The results from Elko County - Hillary Clinton may have won Nevada, but Barack Obama powered past her in Elko County, where both candidates held last-minute town-hall meetings Friday. Obama had the support of 62 percent of the county's Democratic caucusgoers. Overall Democratic turnout was far stronger than party officials expected. Read more here.
Thursday evening - So I'm in Elko, Nevada, with Tara of The Political Game. A few days ago, I heard that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are going to be speaking here tomorrow (Friday), and I started thinking about making the trip - a nine-hour round-trip drive from Boise. Then yesterday, Brett told me that John Edwards would be here tonight, and that was the last straw. What political junkie can resist seeing three presidential candidates in less than 24 hours? Not us, that's for sure.
Tara came from the east, I came from the west, and we met in Twin Falls. Tara graciously agreed to drive the rest of the way to Elko, and we arrived about an hour ago. I misread the instructions off of I-80 and we wound up at an intersection of Mountain City Highway and, ahem, Walmart Boulevard. A sure sign of civilization's decline.
Well, we finally found the motel and then decided to scope out where John Edwards will be speaking a few hours from now. He was set to appear at the Star Hotel, a famous downtown Basque institution. But that wasn't the sort of institution Edwards' campaign had in mind, apparently. The venue has been switched to Highland Manor. "Sounds like a retirement home," I said.
And that's exactly what it is - well, a nursing home, anyway. We arrived, and - dubious that it was really the right place - we went in to ask. Indeed, we had the right spot. A staff person said "He'll be in the living room." We looked in on our way out, and if they can get 30 people in there - with wheelchairs? - I will be surprised. And isn't 8:30 past their bedtime? Then again: it's a precinct caucus location, and older folks vote. Edwards is no dummy.
The larger question is: What are three Democratic presidential candidates doing in Elko, Nevada, which voted 78% for George W.Bush in 2004? Two nights before the caucus, why aren't they in Reno or Las Vegas? So we'll try to figure that out and let you know!
Thursday night - Edwards wound up at The Star Hotel after all. (Fortunately, Tara called up the Elko Daily Free Press website and saw the change.) We had a yummy Basque dinner at the Star, which is a boarding house built in 1910. Edwards showed up just a little behind schedule and stood on a chair to address the packed room. He did have to deal with a few hecklers who'd just rolled in off the ranch for some steaks and picon punch. "Bring back Reagan," one yelled. But Edwards prevailed and drew plenty of applause from the room, especially when he pledged to end the war in Iraq and get rid of No Child Left Behind.
We both got to shake the senator's hand. I told him we'd driven down from Idaho for the event. "Bless you," he said. Nice guy. So it was a night well spent. We are getting up obnoxiously early tomorrow to go hear ... Mitt Romney. Why? Because he's here and so are we.
Friday morning - We saw Mitt. In her post, Tara says pretty much everything I would say about his speech. The only thing I'd add is this: People who do not believe that government can do good things ought not be hired to run it. (The photo below is of Tara at the Romney rally, wearing her sticker upside down and thus costing us our chance to sit behind the Mittster for the Fox TV crews. Kidding!)
How popular is Romney here in remote northeastern Nevada? I did note that when they asked the crowd of 200 to 300 who would be caucusing for him tomorrow, only about half those present applauded. The GOP county chair also made a big deal of assuring people that - unlike "the other side, where they make you stand in corners" - Republican caucusgoers can keep their preferences private. What sort of caucus is that?
Both Obama and Clinton have reserved gyms that hold several thousand people. It'll be interesting to see how many people show up. We talked with some local folks at Cowboy Joe - a cool little coffee shop; even the mayor goes there - who had been to see Romney and planned to see one or both Dems, too. It's good to see some local people are taking an interest.
Clinton's speech starts an hour before the doors open for Obama, so Tara and I are parting ways for the afternoon. She is eager to hear Clinton, whom I heard at Yearly Kos last summer. I want to be sure I get in to hear Obama. I'll post about it sometime tomorrow.
Saturday - I'm back home, watching the Nevada returns. On the GOP side, Romney is running away with it, with 55 percent. Ron Paul and John McCain are tied for second. Clinton has a 6 percent edge over Obama with nearly 80 percent of the returns in. The big surprise - to me, anyway - is how Edwards is absolutely tanking in the Silver State, with just 4 percent. A Reno Gazette-Journal poll last week showed the three neck and neck and neck, and Edwards did quite a bit of campaigning in the state this week.
I hate to say it, but at this point, Edwards has one more shot: Either he comes in first or a very strong second in South Carolina, or he ought to drop out. It's fair to assume that most of the people who voted for Edwards would've chosen Obama had Edwards not been in the race.
As I mentioned yesterday morning, I decided to skip Clinton's speech - set for 1:30 - to ensure I got a good seat for Obama's event, where the doors were set to open at 2:30. This proved a wise decision; organizers actually let people in at 2 due to the cold weather, and I wound up in the second row! (Big thanks to Jim Hansen, who called me when he got in line. I'd been killing a little time in the library about six blocks away, so I hustled up to the high school and was able to get a good position in the queue. Jim and his family got FIRST-row seats!)
Obama outdrew Clinton, but perhaps only because he had the bigger gym. Following an introduction from his wife, Michelle, Obama spoke for close to an hour, including a Q&A session. (I was really glad to see him doing Q&A; some commentators noted he should have done more of that in New Hampshire). He nailed all five questions he was asked, including one on whether he supports the coal industry. He turned that into an eloquent call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use coal only if clean coal technology can be improved on current methods - then shared with China and India, where new coal-fired plants are going online every week.
Heading back to Idaho with Tara (who writes that she remains undecided after hearing all three top-tier Dems in person), I suggested that she might need to base her ultimate decision on electability. Clinton is doing well with the Democratic base. If she becomes the nominee, most Dems who don't especially like her will still vote for her. But what sort of support would she attract among independents and Republicans?
I stood in the Obama line with one registered Republican and sat next to another at the rally. I met another downtown who not only planned to caucus for Obama; he was volunteering for him. In Idaho, I've met many independents and Republicans who like Obama - and the same was true in the swing state of Iowa. Clinton? Yes, she drew independents in blue New Hampshire, but could she do the same in the South and the West? On the other hand, what does it say that both Clinton and Obama far outdrew Romney in the heavily Republican land of northeastern Nevada?
Enough analysis for now ... enjoy my pix from the Obama event!
Michelle Obama welcomes her husband to the Elko rally.
Obama spoke to more than 2,000 people at the Elko High gym. Clinton drew about half that number to a smaller gym at the Elko Indian Colony. Some people attended both events.