SEARCHLIGHT — This is a town of 800. People, that is. In Seattle, Roosevelt High School alone has over 1,600 students.
The Searchlight “downtown” is at the intersection of Veterans Memorial Way and Cottonwood Cove Road. The most prominent building is the Nugget Casino, which is slightly larger than a typical 7-11 store on Aurora Avenue. Side streets are lined with trailer homes and desert brush.
During the boom and bust of gold mining in the early 1900s, the Searchlight population doubled to 1,500. Today, the town is best known for being the hometown of Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Harry Reid.
It was Reid’s standing that brought the national Tea Party leadership to Searchlight in 2010, when they held a rally that drew thousands and featured Sarah Palin and Joe The Plumber as keynote speakers.
Today’s caucus turnout was considerably less.
This morning, 21 of 251 registered Republicans in the area attended the Republican Party caucus. Newt Gingrich won with 8 votes, to 7 for Ron Paul, 3 for Mitt Romney, and 3 for Rick Santorum.
Ellie Shook, a 15-year resident of Searchlight and 13-year volunteer firefighter, wanted to vote for Santorum, but didn’t think he could carry the election. So she went with Gingrich. Even in small towns, electability matters.
She also said she likes Reid as a man, but doesn’t support him anymore as a politician.
Married couple Chris and Jamie Lieurance expressed similar sentiments about Reid. They disagreed politically with him but said Reid made certain things possible in Searchlight — from the community center where the caucus was being held to the sewer system. They, along with Ellie, said that Reid had forgotten where he came from.
Reid has a home in Searchlight, and when in town, Shook said, he walks the streets, greets people along the way, eats at the Nugget Casino, and stays in his “green” house that is equipped with solar panels and a windmill.
Reid was more than just a political opponent on this day; he is also the person who, in their view, is the most responsible for creating the caucus system in Nevada. The caucuses, Jamie Lieurance believes, have driven down the turnout of voters, especially those under 35, and have stifled debate. But the biggest impact of caucuses, in her opinion, is that it has made rural areas, like Searchlight, less relevant.
Not for us on this day.