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In Elko, Candidates Try To Woo Rural Electorate

Julia Ritchey

With the Iowa caucuses behind them, presidential candidates must now turn their attention to the next few battleground states like New Hampshire and Nevada. In a nod to the importance of the rural vote, several candidates have made stops in Elko this election season. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey sat down with veteran Elko Daily Free Press reporter Marianne McKown to learn more about the issues that matter most to these voters.  Below are shortened excerpts of their conversation.

Q: Elko just had another presidential visitor, Jeb Bush, last week, and a few others before then, what does this say about the significance of the rural vote?

McKown: Well, we’ve had Rand Paul, Dr. Ben Carson and last Tuesday, we had Jeb Bush. What happens during a presidential year, if they’re split between Reno and Vegas, a lot of times the rurals, and in the past we have, decided who won Nevada. [Elko] is the unofficial capital of the rurals, just because so many people come here for different events like Cowboy Poetry and the Elko Mining Expo.

Q: You mentioned public lands and health care are big issues out here, what about health care are people asking these candidates?

McKown:  Because of the Affordable Health Care Act, we do have insurance, however, that does not bring doctors. And one of the things we don’t have in this area are a lot of doctors who take Medicaid and we are also low on OB-GYNs. While we have some telemedicine, you can’t really give birth by telemedicine. … Also veterans … if they have anything serious like PTSD or mental health [issues], they need to travel out of town as far as Twin Falls (ID) or Salt Lake (UT), so they’re going completely out of state.

Q: Which candidates have resonated most with Elko residents?

McKown: A lot of people are still undecided. Rand Paul, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush: I found a lot of people who said, ‘I don’t’ know who I’m voting for, so I want to see them, hear them for myself…’ So more candidates need to make some trips to rural Nevada.

Q: I want to circle back to public lands, in light of what happened in Oregon, what have you been hearing on the ground here?

Credit Marianne McKown
Reporter Marianne McKown of the Elko Daily Free Press.

  McKown: I will say public lands have been issue for Elko County for longer than I’ve been alive. Eighty-nine percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government and it makes for a difficult time for cities to grow, for ranchers, for mining, for economic growth. …What happened in Oregon is not what’s happening here in Nevada. In Nevada, we take legal action; we don’t take over places. …In fact, our county is involved in a lawsuit against the BLM and Forest Service over what they’re doing with the sage grouse. Public lands is a big issue, but it’s also an economic one because mining is our life’s blood right now and so is ranching. If you eliminate all the land use, then we’ll die as a county.

For more Elko news, follow Marianne McKown on Twitter. 

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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