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In Rural Nevada, Ron Paul Has An Energetic Base

A Ron Paul billboard mounted by volunteers on a road in Pahrump, Nev.
Jude Joffe-Block
A Ron Paul billboard mounted by volunteers on a road in Pahrump, Nev.

Fervant supporters of the Republican presidential candidate could help him come in second place in the Feb. 4 caucus.

Paul Support in Pahrump
In rural Nevada, Ron Paul's message is a natural fit.

Out of the four Republican contenders campaigning in Nevada this week, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has committed the most time here in the lead up to the state’s caucus on Saturday, Feb. 4. One of his Friday events includes a rally in Pahrump, in rural Nye County, just over an hour’s drive from Las Vegas.

Paul may be an underdog in this race, but his message resonates with the libertarian ideals that are alive and well in rural Nevada.

Thirty years ago, Pahrump was just a dusty hamlet with fewer than 8,000 people. Now there are about 35,000 in this town surrounded by mountains, the Mojave Desert and not much else.


Retirees and families were drawn here by the cheap cost of living, simple way of life, and, many say, small government.

“There was no stoplights, there was no grocery store, there was no nothing when we first came here,” said Stephanie Lillywhite, 35, who moved here 20 years ago. “And it was nice!”

Now there are several grocery stores and a handful of stoplights. But other aspects of Parhump haven’t changed as much.

“Still trying to be a small rural community to where we have our constitutional rights still, that we are able to bear arms and protect our own,” Lillywhite said.

And this year, for the first time in her life, Lillywhite has finally found a politician she thinks stands for her values.


She’s never voted before, but this year she will caucus for Ron Paul. His ideas on reducing debt, ending foreign wars, and protecting the constitution resonate in a way she never expected a politician’s message would.

“I don't think that my vote ever mattered before because there was just nobody I really cared about and gave me something to fight for,” said Lillywhite, who wears a Ron Paul pin whenever she goes out.

Her friend John Summers, a retired veteran, has also become politically active for the first time for Paul.

“You know, I had given up, I had really given up,” Summers said. “But I feel if there is a chance for America to pull back around and get back and level off our deficit, I think this man has a head on his shoulders that can figure out how to do it without hurting the people anymore.”

Summers and Lillywhite got registered and active by an energetic core of Paul supporters who are trying to ensure that their candidate wins Nye County this year. In 2008, Paul was neck and neck with Mitt Romney for the county, and the final tally of who won is a matter of dispute. Romney won the state decisively.

This year, though, local volunteers say the number of local Paul supporters is even stronger.

“We registered 600 new Republicans in the county,” said Kerby, a self-described Ron Paul fanatic. “Just because they wanted to support Ron Paul.”

An increase of several hundred new voters is significant in Nye County. Fewer than 1300 Republicans even participated in the caucus in 2008.

The official Ron Paul campaign doesn’t have much of a presence here. It hardly seems necessary since the grassroots have everything organized.

“It’s just a bunch of people who love their country and don’t want to see the constitution go away on our watch," Kerby said. "And we just step up and make things happen.”

Volunteers have secured a campaign office in the center of town. A group of them have been busily making phone calls and registering voters.

“We painted the town red, white and blue in honor of Dr. Ron Paul,” said volunteer Colleen Scranton, referring to the dozens of blue and white signs bordered by red wooden frames that are all around town.

In fact, Ron Paul signs are pretty much the only signs you see in Pahrump.

“The one thing that separates Ron Paul from other candidacies is that people are willing to do this on their own dime,” said David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “He has got this very, very energized group of followers there who are willing to put their time and money on the line — which is something that you don’t see in a lot of the more professionalized campaigns.”

Ron Paul has not come close to winning a state yet. He has made Nevada a high priority. His campaign is reaching out to different constituent groups here, such as Hispanics and Mormons, and even outlined an economic plan tailored to Nevada voters.

He arrived in the state on Jan. 31, the night of the Florida primary, and was greeted in Henderson by a raucous, mixed-ages crowd of nearly 1,000 people. There, the candidate repeated his intended strategy.

“We will spend our time in the caucus states because if you have an irate tireless minority, you do very well in the caucus states!” Paul said to a cheering crowd.

The underdog candidate is counting on that tireless minority to get him delegates. A significant number of delegates would allow him to be a player at the Republican convention in Tampa.

“I’m sure in the ideal world he would like to be the nominee, but I don’t think that is going to happen,” Professor Damore said. “So I think his hope is to exact some policy proposals out of the eventual nominee, perhaps broker for some appointments.”

Mitt Romney is expected to win Nevada, but Damore believes second place for Paul is likely.

Recent polls show Paul trailing both Romney and Newt Gingrich, though caucus results are notoriously difficult to predict.

On a recent evening in Pahrump, about 30 volunteers crowded into the county Republican storefront office in a strip mall across from the Saddle West casino.

They were there to prepare for Saturday’s caucus. Among the volunteers were a mix of Paul supporters and Republicans supporting other candidates.

Tensions have been high between the two groups since 2008. Paul supporters felt marginalized at the Nye County Republican convention that year. Then some were deprived of becoming national delegates as a result of the debacle at the state convention.

While some of those rifts have healed in other parts of the state, they are still evident among the GOP here in Pahrump.

“The people that were not Ron Paul supporters felt they suddenly got flooded by all these people,” said Jeff Bobeck, a caucus volunteer who supported Paul in 2008.”And from the Ron Paul people, ‘Why aren’t these people letting us in? Why do they block us every step of the way when we are doing things the right way?’ And that tension has not ended in four years.”

In fact, for this training, the state Republican party sent over a representative to monitor the meeting, to ensure the caucus would be drama-free between the Paul camp and the other faction.

Local Republican activist Lewis Beaver admitted his own annoyance with the energy of the local Paul supporters.

“If the Ron Paulers take Nye County it is going to be tough for the rest of the people around us, surrounding counties, to say ‘What went wrong with the people in Nye County?’” said Lewis Beaver, who introduced himself as the sergeant-at-arms of the local Republican group. “Because we know he can’t win. It is an evident thing.”

Beaver explained he has nothing against Ron Paul, except that he is bothered by his foreign policy ideas, and doesn’t think he is a viable candidate. Still, he is wary of some of the local Paul supporters.

After all, they are loyal to Paul’s message, rather than the GOP.

“I feel that they are bully types, ‘You gotta be my way or no way,’ and I'm not that way,” Beaver said.

For his part, Ron Paul supporter Patrick Kerby said regardless of who becomes the Republican nominee, the party is going to need voters like him.

“They can either embrace the principles of liberty, and come to us, or they can watch Obama get reelected,” Kerby said.

After this weekend’s Nevada caucus, Paul will continue his delegate hunt. Next up, caucuses in Maine, Minnesota and Colorado.