November 22, 2004


Why Bush Scored in Nevada (SASHA ABRAMSKY, December 6, 2004, The Nation)

Nevada went for Bush, but it shouldn't have.

No, I don't mean that its voting machines were rigged, or that Republicans engaged in widespread voter intimidation. What I mean is that on most big-ticket issues--on the sorts of issues that, historically, elections turn on--most Nevadans disagreed more with the national Republican Party than they did with the Democrats. On what is arguably the single biggest issue facing the state, the opening of a vast nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, a statewide survey conducted by the Office of the Governor's Agency for Nuclear Projects in the run-up to the election showed that 77 percent were opposed to the project, which is supported by Bush but opposed by Kerry. Knocking on doors, canvassers also found strong unease about the direction of the war in Iraq, the state of the economy and job security--the critical "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" litmus test posited by no less a conservative icon than Ronald Reagan. They also expressed concern about Bush's water distribution policies in the arid West, about recent judicial rulings encroaching on Native American tribal sovereignty--a big issue in Nevada--about Bush's proposals on Social Security, the lack of affordable healthcare, the price of gasoline and so on.

Yet on election day, George W. Bush won Nevada by 21,567 votes--mirroring the nation, the split was 51 percent to 48 percent. This was just slightly slimmer than the 21,597 edge Bush enjoyed four years earlier.

"The worst part is not comprehending the other side," says Sheila Leslie, a liberal State Assemblywoman from the northern city of Reno. "I've talked to many, many people who voted for that man, and I still don't understand it. They agree he's wrong on Iraq, tax cuts, the environment, and they still voted for him. The tipping point, they can't seem to articulate. They didn't line up the policies of the President with their own personal views, because if they'd done so they would have voted for John Kerry. It was a gut vote, not an intellectual one. It makes no sense. It wasn't a rational vote."

Indeed, many Nevadans who voted for Bush turned around and supported Democrats in other races. Sheila Leslie's share of the vote went from 53 percent in 2002 to 63 percent this time around. In the Washoe County area, of which Reno makes up the major part, Democrats picked up two State Assembly seats, helping to insure that the State Assembly stayed in Democratic hands and balancing a Republican State Senate and a moderate Republican governor (who used to be a Democrat), Kenny Guinn. Democrat Harry Reid--soon to become Nevada's first Senate minority leader--was comfortably re-elected (though Reid made sure to ally himself with the gun lobby and the mining interests, and appealed to culturally conservative Bush voters with his anti-choice stand). And a state minimum-wage initiative passed overwhelmingly. Moreover, legislators who had supported Governor Guinn's move to raise $900 million in taxes in 2003 as an emergency measure to keep the state's schools open were mostly re-elected--despite harsh campaigns against them by right-wing Republicans and conservative media outlets.

Strategists on both sides point to cultural issues as a crucial factor in Kerry's defeat. "The economy, taxes, healthcare, that was lower down the list," says Earlene Forsythe, chair of the Nevada GOP and a longtime Washoe County resident. "The number-one issue was morals." Number two, according to Forsythe, was terrorism. AP exit poll data actually suggested a slightly more complex scenario: Fully one-quarter of voters said terrorism was their number-one concern, and 88 percent of these voters supported Bush. Number two was Iraq--and the voters who cited that as their top issue broke solidly for Kerry. But number three, beating out the economy and taxes, was morals, and three-quarters of those voters chose Bush. Forsythe says the Republicans identified and targeted two key new-voter blocs in Nevada: the "moral moms" and the "security moms." "They felt safer with Homeland Security with Bush at the head," Forsythe explains. "He promised to bring it to the terrorists and keep it away from our homeland. So they trusted him."

Analysts on the Democratic side agree that many voters were primarily motivated by these concerns, although they are less certain about why. "Whenever a group of people will vote for a President, put a man in power and do that against their own self-interest, their economic self-interest..." begins Richard "Skip" Daly, business manager of the Laborers, Hod Carriers, Cement Workers and Miners Local Union 169, before stopping and rewording his thought. He tries again: "They voted for a Republican who's got the biggest deficit spending ever; they voted against all of their self-interest. And the issue that came out in exit polling was 'we voted on the moral values.' What that says to me is, these people believe it's more important than their family's well-being that we don't have abortion. And, to me, that is an intolerance that we have not experienced in this country since we put into insignificance the Ku Klux Klan."

If the Klan had killed 40 million people wouldn't even their fellow Democrats of the day have thought it more important to stop them than to preserve the TVA?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2004 4:34 PM

"arguably the single biggest issue facing the state, the opening of a vast nuclear waste repository at Yucca"

If we can't put nuclear waste in Nevada, then we will just have to put it in ahh..hmm.. Boston!

Posted by: h-man at November 22, 2004 4:42 PM

One of these days the Dems will figure out that every time they say "deficit," people hear "taxes." Where's JFK when the Dems need him?

Posted by: Casey Abell at November 22, 2004 4:47 PM

That's JFK as in Kennedy, not Kerry.

Posted by: Casey Abell at November 22, 2004 4:48 PM

Two comments.

One wonders why when groups such as rich/upper middle class Jews vote Dem on social issues, that is never voting against interest but when middle class/working class vote GOP on social issues, that is. Why is one allowed but not the other?

Bush's margin was different by 30 votes! That is sorta incredible. 3 years of history led to no change.

Posted by: Bob at November 22, 2004 5:02 PM

The Yucca Mountain choice was incredibly irrational.

More people live in Las Vegas than in the entire states of Wyoming and Montana COMBINED, but for some reason putting the nation's nuclear waste repository in the middle of nowhere wasn't an option.

There were Indian tribes begging for the repository.

In Nevada, terrorism and the economy are more tightly linked than in most other states.
Nevada lives or dies by the tourist, and most people believed that Bush would do a better job of keeping America safe for travelers.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 22, 2004 6:15 PM

I thought Yucca Mountain was selected because of concerns about not fouling the water table.

The GOP won in Nevada because it is the party of hope, growth and opportunity, while the Democrats remain the party of socialist sclerosis. In America's fastest growing state, and one without a state income tax, why does the result come as a surprise?

Posted by: Bart at November 22, 2004 6:18 PM

Considering the uses to which Nevada has been put in the past, by residents and outsiders alike, a nuclear waste respository could be considered an improvement.

Yucca Mtn. is the middle of nowhere. It was selected because the geology is supposed to be such that there wont be any migration into the surrounding water table even if there is a leakage from the storage casks. The casks are not the rusty 55 gallon drums that C.Montgomery Burns would consider using, but are supposed to be rated for thousands of years. The most dangerous thing about the place will be getting hit by a truck being used to construct the place.

Energy production is another of those issues that the so-called Blue Cities don't realize how dependent they are on the rest of the country. In order to export the pollution, large powerplants are sited out in the middle of nowhere. (There are a couple of coal fired plants along I-80 near Winnemucca in Nevada, for example). And let's not forget that the resources needed to run those powerplants aren't found under Chicago or Boston.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 22, 2004 6:30 PM

I believe the Yucca Mtn plan has been certified as safe for 10,000 years, but some judge somewhere said that wasn't good enough. I would say he is ignorant of and/or hostile to science, but apparently the only people of whom that is true are Biblical literalists. Not extreme leftists. No sir. They value science over politics.

Posted by: brian at November 22, 2004 6:59 PM

GWB WAS lucky to win Nevada. He's fortunate that the Dem. primary process once again wiped out the many candidates who would have won the state handily.

Posted by: curt at November 22, 2004 9:32 PM

Who the devil are these people to tell the voters wht the voters' interests are?

Talk about your arrogance.

Posted by: Mikey at November 23, 2004 10:09 AM