Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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- Caucus Day: How GOP candidates have set expectations for today’s results (2-4-2012)
- On eve of caucus, Mitt Romney makes case to voters across Nevada (2-3-2012)
- Sharron Angle finds that her endorsement packs little punch (2-4-2012)
- Gingrich tells Las Vegas crowd he will ‘win the nomination’ (2-3-2012)
Sun's complete coverage
PAHRUMP - Sixty miles west of Las Vegas is a land to which few Republican presidential candidates dare go — unless you’re Ron Paul.
Nevada’s rural counties get ignored at national election time because of simple math: With 70 percent of the state’s population in Clark County and another 20 or so in Washoe County, the voters aren't here in the sort of numbers to make campaigning worthwhile.
But the residents, usually ignored by the outside world but for their legal brothels, are the purest and most passionate form of Paul supporters.
“Pahrump is about the last free place in America. You don’t even have to register your firearms in Nye County,” said David Wilkinson, who does refrigeration installation in town. “We’re real America. The small town, rural areas are the only real America that is left.”
Several hundred of those rural Nevadans, some sporting sidearms, crowded a roller rink to hear back-to-back speeches by presidential candidate Paul Friday afternoon.
It’s the only attention this town of 40,000, encircled by mountains near the California border, has had from any of the candidates competing in Saturday’s caucuses.
But Paul’s also the only one they care to hear.
“You will not see a yard sign for anybody else out here (other than Paul),” said Eva Price, a housewife who is a Democrat but came to see Paul and tell him that she planned to vote for him in the general election — even if that means writing in his name.
“I once wrote in Willie Nelson’s name,” she offered as evidence of her conviction, before shrugging: “But it didn’t count for much.”
Price can’t help Paul before the general election. But there are thousands of others who can — enough that Paul has a good chance of sweeping the rurals at caucus time.
“The people love him,” said Betsy Masek, a supporter.
Nevada is known for a libertarian, independent streak — but that is amplified in Pahrump, as is every ill wind that has crossed the Silver State in recent years.
Las Vegas’ 12.6 percent unemployment rate is usually considered the worst in the country. But it’s almost 5 points higher in Pahrump.
Las Vegas is also the foreclosure capital of America. But in Pahrump, foreclosure signs along the town’s main drag look like coming attractions.
The jobs message that all the Republican candidates have been trying to sell in Clark County — free up federal lands, get rid of regulations — have a lot more potential resonance here. But the people of Pahrump aren’t convinced that anyone other than Paul really means business about changing things on the ground.
“Anything that affects the federal government spending habits affects rural states like Nevada. We’ve got too much BLM control out here,” said Mike Ravlin, who explained that he moved to Pahrump after decades working for the city of Las Vegas because he “got sick of all the illegal Mexicans in Vegas taking over the town.”
“I’ve got a goat milk farm,” said Barb Wiest, a Pahrump resident and Ron Paul supporter, who ticked off “regulations” as one of the top issues affecting her vote choice. “He said, if we want to drink raw cow milk, we can drink raw cow milk!”
Wiest added that she changed her registration to Republican about a month ago simply to vote for Paul.
So did Bill Butkovich, a certified nursing assistant who said he voted for Obama last election.
“The right to bear arms — that should be a no-brainer,” Butkovich said. “But look at the people who came in with guns! He’s the only (Republican) candidate who literally supports it.”
Residents of Pahrump also believe Paul’s drastic economic proposals will positively affect both the jobs market and the housing market in Pahrump, even though Paul’s message is essentially to invest nothing, but make some changes at the federal level, and let the free market handle the rest.
“Dr. Paul is the only one with a plan, because he wants to eliminate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD,” said Will Rogers, a Realtor in town who says his only business these days comes from REO foreclosures. “It would make the market stand on its own, and by standing on its own, it would be far superior.”
Bruce Calley, a retired construction worker, likes Paul’s proposals about the Fed and reintroducing the gold standard.
“Everyone is buying gold. Nobody wants a Federal Reserve note,” Calley said, producing a one-ounce gold piece that he carries with him at all times.
Even if other presidential candidates are spouting similar proposals on some of the economic issues for which the residents of Pahrump praise Paul, they either can’t or don’t want to hear it.
“There’s no difference between Romney and Gingrich,” said Mabel Charbonneau. “I think they’re part of the whole problem. They all have a political agenda.”
And even if the rest of the state is dismissing their small slice of the vote, the residents of rural Nevada believe they’re the shining example of what true people politics is in this election.
“You think this is a bunch of ignorant hillbillies. But they aren’t. They’re well-read,” said Rogers. “We’ve talked up Ron Paul for the past three years here, and it’s worked. Word of mouth does matter.”