President Donald Trump's campaign stops in Minden and Henderson over the weekend stirred excitement among his political base and controversy for what some considered a lack of attention to coronavirus precautions,
But could his visits be a sign that Nevada, a Democratic blue state in recent years, is really in play in November?
Pres. Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but he did keep it competitive.
"It's an old story but it is really all about turnout," said State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith, "With 1.9 million registered voters in the state - not all of those folks vote, of course - 730,000 plus Democrats, 610,000 or so Republicans and another 460,000 registered non-partisans as of August, according to the Secretary of State. Those are the numbers generally, but this race, according to the New York Times, is within 4 points."
Smith said the two campaign stops by the president helped to fundraise for the Nevada GOP, but they also showed a level of enthusiasm and energy for the president.
"In many ways, it was successful as outrageous as it was for those who want to follow best medical practices to try to reopen businesses in the state and protect the health and safety of Nevadans," he said.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has been vocal about his opposition to President Trump's rallies, calling the president's actions "reckless and selfish."
Smith said Gov. Sisolak spends almost every waking hour looking at how to fight the pandemic in Nevada and asking difficult questions about how to return to normal life safely.
Besides the safety and health issues, there is also a political issue, Smith said.
"In my mind, I don't think Donald Trump is running against Joe Biden in Nevada. I think it's clearly a strategy of Donald Trump is running against Steve Sisolak," he said, "The presidential campaign in this state is very focused on the so-called 'King Sisolak' and taking away freedoms and hurting business and all of that. "
Besides that messaging, the president again brought up the possibility of fraud because of mail-in balloting in Nevada, Smith said.
"The Secretary of State, who is a Republican, has put out a fact sheet about voting and fraud issues and one look at that will tell you that this is a campaign strategy. This is isn't the truth and it's not factual, but that doesn't keep the president from firing up the base with that," he said.
The president's rally in Henderson was held at a warehouse for Xtreme Manufacturing, which is owned by Don Ahern. Smith said Ahern is not only a die-hard conservative but was also an early supporter of Trump when he first announced plans to run for president.
"The interesting thing about it, and this is something that Jon Ralston of the Nevada Independent pointed out first, on the company's website they talk about COVID-19 best practices, how to stay safe, and clearly, they violated their own practices in filling the room up with people who were mostly not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing," he said.
Smith said there may be a price to pay for holding a rally at the warehouse. The Associated Press reported the City of Henderson is fining the venue owner $3,000 for violating coronavirus orders.
"Meanwhile, that group has already gotten together, and if you believe that COVID spreads as the scientists and medical experts do, that means that some people probably took it home with them," he said, "You just have to hope for the best because good sense isn't always prevailing."
Besides the two rallies, the president also held a "Latinos for Trump" roundtable at Treasure Island.
"As a pro-life candidate, I don't want to broad-brush one group, but many Latinos are pro-life, and so, there are inroads to make - if you're willing to do the work that it takes," Smith said.
He said, behind the scenes, the campaign is likely putting money into wooing Latino voters to President Trump because his opponent is substantially ahead with Latino voters.
"According to one number I saw, [Biden] is over 60 percent with Latinos, but that's not as high a percentage as others have enjoyed," he said, "And so, there is that issue, potentially, that Biden will have to work on."
Smith said the Latino voting bloc is a substantial one for Nevada Democrats.
On President Trump's base and his response to COVID-19:
"It is clear to me at this point, after attending Trump rallies in the past, that the base does not [care]," Smith said.
Smith said that part of the president's base believes the coronavirus response has to do with individual freedom. Other people don't believe that the virus is real or more like a common cold - like the president promoted it to be early in the pandemic.
"This is a very big issue for Democrats," he said, "And I think it has to play to the president's detriment to nonpartisans with people who are in the middle who aren't identifying as hardcore supporters of one political party or another. That is a big part of the Nevada vote."
Smith said, in the end, it could be difficult for the Trump campaign to overcome the president's voice on tape talking to renowned journalist Bob Woodward about how he downplayed the virus.
On the Trump campaign in Nevada:
Smith said in the last few months and weeks of the presidential campaign the president's team will continue to hammer home the idea of Trump vs. Gov. Steve Sisolak in Nevada.
"Biden is harder to hit," he said, "The Obama/Biden ticket won twice in Nevada, and so, Biden has a lot of friends here. He's going to need a lot more enthusiasm probably to ensure victory."
John L. Smith, contributor
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