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November 23, 2014

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Harry Reid’s tiny town bracing for Tea Party ‘showdown’

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Tiffany Brown

Jim Kirby of Arizona is enjoying a few calm days camping in Searchlight before the masses descend for this weekend’s Tea Party rally.

Searchlight Prepares for a Tea Party

Preparations are being made for this weekend's Tea Party rally just outside Searchlight. Launch slideshow »
Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Saturday schedule

  • 9:30 a.m.
  • Supporters begin to gather at parking lot of Harrah’s Laughlin.

  • 10:20 a.m.
  • Expected departure time of caravan of vehicles from Laughlin to Searchlight. The caravan will be led by the official Tea Party Express buses.

  • 11:50 a.m.
  • Expected arrival time of Tea Party Express caravan at the Searchlight rally site.

  • Noon
  • “Showdown in Searchlight” Tea Party rally. Location: near U.S. 95 and Coyote Mine Road.

  • 3 p.m.
  • Expected departure time of the Tea Party Express caravan from Searchlight to Henderson.

  • 4 p.m.
  • The prerally at Henderson Pavilion has been organized by Grassroots Nevada in support of the Tea Party Express.

  • 4:45 p.m.
  • Conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter will speak at the rally to welcome the Tea Party Express to Henderson.

  • 5 p.m.
  • Expected arrival time of the Tea Party Express caravan at the Henderson Pavilion (final Tea Party rally of the day). Location: 200 S. Green Valley Parkway.

    Showdown in Searchlight

    Henderson Pavilion

    Diane Kendall signed on to scout a location for what could be the largest political event in Nevada history.

    But right now it’s just a dirt lot with a dozen Porta Potties. And Kendall is feeling the pressure.

    The local real estate agent volunteered to help the Tea Party Express find a venue for its “Showdown in Searchlight,” a massive rally to demonstrate national disgust with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his hometown, headlined by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

    In less than 48 hours, thousands of members of the conservative grass-roots movement are expected to descend on this unremarkable spot next to a sand and gravel pit. There are stages to build, fences to erect and lines to paint.

    While Kendall waited for help Thursday, it was just her, her two dogs — Yogi and Buffy — and a can of Red Bull.

    The cars keep coming. Travelers want to know if they’ve found the right spot for Saturday’s rally. See, there are no signs yet.

    “Where’s Harry’s house?” a man says.

    Kendall gives some directions before sending him on his way.

    “I don’t know what I got my butt into, but I’m doing it,” she said, taking a swig of her energy drink. “All I can do is hope for the best.”

    Indeed, logistical nightmares abound.

    Organizers expect 5,000 to 10,000 people, sending out a breathless statement urging the media to feature aerial coverage of the event and arrival of bus caravans of supporters.

    The 300-square-foot lot seems much too small to accommodate a crowd of that size. The rickety mining town is home to fewer than 1,000 people.

    It has one gas station and two places to eat — a casino and a McDonald’s housed in a gas station. Typically the biggest commotion the sun-bleached community sees all year is the rumbling engines of motorcycles as they make their way toward the Laughlin River Run.

    Organizers think 38 portable toilets will be adequate. Others have their doubts. The Clark County Water Reclamation District, fearing the town’s tiny sewage system might not handle the pressure of Saturday’s crowds, will dispatch a four-person crew to keep toilets flushing during the rally.

    Metro has assigned extra police to handle traffic and any disturbances.

    Residents are shaking their heads, wondering what will become of their quiet little town. Some aren’t sticking around to find out.

    Richard Vincentz manages Cree’s Mobile Home Park, just off U.S. 95. He said many of the park’s tenants are leaving for the weekend to stay in Las Vegas and Laughlin.

    “What the hell were they thinking?” Vincentz said of the event’s organizers. “That many people in this small town. Where are they going to park? Where are they going to eat? We shall see.”

    Starla McManigal, who manages the Terrible’s gas station, was busy stacking soda cases 5 feet high Thursday, stocking up for an expected feeding frenzy. She’s been preparing for months, ever since the Tea Party Express announced its rally. Snacks, water, fruit, even random knickknacks.

    Normally, she orders 24 cases of fruit per week. She ordered 25 cases for this weekend alone.

    “I’m here to turn a buck,” McManigal said. “If they want to do this every two months, I’m happy.”

    She said clerks have been fielding phone calls from people across the country desperate for information.

    “They ask us if the rally’s set for Saturday,” she said, laughing. “It’s huge.”

    Turns out hating Reid might result in an unexpected stimulus package for his hometown.

    “Searchlight doesn’t get many tourists, so I’m glad they’re choosing to bring all their out-of-state money to my hometown,” he said in a statement.

    The economy has hurt businesses and homeowners here, just as it has elsewhere. Six months ago, Kendall said Searchlight saw its first foreclosure. Residents say they could use a boost.

    The town’s only motel, the 21-room El Rey, is sold out today, with a few spots for Saturday.

    “Harry Reid has done a lot for this town,” manager Marie Stowers said. “But Sarah Palin is bringing in all sorts of people and all sorts of money. I’d like to shake her hand.”

    Verlie Doing, owner of the Searchlight Nugget, is split. She would like more restaurant traffic, but she’s also one of Reid’s biggest supporters.

    The casino sells copies of his first book, “Searchlight,” at the counter. On the wall just outside the restroom is a photo collage, with a picture of Doing and Reid during his first campaign for lieutenant governor. She’s known Reid since 1967.

    “I’m all for people who want to have these tea parties,” she said. “But I’m mad as I can be at them for having one in his hometown. I think it’s rotten.”

    Democrats will hold a counter demonstration in the casino parking lot, serving tea and doughnut holes.

    Jim Kirby, a retired IBM engineer, and his wife drove their RV here Tuesday, hoping to get a decent camping spot for the Tea Party rally. He feels betrayed by Congress, saying health care legislation will “bankrupt this country,” and expresses a common mantra in the Tea Party movement: “Kick out the incumbents, put in new people and limit them to two terms.”

    He’s not alone. Reid has his fair share of local detractors.

    Stowers, for one, thinks Reid should have tackled the economy before health care. “I think he wants his name in the history books,” she said.

    For now though, she’ll settle for a booked motel and 15 minutes of fame. She’s waiting to see herself on tonight’s “NBC Nightly News.”

    “I’ve been on all the networks except for CNN,” she said, blushing.

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