In all the years I've covered American politics, it's fair to
say Nevada's gotten short shrift. Its two best-known cities --
Las Vegas and Reno -- are recognized for activities other than
their voter turnout operations. So when the NewsHour picked Las
Vegas for the first of our "Big Picture" cities, it was only after
careful research. Just because Democrats and Republicans in Nevada
have moved their presidential selection caucuses up to January,
while an important factor, wasn't reason enough.
What also sold us is that this is the first Western state that
will be part of the nominating process and with its deeply diverse
population -- almost one quarter Hispanic -- it's potentially
a model for other states whose populations are headed in the same
direction: more Hispanics, more African Americans and more Asians.
when I arrived in Las Vegas on Sunday, I was primed to look for
diversity and sure enough, a large percentage of the workers one
sees -- at the airport or on "the Strip," the string
of casinos and nightclubs that make this city famous, appear to
be Hispanic or Asian.
But the state's most prominent political analyst, Jon Ralston,
a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun with his own television program,
told me "it's anyone's guess" how many of them will
turn out for the January caucuses. The Democrats are in overdrive,
especially trying to energize Hispanic voters. Still, persuading
people who've not been very politically active in the past, to
not only show up at their "caucus site" on voting night,
but then publicly declare who they support -- as Iowans have been
doing for decades -- is no easy task.
Beyond minority groups, I noticed something else that works against
raising the political participation level here: how few people
are from Nevada. The Almanac of American Politics, a bible for
political reporters, notes that only 21 percent of Nevadans were
born in the state -- the lowest rate of any state in the nation.
My anecdotal observations on Sunday bore that out. Michael, the
30-something driver who picked me up at the airport, was born
in Fayetteville, N.C. He's lived in Las Vegas more than 15 years,
and likes it a lot, but dreams of going to ACC college basketball
games back East. "My dream? I'd love to see a Duke - Carolina
game," he told me. Michael, for one, said he hasn't paid
much attention to the presidential campaign.
the hotel where the NewsHour team is staying, the young Asian
woman who helped me with my bags asked what I was doing here.
When I told her, and asked if she planned to attend a caucus,
she said she's a legal immigrant -- a resident alien -- so she
cannot. She laughed in a resigned way, saying she'd lived in the
U.S. since right after she was born, as if to say, "I'm almost
an American, but not really." She can't vote.
Then there was Jon Ralston, the political analyst -- born in Buffalo,
N.Y -- who moved to Las Vegas to cover politics, thinking he'd
stay a couple of years. And now, 23 years later, having raised
a family, he can't imagine leaving.
In other words, some come here and make it their second home --
hence the name, "second chance" state. Others come and
never feel truly rooted.
With thousands of people moving into the state and into Las Vegas
every month, and with Democrats especially targeting these newcomers,
the challenge is daunting: Persuading the newest Nevadans that
they have a stake in this election and that their vote can help
decide who will be the next President of the United States.
On Tuesday, we'll look at the Las Vegas economy and its connection