bright lights here to chronicle three days of Republican Party campaigning and Saturday caucuses in what are high holy days in the Sin City — Super Bowl weekend. To kick it off, Donald Trump will make a “major” announcement today at 12:30 pm at his eponymous Trump Hotel and Towers on The Strip. We’ll be there — not to see The Donald, but to see what surrounds him. Epic. Absurd. America.
In Vegas, we plan to report on the housing crisis in the nation’s worst-hit city for foreclosures, to examine how people of the Mormon faith thrive in a state known for gambling and legal prostitution, to get some up-close insight into famously inexpensive Las Vegas culinary culture, to shed some light on Newt Gingrich’s largest benefactor and Las Vegas hotel mogul Sheldon Adelson, and to unpack the Nevada Republican Party’s decision to release the caucus results via twitter.
On Saturday we’ll be tweeting results and commentary from caucuses all across Clark County, which houses 60% of the state’s Republican population. The final caucus of the day will be held at a school named for Adelson, which should be interesting.
At dawn Sunday morning we head to Colorado to spend three days exploring conservative (Colorado Springs) and liberal (Denver and Boulder) strongholds in a politically purple state. Mitt Romney has the GOP nomination momentum and is likely to do well in Nevada, but on Tuesday Colorado joins Minnesota and Missouri in voting, so it’s a test of whether Romney can cement national support.
We plan to attend former National Association of Evangelical president Ted Haggard’s new church, which began in a barn after his fall from grace following a sex scandal, and his former church, which meets in a building the size of an airplane hangar. We are set to talk to Air Force Academy cadets and other military members who populate the region. We will hear what Latino Republicans think about their candidates. We want to know what the Obama campaign is doing in this crucial swing state. And we won’t be stunned if we see Tim Tebow somewhere on the campaign trail.
On Tuesday evening we’ll be tweeting results and commentary from various points up and down Interstate 25, which runs from the border of New Mexico to Wyoming, smack through Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver, and alongside Boulder, Loveland, and Fort Collins. We’ll probably sing a particular John Denver song while we’re at it.
Please join us here for our posts. Crazy? Maybe. Compelling? Absolutely.
Continue after the fold for some scene-setting information on Nevada. We’ll provide similar context for Colorado on Sunday morning when we catch our breath.
First, read this primer by the state’s legendary political journo, Jon Ralston.
Nevada is a big, big state with relatively few people. It has counties larger than the whole of Delaware with little over a thousand residents. Yet for all of its (sometimes empty) vastness, Nevada is experiencing rapid population growth, specifically in minority groups. The state’s substantial Latino population has grown 81.9 percent since 2000. Today over a quarter of the state’s 2.7 million residents is Hispanic or Latino.
This population increase garnered Nevada a sixth electoral vote, to be used at the swing state’s discretion in the next three general elections. For the last ten presidential elections, Nevada has voted with the overall winning candidate so courting the Silver State is no small matter. But a Democratic victory doesn’t mean wooing over half of Nevada’s 17 counties. In fact, all it takes is just winning two.
Washoe and Clark counties, home of Reno and Las Vegas respectively, are the state’s most populous and have retained their shade of blue even after the Republican resurgence in 2010. Those strongholds helped Senator Harry Reid (D) to his fifth term two years ago.
It wasn’t an easy win. Nevada has the country’s worst unemployment rate, registering at 12.6 this January. Combined with soaring foreclosures and bankruptcies, the 2010 race was ripe for an anti-incumbent sweep. Reid’s Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, said all the right things to appeal to her Tea Party base–smaller government, fewer taxes, etc.–but her controversial anti-illegal immigration ads did not fly with Nevada’s Latino population. So they voted in favor of Reid, 69 to 30 percent.
Another notable constituency calls the shots in Nevada elections, albeit their contribution is more difficult to measure. According to the Latter Day Saints Church News, 6.7 percent of the state’s population is Mormon (data from 2009). They’re concentrated in the northeast of Nevada, a wealthier area than the rest of the state, and almost unanimously supported Mitt Romney in the Republican caucuses in 2008, which he won with 51% of the vote.