PAHRUMP, Nev. — Along pothole-pocked Route 160, campaign signs for Hillary Clinton appear every few miles, erected among gravel and weeds beneath towering billboards for fireworks and R.V. resorts.
Such support for a Democrat is unusual in this community known for its deep conservatism, where residents sometimes shop at Wal-Mart with pistols holstered to their hips.
“Talking politics – especially if you’re a Democrat – ain’t wise out here,” Cliff Arnold, chairman of the Nye County Democratic Party, said as he sipped coffee on a recent morning at the Pahrump Nugget, a dank casino frequented by retirees who sit in cushioned seats and play 5-cent slot machines most weekdays. “But we’re here and so are the candidates.”
The presidential campaigns of Clinton and her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have filtered out far beyond Las Vegas’ glitzy casino core to woo rural voters who will carry an outsized influence in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses because of the way the party allocates precinct delegates.
Though Democrats are sparse in these pockets of the state, rural counties are allotted more delegates than their population would be granted under a system of proportional representation. While 8% of Nevada Democrats live in rural areas, they account for 12% of caucus delegates and can be a fruitful target for candidates willing to traverse parched swaths of desert dotted by Joshua trees in search of support.