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In Nevada, GOP Hopefuls Should Head For The Hills

It's officially summer vacation time. But if you're a candidate running for president, you'll spend your summer shaking hands in early voting states. Here, a look at the required stops and must-see attractions in Nevada.

Las Vegas may be in the middle of a desert, but once you're on the Strip, you can pretend you're anywhere. Just pick a hotel: Paris, New York, Monte Carlo. Republican candidates generally go Venetian.

For tourists, the Venetian Hotel means gondola rides on the indoor canal that runs through the shopping mall. But Republican candidates don't come for the ride; they come for the money. The Venetian is owned by a big-time donor to Republican causes, so it has become the default location for glitzy GOP fundraisers.

Politics And Half-Price Drinks

But a candidate who wants to meet rank-and-file Republican voters might want to head down the road a few miles to Stoney's Rockin' Country.

Stoney's Rockin' Country, home to a Tea Party Express rally last year, has become something of a Republican haven in a predominantly Democratic city.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Stoney's Rockin' Country, home to a Tea Party Express rally last year, has become something of a Republican haven in a predominantly Democratic city.

Stoney's looks like a dance hall crossed with a sports bar — if the only sport in the world was rodeo. And in a city dominated by Democrats, it has become a Republican haven. Chuck Muth, head of the group Citizen Outreach, is the founder of a monthly gathering for conservatives at Stoney's called First Fridays.

"It's not really a political event," he says. "It's more just a fun event of people who like politics."

Politics and half-price drinks.

Muth says 500 people showed up at a recent First Friday when presidential candidate and former Godfather's Pizza chief Herman Cain was the guest. And Muth has invited all of the other GOP hopefuls to stop by.

"I think it is going to be a must stop for a lot of the candidates this time around," Muth says.

Last time around, Nevada didn't get a lot of love from most Republican presidential candidates. That was partly because the Republican caucuses were just a beauty contest. Also, most candidates rightly assumed the crown would go to Mitt Romney, in part because of his support from the state's large Mormon population. But this time, Muth believes things could be different.

"They will award delegates to the winners on a proportional basis, so it won't even be winner take all. So, there's a reason even for some of what would be considered maybe not the top-tier candidates to come, because they can still pick up a couple of delegates," he says.

If You Build It ...

Meanwhile, about 400 miles northwest of Stoney's, there are real cowboys — and cows — and snowcapped mountains in Douglas County. Maggie Benz, the chairwoman of the county Republican Party, says that four years ago, Romney was the only candidate who came by the GOP office.

"When he came to our headquarters, it was like, wow," she says.

It was almost too wow. "There must've been 150 or 200 people, and that's big for us," she says. "In fact, I was afraid the floor was going to cave in."

So, on the theory that if you build it they will come, the Douglas County Republican Party just opened a new office in the town of Minden that's more than twice the size of its old one. If a candidate shows up, there will be room for a crowd. And Benz says GOP candidates should campaign in rural counties like hers because in Nevada, that's where the Republicans are.

"Our county, for instance, is almost 2-to-1 Republicans," she says. "In one of our most recent elections we had ... a 92 percent turnout."

Face Time In Reno

About an hour's drive from Douglas County is Nevada's swing district — Washoe County and the city of Reno, where Republican Mayor Bob Cashell is serving his third term.

Voters treat him like a neighbor as he strolls through a park beside the rushing Truckee River. When Barack Obama was running for the White House, he drew thousands of people to a rally right here. But Cashell says most Republican candidates have come to Reno just for fundraisers. Sometimes they don't even leave the airport.

"They'll be here for two or three hours, or maybe a half a day. But usually, they just touch and go," he says.

But Cashell thinks they should spend a little more face time with Reno voters. One of the places he'd take them is a restaurant called Rapscallions.

"Usually there's five or six guys over at that corner of the bar that can buy and sell you and I and your company probably twice," he says.

And what politician wouldn't want to meet guys like that? Developer Dale McKenzie tells the mayor that he wouldn't mind at all having his lunch interrupted by a little campaigning.

"Especially a presidential candidate. That'd be fun," McKenzie says.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, they have that kind of fun all the time. In Nevada, they're still dreaming of it.

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