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Nevada's partisan split on display during Trump visit

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 6/24/2018 By David Montero, Los Angeles Times
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Video by CBS News

LAS VEGAS - Dan Martinez is tired of people - including his sister - constantly ripping President Donald Trump for seemingly everything he says, does and tweets.

The former military veteran and current Teamster saw the president speak at the Nevada Republican Party State Convention on Saturday, and when it was over felt emboldened. Empowered. Energized.

"The best president we've ever had," the 50-year-old from Las Vegas said. He sat in the back row of the hall, wearing a "Trump soldier" T-shirt. He was ready to vote for Republicans in the midterm election this fall and help Trump in any way he could.

Standing outside the convention in temperatures approaching 100 degrees, Deanna McCool, with her infant in a stroller, wore a shirt that read: "I really ... do care. Do U?" It was a riff on the jacket first lady Melania Trump was spotted wearing to and from her visit to children separated from their parents at the border in Texas. On the back of her jacket were the words, "I really don't care. Do U?"

McCool said Trump is the worst president ever - far worse than she ever imagined when he was inaugurated. The 26-year-old said that, as a Jew, she finds that the images, sounds and stories of children at the border being separated and put into cages trigger thoughts of concentration camps and oppression.

"Seeing what we're doing with human beings like that is despicable and disgusting," she said. "I will not stand silent."

McCool was also ready to vote in November - to elect Democrats.

This is America - Martinez and McCool. People separated by distance, distrust and a divide that has seemed increasingly unbridgeable in a state that has been identified as a political and ideological battleground for November's midterm election. Trump came to the Silver State to help Sen. Dean Heller keep his seat. Heller is locked in a fight with Democrat Jacky Rosen, a Nevada congresswoman, and he is considered to be one of the more vulnerable Republicans in the Senate.

Nevada held its primary on June 12, but both parties held their state conventions Saturday. Democrats, meeting in Reno, had Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as their keynote speaker.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Nevada Republican Party Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., June 23, 2018. © REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Nevada Republican Party Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., June 23, 2018. In Las Vegas, Trump engaged in name-calling, much to the delight of the crowd.

First, he dubbed Rosen "Wacky Jacky." Then he went to his racially loaded nickname for Warren: "Pocahontas." The crowd of almost 600 in the convention hall at Suncoast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas laughed and cheered. Trump warned the crowd that not voting for Heller was a vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - the California Democrat and long-standing boogeywoman for the GOP base.

Rosen's campaign quickly responded with a statement.

"The president is attacking me with lies and petty insults because I'm not afraid to stand up to him," she said.

Trump's approval rating among Republicans nationwide is around 90 percent, and the president has shown comfort in appealing to his base by saying things that inflame his critics.

Few things have been more inflammatory, however, than the last week's news cycle that featured children in chain-link enclosures after being separated from their parents after crossing the border. It was an almost universally condemned policy, and Trump ultimately signed an executive order to stop separating families.

But there has been confusion among the administration about what happens going forward.

Federal agencies were setting up a centralized process to reunite families in Texas, but it was unclear how many children remained in the custody of various federal agencies. Adults have been in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service or the Department of Homeland Security, while children are being held by the Department of Health and Human Service at different centers.

Some say it may be difficult to reunite some of the families given the disparate locations, and concerns have been raised about trauma the children have endured from the forced separations.

Trump managed to avoid immigration for the first 10 minutes of his speech - instead talking about the recent meeting he had with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, trade policies he deemed unfair, and how he believes the world has used America as "the piggy bank everybody loves to rob from."

His 40-minute speech was like going to a buffet, bouncing randomly from topic to topic - Obamacare, immigration, trade, elections - and sometimes coming back for seconds. And thirds.

He got the crowd to chant, "Build that wall," as they have at his rallies dating back to his campaign - an issue he said is a winner for the GOP and a vulnerability for Democrats.

"They think immigration is being weak on the border, which is therefore allowing tremendous crime to come into our country," he said. "They think that's a good issue.

"I think I got elected largely because we are strong on the border."

Heller, by contrast, spoke for under three minutes and didn't mention immigration or the separation of children from parents at the border.

This was Trump's third visit to Nevada since his election in 2016. He came last year after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 and wounded hundreds - a tragedy that resonates strongly here and that became another focal point for debate over gun laws.

But Nevada has been a bit of a quagmire for Republicans in recent election cycles - even on issues they normally would feel comfortable touting.

In 2016, Nevadans approved a ballot measure - yet to be enforced by GOP gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Adam Laxalt - that would require tougher background checks on gun purchases. Latinos make up 28 percent of Nevada's population - the fourth-highest level in the nation - and voted for Trump at historically low levels. Democrats took control of both houses in the state Legislature last year, and four of the state's six congressional representatives are Democrats. Even GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval has bucked Trump and conservative Republicans by fighting to preserve the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

And Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, following the victories of President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Despite all those Democratic advances, there remain plenty of Trump fans in Nevada - people like Martinez, the union worker, who didn't mind the policy of separating parents from children while the adults were prosecuted for entering the country illegally.

"If I go to jail for committing a crime, my kids don't go with me," he said. "I don't understand why the other side doesn't get this."

McCool, heading back to her car in the withering summer heat outside the casino, worried there was no end to how far Trump might go. On immigration. Or anything.

"It could get worse," she said.

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