Mostly sunny: Las Vegas and Nevada shine in the national political spotlight By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports February 26, 2020 at 7:00 pm Chris Matthews played Vegas last week. Lester Holt did, too. During the Democratic Party presidential caucus in the Silver State, you couldn’t flip a TV channel or punch into a news website without journalists and commentators of every strip and station writing and talking about the political scene in Las Vegas and Nevada generally. The political world was fully focused on the state with a slight majority-minority population, one that for so long has been looked upon as a pariah for its casino gambling economy and Wild West reputation. At the risk of sounding like a complete homer, we looked pretty good. Few places in America anywhere close to as glitzy a backdrop as the Strip, and anchors and reporters made the most of it. There were plenty of Las Vegas-related puns and clichés, but that’s to be expected. And after Wednesday night’s bar brawl of a debate inside the theater at the Paris resort, I wouldn’t be surprised if some Vegas marketing maven invited the candidates back for a residency on the Strip. Like most tourists, far fewer made the effort to leave the bright lights for the state’s great American outback. After all, they had candidates and caucus-related dustups to pursue. But those who did were rewarded. Not just with good stories of rural Nevadans making a living in an increasingly urbanized state, but with a greater sense of perspective of the sheer size of the place. Not all the story lines are chamber-of-commerce ready. Like most cities, Las Vegas and Reno are challenged by the issue of homelessness. Like other states, Nevada deals with an opioid and methamphetamine crisis and the effects of climate change. From a scarcity of water in the nation’s driest state, to a shortage of affordable housing for the working class, it’s all there. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders listens to a question at a town hall flanked by union leaders Geoconda Arguello-Kline and D. Taylor./Photo by Howard Stutz But there’s also another story that was told. It was about the strength of Culinary Workers Local 226 and its working relationship with most corporate casino giants. Not only do the Culinary’s 60,000 members carry political clout – one that was far more independent that some pundits predicted – but they provide an undeniable reminder that a service economy can be successful with the proper spirit of cooperation between labor and management. Candidates wove the Las Vegas and Nevada narratives into their own campaign stories with varying degrees of success. Former San Antonio Mayor and Obama administration Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro paid visits to homeless camps and spoke at a protest in front of Las Vegas City Hall to discuss the social issue and show support. Although he eventually dropped out of the race, Castro was quickly followed by some of his fellow candidates on the homeless issue. At times, candidates didn’t receive the greetings they anticipated. In what became one of the big storylines of the caucus, lifelong labor supporter and eventual Nevada winner Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders received a decidedly mixed reaction during his town hall appearance at Culinary headquarters. The outspoken advocate for “Medicare For All” was jeered by some union members who not only fought for their premium health care plan, but don’t intend to relinquish it without a fight. And the Democrats didn’t grab all the headlines last week. The visit by President Donald Trump, which provided a reminder of the donnybrook coming in the general election, drew an overflow crowd and a MAGA festival atmosphere at the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the exception of an Elizabeth Warren campaign advertisement in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that noted her billionaire wealth tax would nick a piece of the vast fortune controlled by casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp., most of the Democratic candidates took a pass on criticizing the gaming industry. It was a wise decision given the industry’s own political clout and essential place in the Nevada economy. If Adelson’s feelings were bruised, they surely were assuaged by the adulation Trump showed to his friends, Sheldon and Dr. Miriam. One of the nation’s most powerful couples, the Adelson’s received shoutouts on at least two occasions last week during Trump’s Las Vegas stop. While the Democrats battle it out in South Carolina and the upcoming multi-state Super Tuesday free-for-all, the images of the Strip being inundated by candidates, the press, and thousands of volunteers will fade. Sooner or later, America will once again get to the final table. There’s a dusty adage about there being no bad publicity. Just make sure to spell the name right. When it comes to Nevada, the pronunciation of which occasionally still gets butchered by candidates and journalists alike, saying the name correctly is more like it. Most accomplished that and reminded the nation, once again, that its gambling capital is a vibrant place with a healthy economy that has its challenges, but also possesses an infectious energy. It’s hard to estimate how much all that’s worth, but it sure is nice when they pronounce the name right. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.