Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where They're Campaigning: Palin “Mints” Jäger Moms in Carson City

Last weekend, GOP VPILF-designate Sarah Palin descended upon Carson City, swing state Nevada’s capital city.  Palin’s first solo foray – post-nomination – in the Lower 48 drew out her base and stoked their partisan fervor as much her previous joint whistlestopping with John McCain.

While most observers consider this booming, Hispanicizing New West state to be a longer shot for Democrats to capture this year than neighboring Colorado, the fact that Republicans are redoubling their efforts to maximize their vote in this far western sliver of the Silver State might be indicative of longer term trends, perhaps foreshadowing an end to decades of GOP dominance. 

As recently as 2002, two of Nevada’s U.S. House seats were safe Republican, and Dem. Rep. Shelley Berkely’s Las Vegas seat was in play.  Her 11 point margin over Vegas City Councilor Lynette Boggs-McDonald may have been amplified by the mercurial Afro-Am Republican challenger’s antics, hinting that the race might have been closer if Berkely faced a more disciplined opponent. 

Contrast that to this year when Charlie Cook rates even northern Nevada’s Second District – which encompasses Carson City and Reno – as “Likely Republican,” not “Safe Republican," and he’s shifted GOP Rep. Jon Porter’s previously comfortable Vegas ‘burbs seat into the “Tossup” column.  Shelley Berkely will likely waltz back to Washington, even though GOP turnout efforts will be in overdrive this November.   

Vegas’ Clark County continues to suffer growing pangs from its sudden population boom – turnout exploded by a whopping 165K between 2000 and 2004 – and the Democratic trend that recent House races suggest does not bode well for GOP competitiveness.

So, Palin’s visit to Carson City points to the Republicans’ only recourse for holding on.  They’ve mined about every vote they can from the sparsely settled interior counties, once home to conservative, Southern-descended “Pinto Democrats” – George Wallace stole nearly a quarter of the few votes they cast in ’68 - in the mold of the rabid Commie-bashing Sen. Pat McCarran, who made Joe McCarthy look soft on the Reds.   

Reno’s Washoe County is growing, too, though not at Clark County’s breakneck speed, and the GOP remains competitive, though Dems have been gaining in recent presidential elections.  And nearby Lyon and Douglas counties are much smaller, but growing quickly and trending Republican, like many once rural Western exurbs. 

Carson City seemed the perfect backdrop for a candidate that GOP operatives are striving to brand as America’s Favorite Small Town Mayor.  Carson City ranks dead last in population among the Census Bureau’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas, letting Palin’s flacks make the case more credibly that this small city is really a small town.   And though dwarfed by Reno, it’s growing too, and the GOP remains strong here. 

Reports of Palin’s visit indicate that the Palin pick may help mint more votes from female Democrats - at least among the downscale, socially conservative Jäger Mom set (much, much more on that shortly…), who struggle with family troubles not unlike Palin’s.

Of course, successfully courting those very voters may drive even more affluent educated voters in suburban Vegas to the Democratic column for good, who likely regard the denizens of Reno as little smarter than Washoe – named for their county – the genius chimpanzee

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