A conventional wisdom about George Bush’s visit to Reno emerged quickly over the weekend.
The Reno Gazette-Journal ran a story headlined “Bush’s Reno visit puts Democrats on defensive/ Appearance gives president a big boost in Nevada” that argued John Kerry must now visit Reno if Democrats “are to keep pace. …” KRNV used the same argument, saying that Bush’s visit “is raising the bar for his Democratic opponent.”
But history and tracking polls show otherwise. The pattern for most presidential and presidential-candidate visits to Nevada is for an upsurge in support for the candidate’s party followed by a quick fade. The force of issues usually overcomes the novelty of a live appearance.
In 2000, appearances by Bush at Lake Tahoe and Al Gore in Las Vegas had little more impact on their numbers than momentary blips.
In 1964, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson spoke to a crowd in Powning Park (where the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts is now located), Republicans across the ballot were hit with a wave of support for Democrats. Lt. Gov. Paul Laxalt, running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Howard Cannon, saw his numbers drop precipitously. But the Democratic upswing quickly receded, and Laxalt regained his momentum and came within 48 votes of beating Cannon.
In 1986, retiring U.S. Sen. Laxalt was desperate to hold his seat in the Senate for the GOP in order to help his impending presidential campaign. Over the objections of White House strategists, who had already written Nevada off, Laxalt prevailed on President Reagan to make one more visit to the state. Reagan spoke for Republican James Santini at Lawlor Events Center four days before the Nov. 4 election, but campaign tracking polls showed the glow from that appearance wore off quickly, and Santini was defeated by Democrat Harry Reid.
UNR political scientist Richard Siegel says journalists are often bewitched by events whose effects wear off quickly, such as the national political conventions or the capture of Saddam Hussein.
“Almost nothing in politics is good for 3 or 4 weeks,” he says.