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Voters In Rural Elko, Nevada Talk Guns, Healthcare And LGBT Rights

Sam Omar Hall

Sam Omar Hall

Brad Bailey | Sam Omar Hall | Melissa Bosworth

As the political spotlight turns to Nevada for its Democratic and Republican caucuses, candidates are making stops in its well-known cities, like Las Vegas. But they are also stumping throughout rural Nevada, which has historically leaned conservative.

Elko, Nevada, is a town of ranchers, miners, casinos and brothels. It’s best known for its annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  It went overwhelmingly for Romney in 2012. It’s also a place that held its first Pride Parade last year.

Nevada’s caucus rules are weighted in favor of rural counties. This is territory presidential candidates can’t ignore. In advance of the 2016 Democratic caucus, Hillary Clinton was the first Democrat to stop here.

During an event at the Adobe Middle School in Elko, Tracy Reyes, a Clinton volunteer, asked about guns and federal ownership of public lands, two big issues in rural Nevada. On guns, Clinton said, “I want you to find one person who's had their gun taken away. Just find one for me. I'll be happy to meet that person.”

Reyes is a precinct captain for the Democratic caucus. Between the first and second rounds of a caucus, there is a chance for people to change their allegiance, and for undecided voters to be wooed. Part of a precinct captain’s job is to shepherd the the flock, Reyes said. “I think my role is is to keep my group together so Bernie doesn’t come and try to convince people to come to their side,” she said.

Reyes has a son with autism and likes that Clinton has a comprehensive autism plan. She also wants to see a woman president.

“My mom is 69 and this may be the last chance that she is able to see a woman in office,” Reyes said. “That's one of the reasons I spent six weekends in a row out canvassing.”

Lartressa “Tressy” Lyon is precinct captain for Sanders who will be caucusing with the Democrats Saturday.

Lyon, whose career as a gold-miner ended with an on-the-job injury, is passionate about single-payer healthcare. She said people who work for the large gold-mining companies have high-quality health clinics, but if they’re not employed in the mines, healthcare can be a financial burden.

LGBT rights are another important issue for Lyon. She’s a lesbian who founded the first LGBT support group in Elko last year. Both Lyon and her wife are veterans. In contrast to the Clintons, she said, Sanders spoke out against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

In the end, control of Nevada’s 43 delegates will come down in part to committed volunteers like Reyes and Lyon.

Jacklynn Williams, a transgender woman, is another LGBT activist in Elko. In  2008, when she was 18, she didn’t vote, but this year, she's discussing the election with friends and relatives.

“I've looked into Sanders, I've looked into Hillary, and I looked into Trump and I've done a lot of research, basically on their backgrounds and everything, and surprisingly, if I did vote, I would vote for Trump,” Williams said.

Trump is a less popular choice among younger voters, who, nationwide, are showing their  support for Sanders. But that’s not entirely the case in this part of Nevada.

Baby Bleu, an employee at one of Elko’s legal brothels, is still undecided. “I was born in ‘93,” she said. “I've never voted. This presidential election has me feeling very unexcited to be of legal age and I'm very disappointed at my choices.”

It’s that kind of disappointment that candidates hope to turn around as they criss-cross Nevada’s countryside.