Politics, Nevada Style

Fear and loathing, 2008.

This garish outpost in the Nevada desert is a world away from Iowa and New Hampshire.

The ghost of Hunter S. Thompson -- who famously penned "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- looms large.

Our guide in Sin City is Chris Parks, who at 28 is starting his third career.

Until recently he worked as a mortgage broker. But the mortgage boom dried up last summer so now he drives a limo.

Parks has been paying attention to the campaign, but despite his interest in politics, he won't be participating Saturday.

"I actually can't vote," he said, "because I am a convicted felon."

His first career -- car thief -- didn't work out too well either. But he's done his time. And come November, he should get his voting privileges back. Till then, he's just an interested bystander.

"I would go for Barack Obama, 'cause I do favor black Americans," he says. "I'd like to see him win. It'd be nice to have a black man in the White House."

But, he says, here in Vegas, they didn't pay too much mind to what happened in New Hampshire.

They were busy at the time. The AVN Awards were in town -- that's the Adult Video News Awards -- the porn equivalent of the Oscars. In Vegas, that's a very big deal.

"When the porn convention came to town everybody knew," Parker explains. "When the election is the next week -- and there was a debate -- nobody knows."

Nevada -- A 'Different Kind of Place'

Looking West from Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson imagined he glimpsed the high-water mark of the '60s, the place "where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

According to long-time Vegas journalist Jon Ralston, "Nevada's a different kind of place. I've heard all the adjectives -- peculiar, fascinating, bizarre, weird. It's all true! On the other hand, Nevada exists beyond the Las Vegas strip and what everbody sees on ABC News or 'Nightline,' maybe."

Nevada has a fast-growing Hispanic population and the candidates are trying to break through the glitz of the strip and connect with an electorate dominated by Hispanic voters and union workers.

There are serious issues to confront. Nevada is the fastest-growing state in the nation, and all that development means heavy demand for energy, water and other natural resources.

Think of the contest here as California on a more manageable scale.

"Nevadans aren't aliens," Ralston said. "They actually care about the same things as people in Iowa and New Hampshire -- the war, the economy, health care, immigration. It's the same things."

Distractions a-Plenty

But Nevada also has a consumer culture unlike that of any other state. There are distractions a-plenty.

Nowhere is the American dream of instant wealth so immediate and in your face.

And there's the underbelly to all that -- the dreamers who crapped out, the hangers on who hung on too long, not to mention the shift workers punching the time clock in America's playground.

At Sapphire's gentleman's club, there's not much talk of politics. Ask someone here if they're Democrat or Republican, and the answer inevitably sounds like a come-on.

One of the dancers said of her political leanings, "I would say nonpartisan. I'm very open."

"You swing both ways?" we ask.

The response: I do!

But the four dancers we talked to were thoughtful about their choices.

Samantha told us she's for Hillary Clinton. And Nikki agreed: "I think a female needs to be president."

Meela was the most excited about the caucuses.

"I've been living here for 10 years, and I became a citizen," she said. "This is the first year I'm going to voting and I'm very excited about it. On Saturday, I'm going to be there and I'm going to be supporting my candidate -- Ron Paul."

Ron Paul. That's the name we keep hearing here. The libertarian congressman from Texas might just have a natural constituency here in Nevada.

Our Two Favorite Rons

Dennis Hof owns the Bunny Ranch -- a legal brothel in Carson City made famous by the HBO series "Cat House." And Hof is making his political allegiances known.

"Nevada is a very conservative state," he said. "But we also believe in live and let live. Don't bother anybody and we won't bother you. And that's what Ron Paul stands for, and I like that."

Hof first heard Ron Paul speak because of cable TV reporter Tucker Carlson.

"Tucker Carlson's not a regular customer," Hof said. "Tucker Carlson took us to the press conference for Ron Paul."

Hof went with two of the ladies from the Bunny Ranch -- Air Force Amy and Brooke Taylor -- and they liked what he had to say. The sight of this unlikely posse at a Republican press conference kind of upstaged the candidate. But Hof was sold.

These days Hof is "Pimpin' for Paul" -- spreading the word one customer at a time.

One of the signs in the brothel greets patrons with pictures of the ranch's "two favorite Rons." Those would be Ron Paul and Ron Jeremy -- the illustrious porn star.

"I don't know how they measure up actually," Hof explains. "If Ron Paul measured up like Ron Jeremy he'd be quite the man."

It's no joke, as Air Force Amy explained in her bedroom at the ranch.

"I'll show you where I pimp for Paul," she said. "It's easy to ask for campaign contributions here. It's a lot easier when I take my clothes off."

She said she actually asks her clients to contribute to Ron Paul in lieu of giving her a tip. Her biggest single donation for Paul was $1,000.

"I have been known to be persuasive," she laughed.

Her colleague Brooke Taylor has given the whole thing serious thought.

"The changes [Paul] wants to make on the monetary system, I think that's really important," she said. "I think the euro is destroying us and it's only going to get worse. I like what he has to say about health care. We're independent contractors here, so finding health care can be really difficult."

She said the war in Iraq is also a huge issue for her.

"I see many of those troops here," she said. "And they're my peers, you know. These people aren't far off from me. They could be my brother, they could be my cousin, my friends. ... They're excited to be home. They're excited to be around lovely women. But you know they're seeing and hearing and experiencing things no human should have to go through."

Taylor is "not a fan of Hillary Clinton for various reasons. I think it's modern day monarchy: Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. I think we should look outside these two families. I don't like how she uses Bill's experience as her own and I think a lot of people will probably make the mistake and vote for her thinking she will be like him."

She said if Ron Paul doesn't make it, she'll go for Obama.

Until that day comes, she's Pimpin' for Paul -- with obvious success. As we were packing up to go, three frat boys barreled in, wearing homemade T-shirts, hoping to take advantage of the advertised two-for-one deal.

It's all politics, Nevada-style. Fear and loathing, indeed.