Taking Aim After Ames

Today’s mass media have no better critic than Jon Stewart (or, should we say, Stewart with his producers and writers). Recently, he showed why, dedicating a Daily Show segment to Ron Paul finishing second in the Ames Straw Poll to Michele Bachmann. As Stewart demonstrated, not even the Republican propagandists at Fox mentioned him.

Granted, some of Paul’s beliefs are Out There, but his beliefs—call it his ideology or aura, or a combination of both—loom large in Nevada politics.

Part of the equation is that Harry Reid may owe his Senate seat to him. In 2008, Paul’s supporters almost took over the state Republican convention, prompting chair Bob Beers to recess the gathering to block them, with support from the party chair, Sue Lowden. Unquestionably, Lowden’s suggestion that paying for health care with chickens helped Reid’s re-election campaign tie her in a knot and turn her every which way but loose.

But did that cost her the GOP Senate nomination? Sharron Angle benefited from being the most prominent Northern candidate and running to Lowden’s right. Paul’s supporters made nice after the ’08 convention, but the betting is Lowden’s apostasy stuck in some Republicans’ minds and made her a sitting duck—or chicken—for Angle.

Now the big race, Congressional District 2, pits Republican former State Sen. Mark Amodei against Democrat Kate Marshall, whom the GOP blames for Nevada’s budget problems, any tax increases and the plague that killed 20 percent of London’s population in 1666. For her part, Marshall attacked Amodei for supporting tax hikes, which Amodei countered by running as far to the right as possible.

That may seem strange, since he’s a Republican with an ample advantage in voter registration—30,000 more Republicans than Democrats out of about 400,000 voters, and most of the independents or third-party folk tilt right. Shouldn’t that be enough? No, and not just because politics is even more topsy-turvy than usual. This district encompasses rural Nevada, where Republicans consider the Review-Journal editorial page a bit too liberal.

That’s Ron Paul country, and Amodei, a moderate as a legislator, demonstrates the GOP establishment’s concern. Dean Heller was a moderate Republican assemblyman and secretary of state who became Attila the Hun when he ran for the House in 2006—and he still beat Angle in the primary by only 421 votes out of about 69,000 cast.

All of which makes Nevada’s 2012 GOP presidential caucus even more interesting. In 2008, most of the field conceded to Mitt Romney on the theory that he was from Utah part of the time and Mormon—but Paul ran a distant second without much money. Will the presence of a second Mormon candidate, Jon Huntsman, cut into Romney’s support this time? Probably not. Huntsman is trying to be the Republican Barack Obama—the sensible adult. That works when running in the general election for president, but not when running for your party’s nomination—that’s the time to toss red meat to your base.

Rick Perry’s presence may affect the Nevada caucus, and not just because he and Brian Sandoval have the same hair and Sandoval’s closest political adviser will try to work similar magic on Perry’s campaign here. Nevada’s far right may accept a candidate who opposes Social Security and Medicare (never mind how much they benefit from them) and suggests Federal Reserve Board chair Ben Bernanke is treasonous—an irony, given his own advocacy of secession and use of stimulus money to balance the Texas budget.

But Perry and Bachmann face another problem here: They aren’t Ron Paul. With the R-J apparently still under the far right’s control—and a number of rural weeklies owned by the R-J’s former publisher, Sherman Frederick—Paul figures to get more attention from Nevada’s media than he does nationally. He also represents how Nevada’s GOP base thinks of itself: principled in opposing government, even as they feed at its trough.

Check out Vegas Seven’s profile of both Kate Marshall and Mark Amodei.