In Seattle, a science-oriented city where I lived before becoming New To Las Vegas and which I visited earlier this month, COVID-19 and its vaccination are taken quite seriously. More than 70% of the adults are fully vaccinated. Mask-wearing is embraced. As a result, infection rates are way down, notwithstanding the various variants.
It’s quite a contrast with Las Vegas, a doctor-deficient area where in my view folks still are not taking the pandemic with very much respect. The fully vaccinated rate in Clark County, where Las Vegas sits, is only 41% and folks in my presence give nonsensical reasons why they don’t plan to get the shots. People here were chucking masks even before federal authorities eased the rules. So, as they quote the odds in the many sports books here, the betting line that the person next to me in a store is un-vaccinated is -150, meaning an odds-on favorite of 60%.
On Friday, state authorities reported a whopping 792 new coronavirus cases in Clark County, the largest daily number in months. I say whopping because that was 5.2% of all new cases reported in the entire country, even though Clark County has just 0.7% of the country’s population. The Clark County death count was down to 3 from the usual 7, but that still was still 1.0% of all the deaths in the country. or 42% above the current national per-capita rate.
Because of this, I think next year’s governor’s race in Nevada is going to see the pandemic and the local response as a major issue. It probably shouldn’t be. But we live in super-political times. And pandemic response also may be the best issue that out-of-power Republicans in Nevada have, especially if they can muddle the record a la The Big Lie technique employed by Donald J. Trump.
In theory, the race should be a cakewalk for Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat running for a second term. Democrats have a 100,000 voter registration edge over Republicans, who, counting independents and other parties, have barely 30% of the total registration. (Sisolak won by 40,000 votes in 2018.) Trump, who once tried to turn Atlantic City in an East Coast gambling rival of Vegas and fancies himself the face of the national Republican Party, is not especially popular here. He lost the state in both 2016 and 2020 despite the enthusiastic support of the Adelson family’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state’s dominant newspaper.
Also, Nevada has one of the nation’s most permissive voting schemes. Everyone is mailed a ballot. A long period of early voting. Plenty of polling places. No ID laws. This should encourage a robust turn-out, which usually benefits Democrats.
The Nevada Republican Party has not proven lately to be an organization of great political or even legal acumen. Its efforts alleging fraud in the 2020 presidential election in Nevada were laughable, lacking provable evidence (Joe Biden carried the state by 34,000 votes). The party is badly outnumbered in both houses of the Nevada Legislature, but even in defeat of significant legislation was not even able to score public relations points.
I don’t attribute the low vaccination rate here to personal political inclinations, even though studies in other places say Democrats are more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans. Rather, I perceive a culture here where folks don’t like the government telling them what to do, coupled, perhaps with this gambling mecca’s high tolerance for roll-the-dice risk. They don’t call this place the Land of Second Chances for nothing.
But the well-meaning Sisolak administration hasn’t exactly handled the pandemic with great aplomb. At one point casinos were far more open than churches. This is red meat for the GOP’s evangelical base, who, like me, can’t find anything in the First Amendment about freedom to gamble, unlike freedom of religion. Early days of vaccinations were a logistical nightmare. Messaging to the public about getting shots was weak.
But Nevada elections are all about turnout. And from what I can tell, the GOP seems to think that coronavirus is just the issue to motivate its troops.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, who is running for governor as a Republican and might be the party’s leading candidate, signaled this at a gun-lobby forum on Friday. “He specifically faulted Sisolak’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying decisions about capacity limits in businesses were not grounded in science,” the Nevada Independent reported. “The subjective nature of the restrictions made it hard for the people who have to enforce those rules, according to the sheriff. ‘It was too willy nilly. He was moving the goalposts on a continual basis,’ Lombardo said.”
The Nevada Republican Party has been beating this drum for a while. Last year, it adopted a platform that declared the set of Sisolak emergency orders shutting down many businesses has “exacerbated the budget crisis,” as if Sisolak bears a greater responsibility for people getting sick and dying rather than, say, their own stupidity. Then there was this statement from the party after Sisolak’s State of the State speech in January;
Once again we see Governor Sisolak placing the blame of our state’s failure on the Federal Government and the Coronavirus without taking any responsibility for his own leadership failures. From vaccine distribution to unemployment, the failures of our state lie squarely at the feet of our Governor and Democrat leadership. His proposed plans are heavily dependent on reaching into Nevada’s depleted rainy day fund and the aid of the Federal Government.
Nevada continues to be among the worst states for vaccine distribution. Right now, Nevada has over 100,000 vaccines just waiting to be distributed. Due to poor leadership and planning, Nevadans who need a vaccine the most are not receiving it. Governor Sisolak had almost a year to create an effective distribution plan, but yet again he has failed Nevadans.
So I suppose the GOP strategy over the next year-and-a-half is to associate “Sisolak” with “coronavirus” and hope enough voters are fooled–The Big Lie at work–into a cause-and-effect or forget how awful the overall Republican pandemic response truly was on the national level. The party might need that memory-erasing gizmo from the 1997 Tommy Lee Jones-Will Smith sci-fi comedy movie “Men in Black.”
Meanwhile, we now we have the spectacle of Nevada, whose constitution explicitly prohibits lotteries, lest they compete with casinos, rolling out a series of raffles with a $1 million grand prize as a way of encouraging vaccinations. Residents who have had at least one shot are automatically entered without buying a ticket, which Sisolak’s lawyers say makes it legal in Nevada.
So far, the promotion hasn’t worked. Mike Smith, the Las Vegas Sun‘s excellent editorial-page cartoonist, captured this in a recent cartoon about a man told of the promotion. “Avoiding death isn’t motivation enough?” he asks.
In Seattle, yes. In Las Vegas, and Nevada, apparently not.