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CityLife editor Scott Dickensheets queries R-J political columnist Steve Sebelius (his predecessor at CityLife) about the impact of the conventions



Scott: One of the subthemes of the Republican convention was the seeming disenfranchisement of the Ron Paul wing of the party. Some Nevada delegates were caught up in that. Do you think that’ll have an impact here in November, or will party unity win out?

Steve: One of Nevada’s disaffected Paul people recently posted something on her Facebook page that addresses this point: Cindy Lake, chairwoman of the Clark County Republican Party, said she was (almost) sorry for the people who still view politics through a left-right paradigm. That’s the Establishment Republicans, who spent all of last week arguing that the differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were so stark, all Republicans would vote for Romney rather than Obama. But the Paul people see politics differently, a scale with totalitarianism on one end of the spectrum, and anarchy on the other. On that scale, Romney and Obama are far closer than their supporters would like to admit, and Ron Paul is much farther away, distinct from most other politicians with his views, which in many ways transcend left-right politics. He wants to end the fed and dismantle much of the modern state (right) but at the same time wants to end the war on drugs and foreign military interventionism (left).

From that perspective, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for a principled Ron Paul supporter to come out in support of Romney. To do that requires a resignation of those principles and settling for the lesser of two evils, which is precisely the Hobson’s choice that sent many of them to the Paul camp to begin with.

So I think the treatment of the Paul camp at the convention will have an impact, either in votes for Libertarian Gary Johnson or skipping the race entirely. (It’s worth noting that Paul himself has said he’s “undecided” and that he may vote for Johnson, and worth considering that Paul was denied a speaking slot at the convention most probably because he would not endorse Romney.)

Scott: We’re having this exchange on the eve of the Democratic convention. Barring something completely unforeseen, do you expect anything that happens in Charlotte to significantly influence things in Nevada?

Steve: That’s very unlikely. Conventions are hugely scripted affairs, with vetted speeches and choreographed events. The reason candidates see a “bounce” coming out of their conventions is the filtration of the message: Only nice, positive, helpful information makes it out to the voters, who are left with a warm and fuzzy feeling about the candidates that may, in some cases, be totally at odds with reality.

The fact is, Democrats are struggling with Reagan’s famous question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” And since Bill Clinton has repeatedly adopted that as a mantra, starting in Los Angeles in the 2000 campaign for Al Gore, it’s a fair enough question. How will the Democrats address that at the convention? And how will they convince people to give them the White House again in the wake of what’s still a miserable economy, despite the modest gains we’ve seen? At some point, Obama’s message — it could have been worse — doesn’t work when laid side-by-side with the present economic reality. And yes, I am conceding that the economy and not another issue (such as “legitimate rape,” Romney’s mystery tax returns or the Republican burn-the-village-to-save-it approach to Medicare) will be the main issue this time .

Scott: Speaking of conventions, both parties, and especially the GOP, are happy to milk Las Vegas for campaign cash, but it’s hard to imagine either having a convention here. Do you foresee a time when that will change?

Steve: In all the ways that matter, Las Vegas is the perfect place for a political convention. We have the hotel rooms. We have the venues. We have the nightlife and entertainment that delegates would love, no matter what side of the aisle they’re from. (Republican? Hang out at The Venetian or the nonunion Station properties. Democrat? Caesars Entertainment has something for you, and did we mention CityCenter is LEED-certified?) And we have the transportation infrastructure to make it all work.

But it has never happened, and might not ever, because Las Vegas is still Sin City. It’s the place Britney Spears goes to get smashed and get married (in that order), where Prince Harry plays nude billiards (must be a British thing?). The sin will always define the city. And political conventions seek to avoid any notion of frivolity, although one could argue they are among the most frivolous events we hold in this country.

Scott: Bringing it all back home, what are some ways the outcome in November might affect the 2013 Legislature, which convenes a few months afterward?

Steve: Notwithstanding the Ron Paul view above, there are some legitimate differences between Romney and Obama on policy. The biggest one is probably on health care: Romney has pledged to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which would have a big impact on the state, where Gov. Brian Sandoval is still mulling whether to opt-in to an expanded Medicaid program.

A Romney victory — which Sandoval has called for — would obviate that decision, but also leave the state wondering what to do with all the infrastructure it has already created to form the health-insurance exchanges called for in that act.

A Romney-Ryan budget might look very different when it comes to aid to the states, however, since deficit reduction is a more critical priority for the Republicans than for the Democrats, who still see the federal government as a source of help in bad economic times. How that actually works out in practice would be something we can’t quite predict, however.