Nevada Democrats Head for Natinal Convention

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The 32 Nevada delegates headed to their party's national convention in Boston say the economy, health care and Iraq are their biggest concerns. Most don't see gay marriage as a big issue, almost all are pro-choice, and more than half liked John Edwards for vice president even before John Kerry picked him as his running mate.

A survey by The Associated Press shows nearly a third of the delegates to the July 26-29 convention see the national economy and jobs as their top concern, followed by 28 percent who listed Iraq and 25 percent who view education as their big issue.

Twenty of the delegates favored Edwards for vice president prior to Kerry's choice of the North Carolina senator; and 13 would like to see Sen. Hillary Clinton run for president in 2008 in the event Kerry loses this year or does win but doesn't seek a second term.

The delegates are confident Kerry can win, despite some fears he could be hurt by independent Ralph Nader's candidacy. And they're outspoken in their criticism of President Bush.

"If Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada and requesting political asylum. (America) will not be safe," said delegate Danielle Cook of Carson City. "Our civil liberties are being trounced upon, under the pretense of security. Without our freedom, we are not America."

Delegate and former Rep. Jim Bilbray of Las Vegas echoed many delegates' concern about the economy and jobs.

"Americans are losing jobs. We've got to get our country back on track. People are hurting out there," Bilbray said.

"The economic situation is a lot worse than the Republicans lead us to believe," said delegate Jim Wallace of Carson City. "Outsourcing jobs overseas is a huge issue, and raising the minimum wage is a big deal."

Delegate Jon Hunt of Las Vegas, whose son saw combat during a nine-month stint in Iraq, was critical of U.S. foreign policy.

"Although our soldiers have done their duty and met their obligations, the (Bush) administration has not," Hunt said.

"We need an exit strategy out of Iraq," said delegate Rusty McAllister of Las Vegas. "I don't think the Bush administration has one yet. They're still debating what it should be."

Delegate and educator Larry Mason of Las Vegas says his big concern is special education funding because it "has been placed on the back burner."

"The federal government is funding us at 12 (percent) to 15 percent, and every president has promised to at least get close to 40 percent," Mason said.

Three of the delegates put the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain - a project favored by President Bush - high on their list of major issues.

Delegate Randy Soltero of Las Vegas said he's talked to some Republicans who aren't willing to change parties "but they are willing to vote for Kerry because of Bush's support for Yucca Mountain."

"It's horrible that these people want to put this (dump) in our backyard," said delegate Deborah Trudell of Las Vegas. "They make the crap and want to give it to us."

More than three quarters of the delegates don't think Nader will take enough support away from Kerry to give Bush a second term - but some of those delegates admitted to some wishful thinking.

"I think people are educated enough based on what happened last time that they won't go that way," said superdelegate Yvonne Atkinson Gates of Las Vegas about whether Nader's candidacy could hamper Kerry.

"But it's very frightening," she said. "He's doing nothing but hurting Democrats."

Wallace is among the minority of Nevada delegates who think Nader can cost Kerry the election. He says Nader will get 2 percent to 5 percent of the vote "and right now that's enough to steal the election."

"Nader should put his megalomania in a bag and do something good," he said.

All but two of the 32 Nevada delegates are pro-choice on abortion.

Delegate Pam duPre of Reno summed up the general view: "I'm against the federal government making decisions that are none of their business."

"It's a woman's choice," Trudell said. "If they want to stop abortion, then they need to educate the public, and have birth control that's easy to get, that doesn't take an act of God to get a hold of."

Twenty-one delegates don't object to gay marriages - including nine who are in traditional marriages.

"It's not a matter of favoring gay marriage, it's about discriminating against fellow Americans," said delegate and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas. "I can't understand, I can't imagine how we as Americans who believe in freedom and equality for all could discriminate."

"I'm in total favor of it," Trudell said. "How dare these freaks tell other people what they can do or not do."

Of the 32 delegates, 26 are white, including five with Hispanic roots. Four are black and two are American Indians.

There's an even division of men and women on the delegation. Half are married, and nearly 40 percent range in age from their mid-40s to mid-50s. Eight are Catholics, five list no religious denomination, one is an atheist and the rest represent a variety of other beliefs.

The delegates were selected in a process that began on Valentine's Day in high school gyms, churches and even saloons, as the state's Democrats gathered to say who they like best among their party's presidential contenders. Participants at the precinct caucuses elected delegates to the county conventions in March where more polling took place and was followed by a firm endorsement for Kerry at the state Democratic convention in April.

The delegates will listen to a steady stream of revved-up, partisan speakers, vote on the party's platform and on the nomination of Kerry and Edwards during the four-day convention in Boston.


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