Donald Trump gambles on flipping Nevada with focus on economy as pandemic leaves Vegas casinos empty – Thebritishjournal Reports

Donald Trump gambles on flipping Nevada with focus on economy as pandemic leaves Vegas casinos empty

In Las Vegas even the statues are wearing masks.

The 15ft white emperor that greets gamblers at the entrance of Caesars Palace has a cherub by his right foot and a gold covering stretched across his mouth.

It is a reminder of the damage the pandemic has wrought on the epicentre of American extravagance, a city driven by tourism and reliant on people willing to let loose. Inside the casino resort there are more reminders.

Plexiglass screens divide poker players. Slot machine stickers order a seat to be left between users. Everywhere masks are mandatory. It is the emptiness that sticks out most.

“This place is normally 100 times busier”, says David Sajdak, a 62-year-old resident, as he looks out over the gaming floor one weekday morning. “Or a 1,000 times.”

Mr Sajdak moved to Vegas two decades ago from New York state, drawn by the booming local economy. He is a branch manager for a mortgage company and his wife is in real estate.

He has another hat too – chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, which includes Vegas. And amid the financial chaos caused by Covid-19, the party could have an electoral opening.

Nevada has voted Democrat in each of the last three presidential elections, but the margins have been getting slimmer every time.

Barack Obama won the state by 12 percentage points in 2008, then seven points in 2012. In 2016, Hillary Clinton just saw off Donald Trump by a meagre 2.4 points.

This time, the Trump campaign hopes to go one better. The state is one of a handful, not much covered in the media, which Mr Trump narrowly lost but could actually flip this year.

Minnesota, whose city Minneapolis was the epicentre of the anti-racism protests which followed George Floyd’s death there, and New Hampshire, which has an official state motto of “live free or die”, are two others.

Mr Trump is due to hold a campaign rally  in Carson City on Sunday night, his second in Nevada in as many months as the first big wave of voting kicks off.

Mr Sajdak believes Mr Trump’s message warning against the downside of more lockdowns is resonating in a city still reeling from forced casino closures earlier in the year.

It is the governor, a Democrat called Steve Sisolak, who makes the decisions on restrictions and – Mr Sajdak claims – is getting a lot of the blame from residents.

But does it not make the president’s job harder to run on an economic message with the economy in such a historic downturn triggered by the pandemic?

“I don’t think it makes it harder, I think it makes it easier,” he says. “Trump built it once, he knows how he can build it again.”

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As proof, he points to the enthusiasm among Trump supporters – a factor that Republican strategists argue will drive up turnout across America, securing them an unlikely victory.

Mr Sajdak says his mobile phone, hooked up to the local party’s office number, can call 20 times an hour with supporters reaching out.

During a chat over coffee near Caesars Palace’s “Forum” shopping complex, its marble floors next to faux ancient columns empty from a lack of visitors, he is proved right, with the iPhone ringing non-stop.

The pandemic has not kept all gamblers away. Antonio, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in Vegas, spent time one morning placing 50 cent bets on a nearby slot machine called Ocean Magic.

Does he have safety concerns? “Not really”, he says through a mask.  “I just try to make sure I stay away from big crowds.” Luckily for him, that seems a distant prospect. 

Around 15 minutes’ drive north from the Vegas strip, tucked at the back of a nondescript one-story business park, is the heart of the Trump campaign’s fightback in the state.  

Outside the Nevada Republican Party’s headquarters is a star on the ground with Mr Trump’s name, like the Hollywood hall of fame.

On the walls of the greeting room are posters by a local graphic artist portraying the president as a cartoon superhero.

One has him in a wrestling ring, topless with muscles bulging, holding Democratic rival Joe Biden aloft with one arm. Another has him flying like Superman.

The Trump team set up early in Nevada. The campaign’s first field office in the whole country was established last autumn in Reno, a city in the state’s West, according to local officials.

There are now seven ‘Trump Victory’ Nevada offices, including “Hispanic Voices for Trump”, “Black Voices for Trump” and one for “Asian American Pacific Islander Outreach”.

Campaign officials say they will hit the three millionth “voter contact” in the state this weekend, meaning either a knock on a door or a telephone call.

Keith Schipper, a spokesman for the Trump Victory campaign, said the groundswell of energy for the president beats that for Mr Biden.

“The enthusiasm is definitely on our side,” he says. “People are very excited to go vote for the president. Our people are very, very pumped”.

He points to voter registration to back up his argument. In every month of a presidential election year stretching back to 2004 Democrats have registered more new voters than the Republicans in Nevada.

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But not this time. In July, the Republicans beat the Democrats, Mr Schipper says. And then again in August, and then September. While the Democrats are still ahead for the year as a whole, the hat-trick has left the Trump campaign office upbeat.

Standing in the president’s way, however, is the fabled Democratic Nevada election machine. Over the last half a decade the Democrats have swept the field in the state. They now hold the governorship, both US Senate seats and a majority in the Nevada Senate.

At its heart is the Culinary Union, widely dubbed the state’s most powerful political force after the parties. It represents 60,000 hospitality workers – barman, cooks, casino cleaners, valets; the people who keep Vegas running.

The economic impact of the pandemic on them is mind-boggling. Union officials say 98 per cent of its members were forced out of work when the lockdowns first came in the spring, placed on furlough schemes.

Still 50 per cent have not returned to work. That has not stopped their campaigning though. The union has a team of 350 full-time canvassers, hospitality employees out of work who are paid $25 an hour to knock doors in favour of Mr Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee who the union has endorsed.

On a scorching weekday afternoon two union members, Larry, a hotel porter, and Paola, a casino housekeeper, work their way along the suburban streets of North East Las Vegas.

The scene is a stark contrast to the Strip. Far away are the flashing lights and the endless noise of the casinos. Instead there is tarmac, the odd palm tree and a distant hum of traffic.

At each house a leaflet is hung on the door handle. It has a cartoon face of Mr Trump coughing, with the words “Trump pretends he’s strong. But Trump lied about the coronavirus so he wouldn’t look weak.” 

It is a reminder of what Democrats believe is their strongest suit this election – the president’s handling of the pandemic. 

The area is home to many Hispanic voters, a sizable bloc of the state’s electorate. The few who answer the door when knocked – many are at work – are handed a face mask before Larry and Paola urge them to back the Democrats.

Susana Alvarado, 20, says she will vote for Mr Biden but with some reluctance. “My first choice was Bernie”, she says, referring to Bernie Sanders, the left-wing senator who actually won the state in the Democratic primaries – despite the Culinary Union backing Mr Biden.

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Another house sees two Cuban women answer the door. As the conversation flips between Spanish and English, it becomes clear both favour Mr Biden.

But one, Maria Mascaro, a 60-year-old school cleaner, was not planning to vote. Last time she backed Hillary Clinton, excited to make history with America’s first female president, and yet Mr Trump still got in.

“For me, it’s a performance” she says of the voting system, exasperated with her last involvement in US democracy. “It’s like Cuba”, she adds, confused by how Ms Clinton is not president despite winning most votes.

By then end, after five minutes of persuading from the union members, she promises to vote. But as they move on to the next house, she admits that many Hispanic voters she knows are backing Mr Trump. 

Why? She gives a simple answer – the economy. 

Donald Trump gambles on flipping Nevada with focus on economy as pandemic leaves Vegas casinos empty The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Telegraph.

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