As a native Idahoan, who has lived most of my 66 years here, I can offer plenty of testimony on what there is to love about the Gem State. But it’s a pretty depressing place during presidential election years.
Republicans have carried Idaho by wide margins since 1964. As a result, candidates don’t spend much time, energy and money in Idaho. North Idaho gets some campaign exposure because it is part of the Spokane television market. But the rest of the state might as well be Siberia.
State Treasurer Ron Crane, announcing the Idaho’s vote totals during the Republican National Convention, said, “We are so Republican that when we say the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s to the Republicans for which it stands.”
He was kidding, of course, but there’s some truth to what he was saying. If the Legislature were to consider changing the state’s seal to read, “The Great Seal of the Republic(ans) of Idaho, it probably would pass.
That’s not the case in Nevada, where the two-party system is alive and well. I make annual trips to Reno to visit with family, and especially enjoy it during presidential election years – only to remind myself there is a presidential election happening. Nevada is a battleground state, and both parties go after those five electoral votes as if they are panning for gold. Hillary Clinton was in Las Vegas the week of my visit to Reno, and Nevada can count on seeing plenty of Donald Trump as well. The nasty television ads are in full swing, as are the wave of ads promoting congressional candidates. The big prize is the U.S. Senate seat, being vacated by Democrat Harry Reid, and both parties are optimistic about winning.
In Nevada, it’s not a mortal sin to be a Democrat. Carlos Perez-Campbell of Fernley, a political science major at the University of Nevada (Reno), is “all-in” during this campaign. He’s helping with the Democratic ground game in Fernley and other rural areas that often are overlooked on the political scene.
“I have wanted to go into politics since I was in the third grade,” he said. “I remember watching CNN every morning and seeing Sen. Harry Reid while he was Senate majority leader. I was so inspired to see a Nevadan at the forefront of change in Congress. I carried this my entire life and really began to get involved for the first time in this election cycle.”
One of the perks of his job is seeing candidates, and leading national figures, pass through the state. “I had the pleasure of meeting with Secretary Clinton on three occasions here in Nevada, including a rally after the first Democratic debate in which I was asked to introduce her.”
His involvement has grown from there, joining the Democratic Party’s county and state central committees and working on congressional campaigns.
“As we head into the general election, here in Nevada, we have far too much at stake for our communities. The presidential election has energized people and has led them to get involved in local politics,” Perez said.
Political passion is not confined to the Democratic side. Sara Sendek, communications director with the Nevada Republican Party, says there’s plenty of emotion in the GOP. Democrats have held the edge in recent presidential elections, but the potential is high for a turn-around – which is why candidates on both ends are not ignoring Nevada.
“We feel we can take lessons learned from the past, develop a better ground game, and turn it around this year,” she said. One rallying point is a poll showing that more than 40 percent of Nevadans believe Clinton should face criminal charges for the email scandal. Another rallying point is Trump, who has brought new people into politics.
“The presidential election is especially exciting,” she said. “We’ve had more people participating than ever before, and we can feel the energy with people wanting to come in and help out. We feel this will be a competitive election all the way through November.”
That’s a stark contrast from Idaho, where presidential and congressional elections are a matter of formality. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t trade Idaho for Nevada. But I enjoy the spirit in Nevada, where there is no confusion over what to say in the Pledge of Allegiance.