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.

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